In its quest for economic development, Bellevue's attention has turned to the south.
City leaders see lots of opportunity in a bridge between Sarpy County and Interstate 29 in Iowa that is set to open next year.
Now Bellevue is trying to position itself to take advantage of the new Missouri River bridge and get the land ready for development.
“I think it's a hugely exciting proposition for the citizens of Bellevue,” Councilman Steve Carmichael said.
Bellevue's vision for the wide area south of Offutt Air Force Base is an industrial park that would bring in more taxes and more jobs to the area.
After the new U.S. Highway 34 bridge is open, connecting I-29 to U.S. Highway 75, the area will have one of many companies' main requirements for a site: easy access to the Interstate. It also has lots of space and access to rail lines, which also make it an attractive location for businesses.
But the site has one major problem: It's not “shovel-ready,” meaning that the land needs upgrades before businesses can start any construction.
Bellevue, Sarpy County and the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce want to fix that by bringing sewer and water lines south.
“The site has what you might call good bones,” said Mark Norman, the chamber's director of business attraction. “There's potential for development down there. We just have to overcome the costs of getting infrastructure to the site so that we will have shovel-ready sites.”
They're starting with the sewers.
The first step has been completed — the city and county signed an agreement to share the costs of building sewer lines to the area. An initial estimate indicates that they will need to spend about $2.5 million.
The plan encountered a setback last fall, when Bellevue voters soundly rejected a sales tax increase that would have helped pay for the sewer lines.
City Administrator Dan Berlowitz said the money will now come from the community betterment and sewer fee funds, as well as bonds. Berlowitz said he didn't know when work on the project would start.
The project is part of a larger push to bring metro-area sites to shovel-ready status, Norman said.
It's much easier to attract companies to a site where they can begin construction immediately, he said. Many companies don't have the time to wait for sewer line construction, a process that can take as long as a year.
Sarpy County is looking to start getting more involved in building sewers, especially in the southern part of the county, spokesman Fred Uhe said.
“Sewers are actually going to be a big issue for us in the next few years,” he said.
At least one Bellevue official, however, would like to see more assurances before the city starts spending money on sewers.
Carmichael was the City Council's lone vote against the agreement. He said he is excited about the project but wants to see a commitment from at least one company before the city starts building sewer lines.
Council member Carol Blood said the city has planned to help bring development to the area and intends to carry out that plan.
“The potential that this area brings is paramount to the growth and sustainability of Bellevue and the Bellevue budget,” she said.