Papillion's flexibility with building codes helps put new luster on old downtown buildings

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Posted: Thursday, November 7, 2013 12:00 am

When scouting locations for another Dingman's Collision Center, owner Boyd Dingman spotted potential in Papillion's downtown.

“It is absolutely a great corner,” he said of the building's place on the southeast corner of Lincoln and Washington Streets on downtown's busy main drag.

The old building itself was less impressive. Part of the draw for the building — which was once a car dealership — was that “it's such an eyesore,” Dingman said.

That is changing as he readies the building's exterior with stone, among other improvements, before it opens for business by the end of the year.

While Dingman has gone ahead with repairs, City of Papillion leaders have created special building guidelines to make it easier to move into an older building in downtown.

With a goal of attracting new storefronts, the guidelines will allow exceptions to Papillion's regular building code standards.

Many decades-old downtown buildings don't meet today's requirements for new construction, and the cost and frustration of renovations can scare off potential buyers.

Though there are not a lot of empty downtown buildings, the guidelines will help businesses locate in downtown Papillion in the future.

Developing the guidelines is the city's latest step to build momentum in an area of the city that Papillion Mayor David Black calls vital to its draw as a small town.

“That's the heartbeat of the community,” Black said of downtown.

Papillion has become a draw for businesses in recent years with the addition of shopping centers such as Shadow Lake and Midland Place, where stores started opening earlier this year.

With the renewed focus on downtown, the city came up with the special guidelines after working to get TriPointe Coffeehouse into its location on Washington Street. The building, more than a century old, posed problems for owner Chris Evenson and his wife, Heather, with one code requirement leading to another.

The new guidelines won't, for example, require a business to install additional restrooms because the city's new First Street Plaza park has one. The city likens downtown to an outdoor mall where the common area provides the required facilities.

The guidelines will allow an owner to use existing plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems for renovation work, as long as the structures aren't hazardous, and will let a business work with the city to determine its capacity, instead of leaving that to the modern building code standard, which is based on a building's square footage.

The city says the code modifications will save business owners money while preserving downtown's history and protecting public health and safety.

Downtown business owners Kim Ahlers of women's boutique Kajoma's and Thad Hamilton of State Farm Insurance said they appreciate the city's efforts because more storefronts could mean more activity for others.

Efforts to revitalize downtown, which originally grew around a Union Pacific train depot, started several years ago when the city added benches, landscaping and lighting.

Three years ago, the city created a special zoning district, putting regulations in place to maintain the historic area between Sixth and Lincoln Streets and Adams and Jefferson Streets.

This summer, construction wrapped up on the $1.3 million First Street Plaza park — with a splash pad, stage and seating area.

Now, Black said, the city has talked to at least two businesses about how the guidelines could help them move to downtown Papillion.

Hamilton said it's a good time for buyers to look at the area. The Historical Downtown Papillion Business Association has recently been formed, and that has helped create an energy around the more than 80 businesses in the downtown district, he said.

“The cars are driving a little bit slower,” he said, “and downtown seems to have more things going on.”

Dingman called the guidelines important to the future of downtown. Following rigid code rules can keep businesses out, and that could hurt the city as a whole, he said.

Through his building's restoration, Dingman can tell that people care about downtown.

“It's fun hearing the people stop by and say, 'Oh man. That looks so much better,' ” he said.

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