As other small cities in the area struggle to revitalize their downtowns, Papillion’s is a success story:
Events like the farmers market and wine walks and this week’s 71st annual Papillion Days celebration draw foot traffic to a one-block old main street area during the warm months. A variety of businesses — boutiques, bars, coffee shops — keep people around. The once-stagnant shopping district is flourishing.
Now city leaders have turned their attention to a western portion of downtown that they think could use some work.
At a June 5 meeting, the City Council declared some blocks between downtown and the Papillion Creek blighted and substandard and created a limited community redevelopment authority. The move allows the city to offer tax-increment financing, or TIF, a method of reallocating property taxes to promote redevelopment.
If the area attracts redevelopment, it would be the city’s first use of TIF.
“It is already a vibrant area,” said Papillion spokesman Trenton Albers. “So we think the blighted area directly adjacent to it has a lot of potential attractive to prospective developers.”
City leaders will seek requests for proposal for the blighted area next year, Albers said, if all goes well.
The city has ideas for the redevelopment area, but nothing set in stone, he said. A 2016 city-funded study outlined potential concepts. Among ideas were adding walking and biking trails, retail spaces, restaurants, bars, plaza space or an entertainment venue.
“Above all, what we’d like to see is redevelopment that connects to and extends on the energy of the downtown along Washington Street,” Albers said.
The blighted-designated area encompasses three city properties and a handful of mostly industrial private properties.
Owned by the city: the Papillion Fire Department Station, the former city public works building and former public works administrative offices, which now are being used by the Recreation Department. Recreation staff will be moving into Papillion Landing, the new community center, when it’s finished next year. There are no plans for the former public works property, Albers said, and the city anticipates needing a new fire station at some yet-to-be-determined time.
Among the private businesses in the designated redevelopment area are Tilmers Tree Service, Finch Auto & Truck Salvage and Tara Stone, CPA, Accounting.
The blighted and substandard label doesn’t mean anything right away for those businesses — there’s no obligation for them to do anything, Albers said. The city notified property owners, but not individual businesses, of the designation. No one spoke at a public hearing on the matter in May.
But owning or leasing property in a redevelopment area means the future is uncertain.
Timothy Geis, who owns construction company Geis Inc., has a warehouse in the area. He said he learned about the designation through word of mouth. Coincidentally, Geis said, he was already looking for a new property in Waterloo.
“We weren’t counting on selling the warehouse in Papillion,” he said. “But if the price is right and everything, we would definitely not be against it.”
Geis said he hadn’t talked with his neighbors about the blighted designation. “With things like this, you never know if they’re going to transpire or not.”
A 2017 study conducted by the city found that the area has a “defective or inadequate street layout, unsanitary or unsafe conditions, lack of sidewalks or sidewalk improvements, and lack of (American Disabilities Act) infrastructure.” It’s also difficult for emergency vehicles to access many of the properties along the creek, the report said.
Kim Ahlers, president of the Historical Downtown Papillion Business Association, said the designation is the “best thing that could happen to keep our momentum going.”
“As a business owner, I so appreciate the city’s involvement trying to help our downtown grow,” said Ahlers, who owns Kajoma’s, a boutique on First Street.
Ahlers said Papillion’s downtown needs to “keep things active,” particularly as La Vista continues work on its $235 million, 30-acre City Centre project, just 2 miles up 84th Street.
“It’s really important the downtown district is the heart of the community.”