An attraction, with patio, that could be made from containers.
Grants totaling $184,123 were awarded for North Platte tourism Monday, with most of it earmarked for a shipping container attraction celebrating Rail Town USA.
The structure is envisioned to stand along the south side of Interstate-80 somewhere between the north campus of North Platte Community College and the La Quinta Inn, Rail Fest organizer Dave Harrold said.
The Lincoln County Commissioners approved the grants Monday morning.
The Rail Town container center will receive slightly more than $100,000 each year for five years. The money comes from motel room taxes and is funneled through the Lincoln County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.
The CVB also awarded more than $80,000 to five other attractions, including separate baseball diamonds and Nebraskaland Days.
Harrold began making phone calls soon after the announcement, calling potential partners as far away as California and Missouri. He said he hopes to break ground within six months, although significant arrangements are yet to be made.
Chief among the challenges is fundraising. Harrold said the estimated cost of the center is $3.2 million. He said he would have funding arranged before work would begin.
Along those lines, the county commissioners instructed the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to work with the Deputy County Attorney Joe Wright to create a contract with a trigger clause that will make release of funds contingent upon raising a certain percentage of the total.
Commissioner Joe Hewgley pressed for the trigger clause.
Harrold said the structure would measure 200-feet long (the length of about 50 containers) and be about 50 feet wide. It would be a national center for container art and container architecture in addition to a Rail Town attraction.
Harrold envisions it will be a portal to North Platte, a rail town, with plenty of information to encourage visitors to stay and see all North Platte has to offer.
The success of Rail Fest has proven that people will come to North Platte, he said. A container attraction near I-80 could stop travelers and draw them into town.
Another goal would be to attract national art and architecture shows, Harrold said. The use of the jumbo Lego-like containers is growing. Architects have adapted them for high-rise apartment blocks in Melbourne, designer penthouse additions in Manhattan and coffee shops in Vancouver.
First used in the 1950s as a method of standardizing shipping, the containers are still a hugely popular means of transporting goods around the globe, on land and sea.
"I am excited," Harrold said. "The grant is another required step in the process of development, raising the identity of North Platte as Rail Town USA."
Harrold has worked on concepts to develop a Rail Town attraction for several years, considering a Union Pacific museum on the north side, or downtown, as well as larger attractions near the community college.
“I’ve been working on concepts,” he said. “That’s what you do -- try different things and find one that everyone salutes.”
The CVB also awarded:
• $30,000 to North Platte Youth Baseball to improve field 5 in Centennial Park. The organization presented an aggressive plan for holding tournaments that will draw teams from surrounding states as well as other parts of Nebraska, CVB Executive Director Lisa Burke said.
• $19,374 to improve livestock pens at the Wild West Arena, noting that none of the funds should be used to purchase portable panels, but must be spent on fixed items.
• $11,000 to the North Platte Legion Baseball program to improve Bill Wood ballfield.
• $9,675 for a bird-watching area near the wetlands and city lagoons east of town. The city and the Tout Bird Club are working together to develop a site for birding enthusiasts.
• $4,000 for continued funding of the Children's Museum in the historic Carnegie library. The museum has developed a solid marketing campaign and attracts about 1,000 visitors a month, the grant advisory committee said.