Photo by Carrie Williams
Photo by George Lauby
Gary Suhr, at left, and Lonnie Parsons
Photo by George Lauby
Muriel Clark at the podium
Photo by Bulletin file photo
Photo by George Lauby
The council chamber erupted into applause Tuesday after the North Platte city council voted 7-1 to give the would-be owners of the Cedar Bowl a $100,000 grant and a $300,000 low-interest loan to renovate and reopen the building.Jim Carman cast the only no vote.
The chamber was packed, with about 50 people inside the room and more standing in the two doorways. When the vote was tabulated, the audience applauded.
After 35 years of business, owner Scott Rasmussen closed the Cedar Bowl and Touchdown Club on May 6, citing financial concerns. The Cedar Bowl was constructed on South Jeffers in 1976. It previously operated on Rodeo Road for 20 years.
The new grant and loan will come from the city's Quality Growth Fund, which currently contains nearly $4 million. The fund grows from a small slice of city sales taxes that is set aside to promote economic growth in the North Platte.
Negotiations were held on the spot during the council meeting, with councilman Brook Baker leading the discussion. At one point, Baker asked prospective owners Gary Suhr and Lonnie Parsons if they could get by with a lesser amount -- a $50,000 grant and a $350,000 loan. Suhr and Parsons conferred briefly.
"Can you do a $100,000 grant and a $300,000 loan?" Suhr asked.
Baker withdrew his original motion and made a new one, upping the ante.
Carman said several people had pointed out that the renovated restaurant would compete with other restaurants in town that work to make ends meet by the sweat of their brow, without government money.
"I agree with them," he said.
Other council members said the city needs to grow, and if North Platte does not have a bowling alley, it will hurt.
The discussion was extensive. Muriel Clark, assistant director of the visitor's bureau and the administrator of a "Save Bowling in North Platte" facebook page, spoke first. Clark said the women's state bowling tournament that was held on weekends during March-April-May generated an estimated $600,000 in spin off business for motels, restaurants and retail stores in North Platte. She did not provide a breakdown.
Those businesses rely on such events to stay in the black, Clark said.
When Carman asked Suhr about state tournaments, Suhr said the renovated alley will have 22 instead of 32 lanes, which won't be enough lanes to host a state tournament. But Suhr promised extensive marketing efforts to attract bowlers to smaller weekend tournaments.
Several people from the audience spoke later in the meeting.
Lonnie and wife Kelly Parsons and Gary and wife Chris Suhr are together in the enterprise.
The Parsons and Suhrs are long–time North Platte residents and integral forces in the Fourth St. Plaza, the home of Suhr’s locally owned grocery store, “Gary’s Super Foods.”
Parsons put together a group to buy the Fourth St. Plaza building in 2006, after True Value closed in late 2005. Parsons oversaw the renovation of the building, which was subdivided into offices and smaller retail stores. Gary’s Super Foods became the anchor business.
In renovating the Cedar Bowl, the lanes, bowler sitting area, ball returns and computerized scoring system all need to be replaced, the would-be owners said. Air conditioning units, the parking lot and the electrical system also need work, according to their application.
Forseeing $3 million in costs, including $1.5 million to buy the place, the Parsons and Suhrs asked for help getting started. They submitted a 26-page prospectus that shows bowling is increasing in popularity. They included plans for renovation and marketing, as well as income and expense projections.
The owners plan to put up $300,000, or 10 percent of acquisition and renovation costs. During the discussion, Suhr said bank loans would be approved if the city's grant and loan amounted to $400,000.
The interest rate on the city loan will be half what a bank would charge.
The Suhrs and Parsons plan to open a family restaurant tentatively called Wild Bill’s Burgers and Wings, with new television screens where fans can watch games in relative privacy.
Over at the bowling center, there will be a laser maze and a new arcade for children.
The owners want to make it the foremost bowling center in western Nebraska, with birthday parties, post graduation, post prom, Christmas and corporate parties, featured specials on the last day of school, jackpot bowling, tournaments, cosmic bowling, $1 bowling nights and rent-a-lane.
Preliminary plans also include a 2,000 sq-ft community space with 200 seats for social interaction, business meetings, receptions, banquets and parties, according to the application.
The council was under the gun because work has to begin soon so the new center can open Aug. 20 for fall leagues.
The contractor who would install new lanes needs to know within seven days, Parsons said.
"We really need more time to consider things like this," Councilman Glenn Peterson said.
"I agree with that 100%," Councilman Tim Barrett said.
With proper maintenance, the new equipment is expected to function well for more than 20 years. The center would employ about 45 employees, with 42 of them part time, according to the application.
Baker encouraged Suhr and Parsons to create more full-time jobs.
"If you help employees, you help all of North Platte," he said.
Baker also told everyone in the room to show up at the ribbon cutting and bowl a few games.
"You can like a page on facebook and show up at council meetings, but you need to be there when the ribbon is cut," he said. "I will be."
During public comments, Deb Simpson of North Platte said her young granddaughters have already acquired scholarship money by bowling. Lisa Parish stressed the need for special olympics bowling, currently held in North Platte for 15 weeks in the fall.
On the other hand, John Owen of North Platte asked the council to deny the request and predicted it wouldn't work out. He said the Big Apple in Kearney was established without a grant, and the general manager there turned around three bowlling alleys in Denver. He suggested councilmembers go to Kearney to talk to him about how to make a bowling alley profitable before making a decision.
"You don't have a proven manager," Owen said.
But high school club bowling coach Bill Fuller said bowling is a necessity in North Platte.
"If the center is closed this fall, it will never open again," he said.
Councilman Andrew Lee, who said at one point that he was totally torn on the issue, eventually voted yes.
"It comes down to leakage (of business to surrounding communities,)" Lee said before votes were cast. "That's the absolute, No. 1 issue. I don't want to see the dollars leave North Platte through leakage."
Lee asked forgiveness of everyone who asked him to vote no.
After the vote, Baker called out to Suhr and Parson, "Do a good job."
"We'll make you proud," Suhr replied.
In other business, the council:
• Approved a rezoning request from Brian Lusk to rezone lots near 617 N. Jackson to light industrial from residential. Lusk plans to combine three lots into one for a new shop and storage buildiing, according to council documents. The council agree to suspend the normal three-reading requirement and approve the change on the first vote.
• Approved a request by Ryan Sellers of Western Mobile Home Park to rezone residential land to light industrial at 616 North Miles, with the requirement of a solid privacy fence between the property and a new home under construction by the Lincoln County Development Corporation under the direction of Nancy Striebel.
• Approved a sign for the Women's Resource Center on city property near Sixth and the entrance to Parkade Plaza because the resource center is difficult to see from Sixth St. The center will pay for, install and maintain the sign, City Administrator Jim Hawks said.