Editor’s note: Rural Design Up Close is an occasional CIRD feature, highlighting the best in rural design across the country. In 2018, Valentine, Nebraska (population 2,630) partnered with CIRD for a Local Design Workshop, bringing together hundreds of citizens, local elected leaders, the Nebraska Department of Transportation, and rural design experts to reimagine Valentine’s Main Street corridor, which doubles as a state highway. A recent Norfolk Daily News article highlights ongoing progress in Valentine, mentioning CIRD’s catalytic role.
Reflecting on the progress that has been made for this particular CIRD project, NEA Director of Design and Creative Placemaking Ben Stone noted: “It is fantastic to see some of the design concepts that emerged from the CIRD workshop in 2018 being implemented on Valentine’s Main Street. This is exactly the type of role we hope the CIRD program can play – a catalytic partner with design expertise invited into a design challenge at a moment when local and regional stakeholders are ready to gather at the table. The preliminary work done by University of Nebraska landscape architecture faculty and students, and Nebraska DOT’s willingness to listen and engage at a strategic time in the planning process, combined with Valentine’s strong local elected and civic leadership, were all critical to the project’s success. The CIRD team is excited to see how the new streetscape on Main Street continues to develop as a welcoming place for local residents and visitors while still serving as an important regional transportation artery.”
CIRD acknowledges Norfolk Daily News’s permission to share the article by Austin Svehla with CIRD’s audience.
By AUSTIN SVEHLA (email@example.com)
VALENTINE — Valentine has a blueprint to invest in projects that give the town’s residents assurance that the future of the community is bright.
On the heels of completing a major overhaul of Main Street, the largest known infrastructure undertaking in Valentine’s history, the North Central Nebraska community has gained a sense of confidence to keep pursuing major strategic projects.
In June, construction work was finished on a six-block stretch of Main Street spanning from C Street to Fourth Street (Highway 20 to Highway 83). Construction began in the summer of 2022 and was mostly completed last year, with odds and ends wrapping up earlier this summer, about three months ahead of schedule.
The project involved a complete upheaval of Main Street and the sidewalks surrounding it, including new storm sewers, water lines and street lights.
The project had been discussed for several years, as it had long been included on the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s one- and six-year plans. That section of roadway was among the oldest stretches of state highway in the state, with concrete dating to the 1940s.
Mayor Kyle Arganbright said the primary objectives during initial conversations about the project were to replace an aging road and to grow Valentine.
“We identified that some infrastructure investments into our Main Street would be a good base for which we could build additional economic activity,” Arganbright said. “It was about finding a way to improve the quality of life in Valentine.”
Arganbright said that planning started “in earnest” in 2017. The following year, the city received a grant from Citizens’ Institute on Rural Design (CIRD), a leadership initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts.
CIRD helped the City of Valentine facilitate a few days of public meetings so people could provide input on what they wanted to see along Main Street.
The meetings were well-attended, Arganbright said, with about 150-200 people showing up at times. City and state engineers, transportation experts and specialists on Main Street enterprise all took part.
The consensus from the forums was that people wanted an attractive Main Street that would draw people to the area — both locals and passersby — who would want to get out of their vehicles and shop, as well as have a Main Street that is easily maintained with good drainage and parking and a safe area for pedestrians.
After communicating closely with state officials for the better part of three years and awarding bids for construction, the project was in full swing by 2021, when detour planning began. Contractors started tearing up the street and sidewalks last summer.
Work was done in phases so portions of Main Street could remain open during construction and to allow people to have access to businesses along that stretch.
No businesses had to close at any point during construction, Arganbright said.
“We (the city) communicated with businesses very closely and planned with the state and the contractors to allow access and limit the amount of Main Street that was torn up at once,” Arganbright said, “so that it was hopefully six weeks at a time that they had that interruption in front of businesses.”
When business entrances were not accessible along Main Street, many places provided entry points through alternate doors and back alleys. The city provided funding so stores and restaurants could have signs directing customers to entrances and places to park.
The bulk of the work was finished by the end of last summer, which Arganbright attributed to solid planning and communication among local and state officials and a dry summer that allowed for unremitting construction.
A ribbon cutting was held on June 9, and Valentine has since held street dances, parades, art walks and a handful of retail-focused events.
Arganbright said he’s received feedback from Main Street businesses that foot traffic after construction has been heavier than it was before the project started, adding that he believes businesses are now in a better position to be successful.
The mayor said the project cost more than $10 million and was the largest infrastructure project in Valentine’s 139-year history.
“I think the citizens of Valentine are proud of it. It’s a source of pride now, which is cool,” Arganbright said. “It’s also given our community a lot of confidence to go after projects that we need and a process for doing it.”
More to come
Valentine is a community that goes after the next project as soon as the last one is finished, Arganbright said.
Sixty-five new housing units were completed over the past year while the Main Street project was going on.
The city is actively planning a new housing development that has entailed extensive planning to match growing housing needs in Valentine.
The community also is exploring the possible conversion of its old ShopKo building into a community center that would have a convention and wellness space.
A parks and recreation master plan is in the works, with the goal of creating more intentionality around outdoor spaces for citizens.
Valentine has “some great blocks to build off of,” Arganbright said, and local citizens are enthusiastic about the efforts to come.
And the city has the intention to be fiscally responsible, he added, as exemplified by Nebraska Department of Revenue data that shows Cherry County as a top-10 county in the state for lowest property tax rates.
“We have a lot of people pushing in the same direction,” Arganbright said. “... It’s taken a little while to get there, but we can have conversations and disagree and try to figure out how to get something that makes most people happy. It’s a muscle we’ve developed in Valentine that might not have been here before.”