Clay Center native and one-time Hastings College volleyball player Tracy (Roemmich) Bell has long had a thing for interior design. Her husband, fellow Hastings College alum Dr. Scott Bell, has not.
And so the former club volleyball coach and mother of two sons has been given pretty much full rein over renovating the family’s most recent purchase, the south two-thirds of the subdivided three-story Acme Building at 109 N. Burlington Ave. (Roy DeMars owns the north section).
“As soon as we walked through that old place, I don’t know what it was, the dinosaur dirt or the overall character of it, but we just decided that’s what we were going to do,” she said. “Honestly, it’s a lot of space, but we’ve figured out what to do with it.
“It’s a big, giant undertaking that’s really difficult, with big, high ceilings. I mean, what else could you ask for? It is just very, very old. But believe it or not, it’s a tank. It’s in really, really good structural shape.”
The Bells were drawn back to Hastings in July 2017 after Scott accepted an offer from Mary Lanning Healthcare to establish its neurosurgery program following his extensive educational tour which included stops in Houston, San Antonio and College Station in Texas; Denver; Columbia, Georgia; and Columbus, Nebraska, his first post-residency position. The couple met at Hastings College in 1993 and consider their return a homecoming of sorts, though Tracy admits she’s still not re-acclimated to the snow and cold just yet.
“It’s a different pretty here,” she said. “When you’re growing up in a small place, you always feel a little trapped. I teased that I was the only one who escaped because my siblings never moved. I’ve been to a lot of places, and home is a good place. And this is home again.”
Already Scott is envisioning what the neurosurgery program he is building at Mary Lanning will look like down the road. He likes what he sees.
“It’s been good,” he said. “The patients are appreciative and in need of the services I provide. I’ve seen mostly degenerative spine, but we’ve also seen brain tumors, spine tumors and things like that, too. Bringing a new service line to a hospital that people aren’t used to has its ups and downs, but it’s really no different than other services. It takes the same care to look after patients with heart conditions, trauma, or anything else.
“I’m impressed with the diversity of skill that is employed at Mary Lanning and know everybody is capable of taking care of neurosurgical patients alongside other patients they take care of. Hopefully we’ll provide a full spectrum of neurosurgical services here in Hastings. We offer almost everything as it is now. There are some areas where we still have some incomplete complement of services we need, but as the program grows I hope to add all of those things. We’ll build the program and make it a good alternative in the local community to get your care here rather than have to travel to Lincoln or Omaha.”
Although he had never lived in Hastings before except as a college student, Scott spent a goodly amount of time in the community as a youngster visiting his mother’s parents, Don and Bonnie Brock. Already he is feeling quite at home in his familiar surroundings.
“I’m used to being around here, so it feels the same as it always did,” he said. “Downtown has changed quite a bit compared to when I was here in the ’90s going to college. There’s a lot more fun stuff to do downtown than there ever used to be.
“Watching the changes over time, the north side of town has developed a lot more than when I was visiting my grandparents here. It’s been fun to watch. And I’ve always liked the people here. It’s been a good, smooth transition.”
After considering a new build for their home, the Bells ultimately opted to pursue the major remodel path instead. The undertaking was inspired both by Tracy’s love of interior decorating and her admiration of a home she happened to spy at 300 N. Minnesota Ave. that was converted from a restaurant to residential space by Eileen Harman, founder and president of Eileen’s Cookies.
Long before it was a restaurant, the Minnesota Avenue building was Hastings’ Union Pacific railroad depot
“I was actually driving by, saw it, and loved it,” Tracy said. “On a whim. I went home and just looked for commercial, and it (Acme) was the first thing that popped up.”
Seeing his wife’s enthusiasm for the project, Scott found himself drawn to it, as well. And with that, the nearly 30,000-square-foot building became his wife’s pet project.
“He likes to be settled,” Tracy said. “He doesn’t like construction and all that. He would have preferred a ready-to-go place.
“He’s dealing with it. It’s a challenge for him. I come home with a big ol’ grin on my face each day, and he’s good. He knows he doesn’t need to worry about anything. It’s kind of my thing.”
Scott downplays any reluctance he may have had in taking on the project. The way he sees it, it stands to become far more than just a new place to call home.
“We were trying to figure out how we could integrate into the community and were looking for places to live and things to do, and this just kind of fell upon us,” he said. “I’m excited about the project. I know that she (Tracy) is going to put it together well so that not only we enjoy it but everybody else, as well.”
Tracy’s confidence to tackle such an undertaking was bolstered by a real estate position she worked while living in College Station. Initially hired to answer telephones, she eventually worked her way into heading up a major hotel renovation project. The experience left her wanting for more challenges to conquer.
“I got a really big bug for taking on renovations from start to finish,” she said. “I don’t have any formal training in designing things, but I like the process of it. That experience made me know I could handle this.”
Working from the top down, the three-story project will include residential space to be used by the family on the third floor, a ballroom on the second floor for weddings and other social uses, and commercial space for one to four businesses — dependent on the needed square footage — on the ground floor. The basement will be used as storage space for the time being, though its hand-chiseled limestone walls likely will inspire a more glamorous usage down the road. Though Tracy has taken the lead on directing the remodel, both she and Scott have rolled up their sleeves to help forward the transformation process.
“We’re there putting our blood, sweat, and tears into it,” Scott said. “We did a lot of the initial demo and cleanup of areas, getting things prepared for the contractors.”
The design upstairs reflects two entirely different tastes divided by a firewall. On Tracy’s side, a French/country motif defines the space. Scott’s side is heavy on leather, raw materials and vibrant colors.
Designed to work as two stand-alone three-bedroom units, the space initially will be used in its entirely by the family, with the likelihood of friends and numerous relatives enjoying the spacious 7,500-square-foot layout to some degree.
Former building owner Milo Kocourek has become like a long-lost friend in the process, making the purchase all the easier to complete, Tracy said. Sharing a love for the building, he has donated some of his printing materials from his days of operating a press there.
“He told me, ‘I really would just like a piece of my heart in that building,’ ” Tracy said. “He’s the sweetest man on the planet. We’ll make space so his print stuff can be displayed.”
The building’s close proximity to downtown is another plus of the purchase, Tracy said. In addition to providing possible meeting space for Mary Lanning’s department heads, other possible considerations include creating a haven to attract students at Hastings College into the thriving business district.
“I just love the building and am looking forward to living there and whatever else happens in there,” she said. “I’ve turned it over to God. It’s just a gift to be part of it, honestly.”
“It’s quite a building,” Scott said. “It’s really a fun project. Part of our vision is to not only have it be partially residential, but to contribute to the revitalization of downtown and offer some more space to move it forward, whether it be commercial or meeting space or whatever comes of it.”