Planning for the future of the Imperial Mall and adjacent properties is proposed to begin soon.
The city of Hastings recently received, and then published on its website, the summary report from Ayres Associates following Future Visioning Meetings on July 25 and 26 for an area that includes the Hastings Municipal Airport, Imperial Mall, Imperial Theatre, former Village Inn restaurant building and several undeveloped and underdeveloped properties.
A fieldhouse for various sports activities, child care facilities, specialized living facilities, an incubator for artisan manufacturing, a distribution center for shipping companies and a civic training center were among ideas proposed as future uses for the included properties.
The summary includes five objectives with timelines for action items that begin as early as this month.
Those objectives include convening a working group, expanding the air-to-ground shipping presence at the airport, branding redevelopment, establishing a feasibility study and exploring local ownership.
Don Threewitt, the city’s development services director, said action steps included in the summary make great points.
“I think there’ll be time for local leadership to regroup with a lot of the key stakeholders in the area and figure out a realistic path forward as far as what we want to adopt and what’s going to be on the back burner for a while,” he said. “Overall, there’s some great action plans on there.”
When it comes to convening a working group objective, the suggested timeline begins in October, once the working group is established.
Actions include determining how community leadership will convene to move forward on a redevelopment initiative.
Other action steps include reviewing and revising this work to specify goals and actions, explore scenarios and determine which uses have the greatest potential viability with a draft of desired uses for the property; and identify additional necessary information and research.
Action plans for the air-to-ground shipping presence objective primarily includes identifying key partners right away and communicating the benefits of the airport to expand shipping opportunities there.
The branding objective begins with confirming the direction of the property by winter 2019. Other action steps include engaging the public in branding the district or project and creating information that promotes the project.
“Branding is one thing that sounds like it’s not a necessary component, but I’ve seen that transform areas,” Threewitt said, citing the Railside area in Grand Island and Haymarket in Lincoln as examples.
When he lived in the Denver area, Threewitt worked on the River North area there, known as RiNo, which he said had been an industrial wasteland but now is a popular neighborhood.
He said the feasibility study, which explores possibilities that require greater detail to determine economic feasibility, is a big piece of the process.
“Clearly, this all starts with finding an opportunity to acquire the property and maybe a buyer group that would be willing to pick it up,” he said.
Discussions should start now by the leadership team, the summary states, to identify potential partners in bringing the property into local control.
Threewitt said he was “thoroughly pleased” by the public involvement in the series of meetings that took place over the course of two days last month to discuss the future of the properties in question.
The meetings — which included a kick-off meeting July 25 with about 80 people in attendance, five listening sessions the morning of July 26 with a total of about 100 people, and a wrap-up with about 35 people meeting that evening — were facilitated by Matt Ashby, an urban planner at Ayres Associates in Cheyenne, Wyoming.
Threewitt said the number of engaged participants might be double if online discussion is taken into account.
“That’s unheard of when you’re talking about a long-range planning perspective,” he said. “Even the consultant was repeating over and over he couldn’t believe how much public interest there was in this. That was wonderful.”
Threewitt said the meetings were a very organized process.
“The biggest thing was people came to the table with realistic ideas,” he said. “They were engaged. They were thinking critically, and they had been able to look into the future and think about what they wanted to see moving forward. All of that made for some great results.”
Based on the community input and proactive approach to the planning process, Threewitt said, the Imperial Mall has a better chance than a lot of other dying malls at having a second life.
“I think our chances of being able to do something with the property moving forward are probably better than most communities’,” he said. “Again, it all comes down to what the current owners want to do with it or if they decide to dispose of it what the future owners may want to do.
“What is clear today is just how many members of the public are interested in seeing something happen there and seeing something different than what it was. Those are two big hurdles to overcome in any sort of major redevelopment like this. Having those two pieces already addressed is huge. From there, it’s a matter of what’s the most feasible use going forward, what sort of investment possibilities are there, if any.”
The summary report is available at https://www.cityofhastings.org/news/latest-news/2018/08/13/west-hastings/12th-street-visioning,-final-report/.