Gering looks toward property redevelopment

A former grain elevator on the edge of downtown is in the inspection process to see if the structures can be removed and the property redeveloped for new uses.

GERING — Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, has been an important tool for Gering to incentivize redevelopment of properties within the city, making them more attractive for developers to build.

The initial step is to declare a property as blighted and substandard, a term Gering City Engineer Annie Folck doesn’t like.

“Just the words give people the impression the designation will lower the surrounding property values,” Folck said. “All it me ans is the property is eligible for different types of incentives for people who would like to develop the property. In a sense, fund ing avail ability makes the property more valuable.”

She said a lot of areas in Gering are designated as blighted and substandard, including downtown.

By developing a property under TIF guidelines, a developer can defray the increased property tax value for 15 years.

There are additional criteria, such as any qualifying building has to be at least 40 years old.

One area Gering is looking at is Seventh Street near the former sugar factory, which is zoned for heavy industrial.

While the factory property is still owned by Western Sugar, a blighted and substandard designation on surrounding property could open up opportunities for potential development.

At its Monday meeting, council members agreed to work with Panhandle Area Development District to produce all the necessary documentation the Nebraska Department of Economic Development needs to make TIF funds available.

Another property, at the south end of Third Street off East U Street, is also in limbo because it is privately owned. The site of a former scrap metal business, the property has undergone initial studies for potential contaminants.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln brought some of its architecture students to the site to come up with some ideas for possible development. Neighbors say they’d like to see some kind of park at the site, but the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy is currently working through some issues with the property.

“All I can say is it’s not a city project because of the p rivate ownership,” Folck said. “However, the city is always willing to do what we can to make the property more appealing for potential development.”

A third property has undergone two phases of initial environmental studies. It’s located along 10th Street just north of the railroad tracks. The property, along with its abandoned grain silos and small building, were donated to the city some years ago by Westco.

Folck said the initial study simply determines whether environmental contamination exists within the property, based on its previous use.

Asbestos used in older construction and possible poisons used to control vermin became concerns on that property.

That triggered a second phase of study, which includes more in-depth soil sampling and water samples if needed.

Folck said the 450-page second phase environmental study on the 10th Street property was just completed and will need to be inspected closely.

“These studies are important because public perception can keep developers from taking a chance on a property,” she said. “These studies are also necessary before we can apply to the EPA for cleanup grants. Part of our plan is to remove all the existing structures.”

Folck said that once cleanup is finished, the city hopes the majority of the property could be resold to a developer to get the property back on the tax rolls.

Throughout the process, the city plans to take full advantage of grant opportunities to help pay for getting the property back into usable shape.

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Jerry Purvis is a reporter with the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9046 or emailed at jpurvis@starherald.com.

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