City manager Gary Person talked about the history of the town and the next big fork in the road that Sidney came to, “We were very much down in the dumps during the 70s and 80s. We’d lost our major employer when the Sioux Arm Depot closed their doors in 1967, then the oil industry played out in the area and the agricultural industry went through a real depression in the early 80s. We were feeling sorry for ourselves and hoping that some of those jobs we’d lost would come back.”
He went on, “Interstate 80 was built 2 miles south of the town. It was completed in 1973 but we didn’t decide to take infrastructure out there until 1988. Twice, the city council voted down spending the money to get water and sewer out there. We finally were able to put a plan together that cost us $4 million and got started out there with a truck stop and hotel. Shortly afterwards Cabela’s decided to put their first flagship store out there and then their corporate headquarters.”
Not that Cabela’s abandoned the downtown area. One of their major operations is still located there in a former retail big-box (not theirs) adjacent to the downtown. In addition they’ve helped to back the Main Street revitalization with a $200,000 challenge grant that allowed Megan McGown, head of the local Chamber and Main Street manager to expand, “We started with one retailer who redid their Coffee Corner in 2005 without any incentive. People saw what they did and the city set up the incentive program which Cabela’s doubled so that if someone spends $20,000 they get half of their investment back. We’ve got 22 approved for this project and already have 12 that are completed.”
The Sidney Main Street is a model that other towns should look at. It is going to be spectacular when completed!
I’m convinced that Sidney has recently completed another of those “Fork in the Road” projects. With only 13” of rain per year, western NE is a semi-arid area and from what I’ve seen, water is going to become the petroleum of this century. A $14 million new water field and distribution system has been built over the past three years. Gary Person told me, “We had to go 22 miles north to get into the Ogallala Aquifer. We had to go down 1,500 feet to get the quantity and quality of water that we needed. We laid a 36” water line to bring back here to Sidney.”
Sidney is a town looking forward, but the foundation laid in 1988 with the expansion out to the interstates has paid huge dividends. Over 2,500 people work out at that exit, as it has become THE PLACE to stop for the 8,000+ cars and trucks that pass by each day on I-80. Retail sales in the town have climbed from $46 million in 1990 to over $150 million today; lodging revenues have more than quadrupled from $1.1 million to $6.0 million; building permits have increased from $2.0 million to $16 million in 2007; and the town has gone from building 1 to 6 housing units/year in the late 80s to 40 to 60 today.
Sidney is a town on the move! I’m glad that they went down the right paths when they’ve come to critical forks in the road.