Chief Development Inc. still believes in helping open up more North Platte land for homes and businesses between Interstate 80 and the South Platte River, the firm’s general manager says.
But that almost certainly won’t include a reopening of Iron Eagle Golf Course, bought from the city two years ago after three decades of controversy and repeated river flooding.
“Not that we can see, economically,” General Manager Roger Bullington said Tuesday evening after the city Planning Commission voted 8-1 to recommend “substandard and blighted” status for 370.21 acres north of the interstate.
Instead, he said, the development arm of Grand Island-based Chief will consult city leaders as it converts at least part of the 18-hole, 154-acre course for green-space recreation such as trails and parks.
Council vote next week
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Planning panel member Glenn Van Velson cast the lone “no” vote after a public hearing on the study by David City’s Marvin Planning Associates. It goes to the City Council Dec. 5 for another hearing and a final vote.
Council approval would open tax increment financing for projects in most of the area between the river, I-80, the NPPD Canal and Newberry Access. Hotels and Peg Leg Brewery, north of Halligan, and the housing development south of Iron Eagle are excluded.
Van Velson, a lawyer, said he isn’t certain the study’s evidence satisfies all aspects of state law governing the eligibility of land for TIF.
“I want the development to happen for North Platte,” he said. But “just because we might be able to do it doesn’t mean we should do it.”
Council approval would increase the percentage of North Platte’s TIF-eligible land from 20.8% to 23.9%, said Planning Administrator Judy Clark. Cities the size of North Platte can’t have more than 35% so designated.
Bullington renewed Chief’s interest, first expressed publicly in August 2019, in developing more commercial projects on Halligan Drive and a mixed-type, 200-unit-plus “senior living” complex north of North Platte Community College’s North Campus.
They formed the second and third stages of a three-pronged plan. Chief has finished the first stage, the nine-building Iron Trail Industrial Park on the north end of Twin Rivers Business Park.
Iron Eagle transition
As he updated his firm’s vision Tuesday, Bullington talked of developing 50 to 70 acres of the TIF study area for recreational uses such as a hiking-bicycling trail, UTV trails and more traditional parkland.
“As you know, the golf course has got some propensity to have some water backing up and some of that,” he said. So “we’ll probably try to focus more of that on recreational stuff.”
Bullington confirmed after the meeting that he was speaking of land occupied by Iron Eagle, opened by the city in June 1994 but plagued by South Platte surges in 1995, 1997, 2013 and 2015 that put multiple holes underwater.
Previous mayors and councils coped with repairs and poured keno proceeds and other city resources into the course amid chronic local criticism.
Another Chief affiliate, C&L Land Inc., bought Iron Eagle for $10,000 in May 2021 to fold into the development plan it announced 21 months earlier.
Bullington said Chief, which once owned and operated its own Grand Island course, employed maintenance people and a course superintendent at Iron Eagle for two years while it mulled ways to revive it.
But “every time we looked at the business model, there was so much deferred maintenance,” he said. “It was just not economically feasible to continue it.”
When he first presented Chief’s vision four years ago, Bullington said having Iron Eagle next to the planned senior-living complex would be beneficial but wasn’t necessary to go forward.
COVID-19 largely caused the senior-living project’s four-year delay, he told the Planning Commission Tuesday. Chief’s partner for that complex pulled out amid the pandemic, but Chief will seek out another if TIF status is granted.
“So once we can get this blighted, I can take that back out to the marketplace for senior living,” Bullington said.
Meanwhile, he said after the meeting, turning Iron Eagle into green space would be “a lot more favorable to people to live there, especially with the 55-and-over community.”
Gary Person, president and CEO of the North Platte Area Chamber & Development Corp., said Wednesday that the previous senior-living developer couldn’t adjust its concept to new regulations brought on by the pandemic.
“It was a wonderful plan. It was a victim of circumstances,” he said. “I’m glad they’re resurrecting it (Chief), because the need hasn’t gone away. They’re excited about North Platte and all the things going on.”
The City Council gave 7-1 final approval June 6 to annexing the senior-living site into city limits.
Chief still wants to build a drivable golf-cart and pedestrian path through the senior-living complex and west across a to-be-built NPPD Canal pedestrian bridge, Bullington said.
It would connect with land owned by North Platte businessman Pat Keenan, east of the Dunkin’ doughnut shop, that was annexed and made TIF-eligible in 2019 with an eye toward development.
Limiting water backups
Bullington told Planning Commission members that Chief has been working with engineering firms on possible long-term mitigation of the South Platte’s flooding tendencies. The firm paid for extensive drone footage of the area during last spring and summer’s high river flows, he said.
“I’m an engineer myself, so I understand the risks and how to mitigate risk,” he said. “As the engineer told me, this site doesn’t flood. Waters back up from that eastern area.”
The engineers Chief has worked with say it would take “not a lot of dirt work to alleviate a lot of that,” he added.
City Engineer Brent Burklund said Wednesday that North Platte sees “shallow sheet flooding in areas adjacent to the channels” near both shores of the South Platte.
“The water backs up and follows lower points in the natural terrain,” he said. One such area near the North Platte Industrial Park is “less than 1 foot deep, but it’s a fairly large swath.”
Bullington told the Planning Commission that the Janssen Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram dealership on Halligan, previously a Kubota dealership, was built up to 4 feet above the river level north of Iron Eagle.
Chief would do likewise with its projects, he said. “We’re not going to come in and spend $40 million on a senior-living deal and $30 million on apartments and stuff like that if we thought there was even a small chance of not being able to mitigate the water issue.”
Keith Marvin, principal of his planning firm, said his study bases Chief’s TIF argument on the hindrance posed by the river and its floodplain to developing otherwise prime land.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why this (TIF status) is so critical to address some of those flooding issues that these properties see, how to deal with them and do it right,” he said.
TIF criticized anew
But Greg Renner, who lives south of Lake Maloney, renewed often-heard contentions that TIF isn’t appropriate for undeveloped ground and taxpayers won’t benefit for years, if ever.
“The developer pays a firm to basically come out with the outcome they want,” he said of Marvin’s study. “That’s the way it always works. …
“The city squandered around $20 million on that property. Chief bought it for $10,000. … If they can’t develop that not having any investment in that property, nobody can.”
“I would think there would be other land elsewhere in North Platte to be developed rather than taking on the challenge of doing that,” added Councilwoman Donna Tryon. She said she was speaking to the Planning Commission “as a taxpayer.”
“The city’s already given them $10 million with the golf course. And now they’re asking for TIF? I mean, where does it end?”
Iron Eagle was tax-exempt under city ownership but valued for tax purposes at $890,006 after Chief bought it in 2021, according to Lincoln County GIS.
It was valued at $918,066 in both 2022 and 2023, which translates to a $17,764 property tax bill for this year.
In his initial 2019 presentation, Bullington said Chief would need TIF for all three phases of its plan. The City Council granted TIF for the Iron Trail warehouse buildings that fall.
Chief Development Inc. received go-ahead from the North Platte City Council Tuesday to move forward with the 1st of 3 projects along I-80
Planning Commission Vice Chairman Nelson Jett, a real estate agent, said he’s heard local complaints about using TIF for the past several years.
But “from seeing some of these projects start to come to fruition in town, such as the mall (District 177) or other things around town, once they see some of these stores and new things we can actually have here, they don’t say that anymore,” he said.