Thursday, November 21, 2013

Local Input on How the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument Happened

Stephen R. England, SEC ALC AFM EMS, President, Investment Property Exchange Inc., 3811 Central Avenue, Suite G, Kearney, NE 68848, 308 236 8505 office, 308 234 6025 fax, 308 440 8190 cell, sent me the following contribution which is published with his permission:

"    At the time the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument was planned, officials with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Nebraska  Department of Roads told us that along I-80 separate exits and entrances for other than communities were prohibited. They also had a provision that said any food or commerce profits had to go to a special federal fund. This pretty much eliminated the Archway operating as a business with its own exit and entrance ramps.

    However also the Kearney Motel community assessed themselves a 2% tax on all motel room receipts for five years so that those funds could be given to the Great Platte River Archway Monument Foundation to plan the project. This amounted to approximately $1M. If the Archway had had its own "easy on" "easy off" exit there would have been less chance that those visitors would stay in Kearney and return to the motel owners their risked investment. As an example if you drive through Ohio, I-80 is a toll road and they have several very elaborate rest areas where some franchise restaurants and basic services are available. Most out of area travelers never get off the expressway to visit the Ohio communities. The city of Kearney did not want this to happen so it was decided not to fight the special exit issue which might have required an act of Congress to change.

    If you have traveled through other states along I-80 you might see some restaurants and rest areas that seem to violate this supposed law. However we were told that these were areas added to I-80 and were not part of the original I-80 Coast to Coast Highway project so they had different rules.

    Ultimately the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument was located along a frontage road two miles east of the Kearney I-80 exit. The absence of an exit on the east side of the property made it easy for travelers going east to decide to not stop since they had to backtrack about six miles.  I know all of these options were discussed thoroughly because I was retained to find a suitable location for the project and this land had one mile of frontage on both sides of the interstate and if not selected the site selection would have had to involve the voluntary purchase of lands from many different owners at a much higher price. Without some sort of condemnation authority it probably couldn't have happened. 

    Building an attraction of this type had never been done before. Several studies were done by national experts and they predicted that people would see this very interesting and attractive structure and decide to stop by. It is basically a $60M billboard  that can be seen for a couple miles in both directions. However no one realized with modern vehicles equipped with large gas tanks, video players, etc., the traveling public does not make very many impulse stops. Most have to be convinced prior to embarking that an Archway stop will be scheduled.

    The other problem is that this is really an historical museum which once visited many don't feel the desire to return to even though it is quite spectacular and has received many national accolades. It needs to be more interactive and fun where visitors would want to come back again very soon.  There needs to be more fun family stuff to do except look and learn.

    The interesting thing for Kearney is that the bankruptcy court just sold this monster facility to a group of us community business folks for $120,000 and dismissed all other obligations. Either the Foundation or the Community is going to own it soon. This bankruptcy should have been filed years ago because the Archway was saddled with impossible indebtedness with no hope of repaying. So any new idea or program that would have allowed the Archway to earn a little profit had to go directly to bondholders which solved no problems for anyone and certainly did not provide a path to financial viability.

    Unbelieveably most observers don't realize that there is no local money invested here at all. It was funded entirely by big Wall Street mutual funds.  Some brokerage firms with local offices tried to invest for local people but were thankfully shut out. This entire offering went to Wall Street just before the peak of the Dot Com bubble and Smith Barney and others could sell anything. This offering was sold out in four hours. The Foundation went from wondering where to come up with $3,000 to exercise the land option to having $57M in the bank a week later.

    I think now with some cost cutting, new leadership, and vision that there can be numerous ways to make the Archway financially sound. It has been a huge asset to Kearney and it is an icon. Everyone who travels by car through central Nebraska now knows about our community. I have escorted many people through the Archway when they come here to do some business. Their comment is generally "this is spectacular and I am bringing my family back to see it soon!" not to mention the educational resource it is for buses and buses of school children that visit every year.

    It is hard to quantify what the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument has done for Kearney and Nebraska. However it is an illustration that makes people take notice and fulfills a tremendous historical education function for those taking its tour."

 
Please Note:  Steve wrote the above material in response to our posting: Free the Archway! The Outdated US Code 23 §111 (Highways) and the Great Platte River Road Archway, Kearney, Nebraska, USA

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