LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) – Nebraska will give an old state veterans’ home property to the city of Grand Island, which is losing the facility to make way for a new home in Kearney, state officials announced Tuesday.
The deal between Nebraska and Grand Island officials follows protests by local residents who had fought to keep the 128-year-old veterans home and its 375 jobs from leaving the city. The new $121 million, 225-bed Central Nebraska Veterans Home is set to open in 2018.
“We think this is a real win-win for the citizens of Nebraska and the citizens of Grand Island,” Gov. Pete Ricketts said Tuesday, flanked by Grand Island Mayor Jeremy Jensen, state Sen. Mike Gloor and members of his administration.
The transfer will allow the city to use parts of the land for commercial and retail space, while maintaining a veterans’ cemetery on the property. City officials hope to use some of the property as green space and some for a public cemetery. They’re also making room for a cybersecurity training firm that works with veterans.
Ricketts said the arrangement honors the spirit of the original 1887 land transfer, when three farm families sold parcels of land to the state for $1 each. Grand Island’s city council must approve the current transfer of the property, which is now worth an estimated $4 million to $5 million.
Former Gov. Dave Heineman announced in 2013 that Kearney had won the project in competitive bidding with Hastings, Grand Island and North Platte. Kearney city officials agreed to commit $8.5 million in direct funding and utility cost reductions for the project. The commitment came on top of $1 million approved by Buffalo County officials, $100,000 from an economic development group, and $500,000 promised by a veterans’ memorial committee.
Critics of the state’s competitive bidding process argued that it relied partly on subjective criteria, such as “cultural factors” and “community support,” and didn’t include input from the current home’s residents.
“This is an opportunity to move forward,” Gloor said Tuesday.
Nebraska lawmakers rejected his bill last year that would have required legislative review of any proposal to move a state service or agency from one community to another if the cost was $15 million or more. Heineman said his decision was based on a recommendation from a committee of three appointed department heads.
The transfer will take place in two phases and would be completed once the new veterans’ home is built. The state will transfer 77 acres of recreation area and 329 acres of farmland to the city, followed by another transfer of roughly 50 acres that include the home itself, a state veterans’ cemetery and the United Veterans’ Club.
Transferring the maintenance costs to the city will save the state about $5.3 million over 25 years, said Byron Diamond, director of the Nebraska Department of Administrative Services.
Greg Holloway, the chairman of the Nebraska Veterans Council, said he was pleased with the announcement as long as the plan focused on serving veterans’ interests.
“I just wanted them to work it out,” he said.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.