Since November 2015, a community-driven effort to restore and repurpose the historic Nebraska City Veteran’s Memorial Building has made a giant leap into the proposed course to revive the building as a beloved community-owned building once again.

This week the Memorial Building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places by the National Park Service.

The Memorial Building being placed on the national register is an important step toward finding funding sources to restore the 86-year-old building, which is estimated to be a $5 million to $6 million rehabilitation project.

The Memorial Building was closed in the fall 2007 due to building maintenance and repairs needed for the heating system. Community leaders want to redevelop the Memorial Building to house a meeting space for the Adam Schellinger American Legion Post No. 8 and other veterans’ groups, a culinary incubator, community center and performing arts center.

The historic designation qualifies the building for both state and national historic tax credits that would allow up to 40-percent in funding for the building’s rehabilitation costs.

Nebraska City resident Ted Beilman, who spearheaded the rehabilitation project, was surprised at how quickly the Memorial Building was approved to be listed on the national register.

“It took us five months from the first meeting with the Nebraska City (City) Council to the time the Veteran’s Memorial Building was placed on the historic register,” Beilman said. “I was originally told it would take 10 months to a year to accomplish this task.”

Beilman took charge of the project and formed the initial board of directors for the building’s redevelopment. Beilman also completed the application and asked the City of Nebraska City for permission to place the building on the national register.

For two years, local community members have been working with the Nebraska City Tourism & Commerce office, Nebraska City Area Economic Development Corp. and the city council to redevelop the Memorial Building.

According to a press release, the Memorial Building opened on Armistice Day in 1929 and was a monumental, two-story Italian Renaissance building with a raised basement, and was the hub for the town’s social life and events. The Citizens Committee of 100, comprising of local Nebraska City and Otoe County residents, initiated the building’s construction to house the local chapters of the American Legion and the United Spanish War veterans and soldiers of the Nebraska Army National Guard. The building was constructed to serve as a memorial to commemorate veterans of World War I and early wars in the 1920s.     

There is a grand stage with balcony seating in the auditorium, located on the second floor, that served as an area for community dances, recitals, professional wrestling, meetings and more. Community members involved in the rehabilitation project want to revive the auditorium into a community space again and to make that area the location for a performing arts center.

Nebraska playwright and Lied Center for Performing Arts creative services specialist Becky Boesen was an artist in residence at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in Nebraska City. During her stay, Boesen was intrigued with the building and called it “a Nebraska treasure with the capacity to serve as an ideal incubator for performing arts and hub for community education and engagement.

“What better way to honor the past while cultivating the future?” she asked.

Just underneath the auditorium in the building’s basement level is the location of a proposed culinary incubator.

According to the press release, Hoffman and Associates completed a feasibility study to build a culinary incubator to allow businesses and residents to rent a fully-equipped and licensed kitchen, distillery and brewery for cooking, co-packing and canning food products and for other culinary purposes. Utilizing current farm-to-market and artisan food trends to ignite more economic development is the goal of the incubator, as well as broadening the appeal of Nebraska City’s agriculture- and environmental-centric events and attractions.

Nebraska City resident Tim Pendrell first thought of the idea of creating a culinary incubator in the community.

“Nebraska City has always been at the forefront of the local, sustainable food trend, long before it was trendy,” Pendrell said. “J. Sterling Morton first proposed the Arbor Day holiday at a meeting of Nebraska’s State Board of Agriculture. He was a pioneer in educating the public on the value of trees - not just for their beauty, but also for their roles as a food source and windbreaks.”

It’s hoped that the culinary incubator would entice people returning to traditional cooking methods.

A culinary incubator is a kitchen facility that is licensed and has inspections in order to prepare and process smaller-scale food items for sale to the public. According to the press release, incubators are ideal for many start-up businesses because they allow for home cooks or entrepreneurs to branch out into the market at a lower expense or allow for existing small businesses to expand.

“Activities like canning and cooking from scratch with unprocessed foods are now gaining favor by society once again as we seek ways to reconnect with our food sources and one another,” Pendrell said. “Nebraska City, with its orchards and Arbor Day attractions and AppleJack events, is in a prime position to capture this popular fascination and the culinary incubator is the mechanism to do it.”

The culinary incubator could service people within a 150-mile radius like Omaha, Lincoln, St. Joseph, Mo., and Kansas City, Mo. Omaha-based architectural firm LEO A DALY has also been helping with determining how the building’s space could aid with increasing a food-based economy.

Bread and Cup owner and chef Kevin Shinn of Lincoln believes the culinary incubator will recruit more food industry into town.

“As an entrepreneur in the local food industry, I know how difficult it is to get an enterprise off the ground. Once an idea for a business is established, the idea needs to be tested and proven to be viable. This takes time and resources, the latter of which is often in short supply to an aspiring entrepreneur,” Shinn said. “I’m personally excited to see and help be a part of the culinary incubator knowing it will assist these individuals toward success, as well as create new employers and new jobs to grow our local economy.”

For more than a year, LEO A DALY has worked with the community and walked through the building numerous times to determine the property’s condition and see how the proposed uses can be utilized inside of its walls.

LEO A DALY senior associate architect Sheila Ireland of Omaha has also played a hand in the proposed creation of a culinary incubator in the Memorial Building and congratulated citizens on national registry listing.

“Listing on the National Register of Historic Places does more than recognize the historical and architectural significance of the Memorial Building,” Ireland said. “It provides additional financing options, which can help ensure the building is used and preserved in a historically-respectful manor for future generations to enjoy.”

LEO A DALY managing principal Chris Johnson was excited to hear the news of the building’s listing.

“Nebraska City should be proud,” Johnson said. “This is a great first step in the rebirth of the Memorial Building.”

Beilman added that the news is electrifying.

“It shows by working together that the city, the state and federal governments, along with local citizens, can accomplish something positive for our community,” he said.