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Movie filmed in Fremont makes No. 5 spot on Top 10 list

A movie filmed in Fremont has made the No. 5 spot on the Top 10 story list for the Tribune.

Last year, area residents eagerly sought small roles in “12 Days of Giving,” a family oriented Christmas movie filmed in Fremont in February.

Several local sites including Fremont Mall, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, Linden Elementary School and J’s Steakhouse were chosen for scenes in the movie which premiered on Dec. 3 on the UP Network.

The movie, which stars David Blue, Pamela Collins and Jax Connolly, is about a man who becomes a town’s Secret Santa and befriends a boy who has lost his father.

Linda Cutts, a waitress at J’s Steakhouse, played the small role of a grandma in the movie, and was among those earning a rave review from former Nebraskan Christine Conradt, the film’s director.

“Linda Cutts is fantastic and Heidi Melcher — also fantastic — so natural. You really connect to them as people,” Conradt said.

Cutts was pleased about Conradt’s comments.

“I’m glad Christine thinks I did an OK job,” said Cutts, who was taking chemo at the time of the filming. “I felt like I did a horrible job memorizing the lines.”

Melcher, a schoolteacher in Fremont for 28 years, plays a librarian in the movie. She was appreciative of her good review as well.

“It just meant so much to me, because I have no acting background,” said Melcher, who has seven lines. “I was in a church program, but no drama background, no school plays, no classes, nothing. I felt like God opened that door for whatever reason. It was huge blessing.”

Conradt also expressed her appreciation for local and area residents.

“I feel bad if I’ve forgotten someone, because everyone was so good,” Conradt said. “The background (actors) were mostly local Fremont people and they did such a great job.

“They were so professional, listened and followed directions and really wanted it to be a good movie and did everything we wanted them to do,” Conradt added. “Those filming days are very long and it’s hard to keep the positive attitude up when you’ve been filming for nine or 10 hours. They did a great job and you see it on the screen.”

Local residents talked about how they enjoyed working with the filmmakers, actors and crew.

Melcher said she was nervous, but said everyone, including Blue — the lead male actor — was very patient.

“He was so genuine,” Melcher said of Blue. “He helped me run my lines. He said he would help with whatever, because his first movie was with Jamie Lee Curtis and she helped him and so he wanted to return the favor and help me. But from the director to the makeup person, they were all just amazing people to work with.”

Bill Perry, who owns the Kollmeyer Passageway, donated four offices so filmmakers could have a place to operate from — a place to call home — for a couple of months.

Perry had a good experience with the filmmakers, too.

“All of the people within the movie — the directors and the camera people — all are really nice people,” he said. “They’re really good, solid, fun people to deal with and work with on a project like this. It was a real joy.”

Local businesspeople saw the benefits from local filming for the movie produced by the California-based Expression Entertainment.

“I saw a lot of potential in this movie and the enthusiasm it would bring to some of my tenants downtown and Fremont as a whole,” Perry said in February.

Tammie Ciccarelli, who owns the Polymath Cyber Café in downtown Fremont, believes the filming brought people — not only from Fremont, but other communities — to her business.

And they keep coming back.

Local merchants hope more movies will be filmed in Fremont for the business and enthusiasm they bring to the city. Others also see the potential of providing jobs that might help keep young people from moving away.

Fremonters Barbara and Thom Christensen own a building at the corner of Fifth and Main streets.

Barbara Christensen said the filming makes people think about the downtown area.

Thom Christensen has enjoyed seeing “Fremont move in a slightly different area, having a new income stream.”

While the state is known as an agricultural center, the filming is giving people a peek at an expanding horizon — that Fremont can have opportunities in other industries as well, Barbara Christensen said. Young people can be involved in these other opportunities and stay in Fremont.

“We’ve enjoyed watching the people of Fremont respond to the whole new experience of a film industry coming, and seeing the smiles in the kids and the adults, everybody taking a look at something new,” Christensen said earlier this year.

Stacy Heatherly, commissioner of the Eastern Nebraska Film Office which was instrumental in bringing the movie to Fremont, said her office and the City of Fremont designed a packet that provides incentives for films to be shot here.

Shortly before the movie’s premiere, Heatherly shared her appreciation for the “12 Days of Christmas” film project.

“The Eastern Nebraska Film Office and the City of Fremont are very excited because this is our first film from start to finish,” Heatherly said. “We brought the film in. We worked together. We used the film incentive packet and now we are excited for distribution.”

Conradt said the movie might come out in a year or two as a DVD.

In the meantime, a party at which cast and crew members could see the film locally took place earlier this month.

Looking back, Cutts recalled her excitement about getting the part of the grandmother. Cutts had something else to be excited about. In October, Cutts told the Tribune that she is cancer free.

Heidi Melcher

Eclipse proves to be big event across state

One of the biggest stories of the year, not only in Fremont, but across the country was the unprecedented natural phenomenon that was the Great American Eclipse.

The eclipse on Aug. 21 ranked as the No. 6 story in the list of Top 10 stories of the year for the Tribune.

As thousands of people from all over the country were inundating Nebraska communities along the path of totality just to catch a glimpse of the Great American Eclipse, local residents avoided the backed up highways and crowds of people to see the celestial phenomenon closer to home.

Fremont High School students made their way out to Appleget Field to enjoy the phenomenon, while several local families enjoyed the view of the moon blotting out the sun at Keene Memorial Library.

“I don’t like going down to Lincoln when there is a big game, let alone the celestial event of the century,” Fremont resident Neilea Ficek said while watching the eclipse at Keene.

Along with her two sons Titus and Taggert, Ficek attended Keene’s eclipse viewing party which also featured a short presentation, cookie making, and pinhole viewer making leading up to the peak of the eclipse at around 1:03 p.m. in Fremont.

“From here we have around 98 percent coverage, so it’s still a great view,” Librarian Laura England-Biggs said at the time.

Several sets of parents and their young children attended the event, along with a group of young adults who stumbled upon the event looking for eclipse glasses.

The group of mostly parents and their young children oohed and awed as the sun began to look like a more familiar celestial siting, a crescent moon.

As the peak of the eclipse in Fremont came the skies darkened and the temperatures chilled, but while all were impressed by the phenomenon most had slightly different expectations.

“It was great, but I really thought it was going to be a lot darker,” Amber Zechman, who attended the Keene eclipse event with her two children Amos and Aleah, said at the time.

Though the skies were visibly darker, it was more like a late afternoon thunderstorm was rolling in to town.

While all of the adults in attendance were fully aware of the rarity of the eclipse, the magnitude of the event was certainly lost on some of the smaller children in attendance.

“Titus is old enough that he will remember seeing it, but it will probably be one of those memories that will come back to him when he starts studying eclipses in school when he gets older,” Ficek said of her 7-year-old son.

While the festivities were underway at Keene, students at Fremont Public Schools also made their way out of the classroom and into the midday sun to watch the eclipse.

At around 12:45 p.m., Fremont High School students and faculty started making their way outside of the building in preparation for the total solar eclipse, which that hadn’t been visible in the continental United States from coast to coast since 1918.

Shortly after 1 p.m., the sky noticeably darkened and temperatures dropped. The feeling was comparable to dusk on a fall night, especially when numerous street lights began turning on all along 16th Street.

Animals around Fremont also acted out of the ordinary. While there was no noticeable abnormal animal activity at Fremont High School, there were reports around Fremont of crickets chirping and bats flying overhead.

Students in Ken Fuchser’s class made the most of the experience, excitedly chatting about what they were seeing, snapping selfies with their cell phones and taking pictures of the solar eclipse through their protective eyewear. Some used pinhole projectors to indirectly view the experience.

Fuchser said the eclipse was the perfect way to kick off the 2017-2018 school year. It provided a sense of buzz that was different from years past.

“I am just thrilled to death, being a science teacher this is something that is right up my alley,” he said. “What a great moment, and what a great opportunity at the start of the school year to get people excited about science. I absolutely couldn’t have asked for anything more than this.”

Student reactions, however, were fairly divided in terms of what they thought of the experience. After hearing about the total solar eclipse for months, some thought it was actually a bit of a letdown.

“I thought it would get a lot darker, and it ended up staying pretty light the entire time,” sophomore Anthony Jacobus said. “Everyone was saying crickets would start going off and birds were going to start chirping a lot, and nothing like that really happened. Then when it was going on the clouds went over so I don’t think we got to see it as well as we could have.”

Senior Terry Kellison, however, was very excited about what he saw. Kellison said following the eclipse that he was originally planning to take the day off of school to drive to Lincoln or Beatrice — 15 FHS students he knows did just that. He, however, was unable to hitch a ride, resulting in his viewing from Appleget Field.

“It’s the moon, literally moving in front of the sun, it’s super cool,” he said while gesturing the action with his hands. “This is something that doesn’t happen very often. And while I will say all the hype around it made it kind of anticlimactic, it’s still pretty cool.”

Along with providing for a one-of-a-kind recreational experience for resident’s across the state, the Great American Eclipse proved to a tourism event unlike any other Nebraska has ever hosted.

According to an economic impact study by Dean Runyan Associates and Destination Analysts, Inc., it was estimated that more than 708,000 people traveled to watch the 2017 Solar Eclipse in Nebraska, with approximately 87 percent of those coming from out of state.

Those numbers make the Great American Eclipse the state’s greatest single tourist event on record.

“This data confirms the magnitude of the solar eclipse’s impact and we couldn’t be more pleased,” John Ricks, executive director of Nebraska Tourism, said. “The amazing one-time event was big business for our industry and beyond. We hope travelers were inspired to share stories about their Nebraska experience and to visit again.”

According to the study, the economic impact across Nebraska totaled an estimated $127 million, which includes lodging and expenditures. Media coverage of the event also provided free publicity with an estimated value more than $133 million.

Colin Larson / Colin Larson/Fremont Tribune  

A group of Fremont residents, and Keene Memorial Library staff look to the sky to view the Great American Eclipse at the library.

Council votes in favor of re-zoning plot of land for SunRidge Place

The Fremont City Council during its Tuesday evening meeting voted in favor of and had the first reading of an ordinance that would alter the zoning of an 8.6 acre parcel of land on the east side of town.

The land, located in the general area of 3001 E. Military Ave., is currently zoned as RR Residential and with the passage of the ordinance would be zoned as R-4 High-Density Residential. The nearly 9 acres of land encompasses a portion of the proposed SunRidge Place housing development, which calls for 267 units spanning across nearly 65 acres.

During its Dec. 20 meeting, the Planning Commission voted in favor of the zoning change by a 7-1 vote, with Commissioner Dev Sookram casting the lone no-vote.

The Council unanimously supported the zoning change with a 7-0 vote – Councilmember Matt Bechtel wasn’t in attendance — after a few minutes of conversation revolving around whether to suspend the general ordinance rules which calls for three meetings, three votes and three readings; and instead wave the final two readings and pass the ordinance, which would be enacted 15 days after passage.

City of Fremont Planner Troy Anderson said that City Staff generally has been in favor of suspending the ordinance rules and moving straight to final vote and third reading if the zoning shift fits in with the City of Fremont’s Comprehensive Land-Use Plan.

Anderson said that public concerns regarding traffic flow in the area, drainage issues and other potential issues that most developers face when bringing a project to a community will need to continue being addressed, however, he said, there’s no reason to delay this process.

“We share a lot of your concerns, and we’ve sat down and vetted a lot of these concerns early on, and have communicated these concerns to the developers,” Anderson said. “But this has to do with the zoning, and I respect the concerns, we share them, but this is consistent with the Future Land-Use Plan, there is really no reason to delay the process because we’ve already identified that this property – in fact all 60 acres – is going to be residential.”

The zoning change, said Jennifer Bixby of Don Peterson and Associates Real Estate Company, wouldn’t be incredibly time sensitive other than the fact that a portion of the land part of the proposed development could miss out on a financial opportunity.

“In that section along Jack Sutton (Drive) on the east edge, there is about 4.6 acres that we are working with a developer right now to bring in a tax-credit project,” Bixby said. “It would be 39 townhomes and a clubhouse and a playground, and they have to apply to NIFA (Nebraska Investment Finance Authority) by Jan. 8.”

Ultimately, the Council decided that in regard to a project of this magnitude, members of the public should have the opportunity to voice their thoughts, feelings and opinions for the usual three meetings, which will ultimately be capped off by a final vote and reading if the ordinance passes.

Ward 1 Councilmember Mark Legband made a motion to introduce the ordinance under the terms that the regular ordinance rules would not be suspended, and Ward 2 Councilmember Susan Jacobus seconded the motion.

Prior to vote-casting, Ward 1 Councilmember Linda McClain explained her rationale behind not wanting to suspend the ordinance rules and move to final vote and reading.

“The fact that this (the proposed SunRidge Place development) has been in discussion for a very long time doesn’t mean, again, that the public has had the opportunity to react,” McClain said. “So I think it’s not necessarily a good impression we give when we fast-track things.”

“ … I don’t have anything to gain from this, I don’t own any land in Fremont, I don’t own any businesses, I am just trying to make the right decisions for the people here in Fremont. I am in total favor of growth and development, but I also am in favor of a process.”