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Fremont City Council

Dodge County Courthouse.

The Fremont City Council approved funding for Fremont’s first brewery and an open prayer session prior to council meetings at its meeting Tuesday night.

The 505 Brewing Company currently has plans to lease and open in the basement of the 505 Building. The historic building, located on Main Street, has long been vacant.

The council unanimously approved providing $165,000 in Legislative Bill 840 funding for the $1.25 million project. Councilmember Matt Bechtel abstained from voting due to his involvement in the liquor industry.

The funding was previously recommended by the Citizen Advisory Review Committee and the Local Option Review Team.

The brewery will be required to create five new jobs and maintain them over a period of five years: one within the first year, the second within the second year and the last three in the third year.

505 Brewing will provide core and specialty brews, local guest taps and craft sodas.

Tim Gesell, co-owner of 505 Brewing, said that craft breweries were on the rise in Nebraska and had been boosting the economy by providing jobs and promoting tourism.

“We’re excited to be a part of that, and our vision is to be Fremont’s brand, Nebraska’s brewery. That’s really what we set out to do,” he said. “We want to embrace the community.”

Co-owner and head brewer Shawn Morrow previously worked at Empyrean Brewing Company in Lincoln for nearly 12 years.

Gesell said with 505 Brewing, he wants to help drive growth in the downtown area and support local events. He said he plans to donate byproduct from the grain used by the brewery to local farms to use as livestock feed.

When asked by Councilmember Brad Yerger about any unique challenges to moving into a historic building, Gesell said there is very little in the basement that needs to be preserved, but getting the state-of-the-art equipment in the building will be a challenge.

Cortney Schaefer, executive director of MainStreet of Fremont, said she supported the brewery’s efforts and said she saw a positive change come from other cities that have added breweries, including Wichita Falls, Texas.

“When they added the brewery, it changed the entire culture of downtown, and it was great to see for Wichita Falls,” she said.

Garry Clark, executive director of the Greater Fremont Development Council, said he’s worked behind the scenes with the brewery and likes the plan they have presented.

“I’m just really excited for the potential here,” he said. “We have a lot going on in Fremont, and this is just one of those things that can be a catalyst for a lot of activity downtown and also to benefit other businesses.”

Yerger also expressed his support for 505 Brewing and what it would bring to the city.

“I’m actually quite thrilled that this is going in downtown,” he said. “Having something go into the 505 Building is going to be a real shot in the arm for Fremont.”

The council also approved an item from Yerger that would allow the City Attorney to develop a plan for instituting public prayer prior to city council meetings. The motion was approved 7-1, with Councilmember Mark Jensen voting against.

Yerger said he believed that some “divine wisdom and discernment” is something council members needed before making decisions on city affairs.

“I think formalizing the practice is responsive to public input that’s received, and in my opinion, I think this would be a great idea, so I would hope the council would join me in authorizing the city attorney to look into how we could affect this,” Yerger said.

Bechtel said that he knew other cities that have a time of prayer in place as well. When asked by Jensen, the City’s legal team said the prayer session would be non-denominational and open to all recognized religions.

The council also unanimously approved the execution of an agreement with the Northeast Nebraska Economic Development District for a grant administration for flood repairs.

The City was granted $485,000 of community development block grant funds by the Nebraska Department of Economic Development to repair the Fremont, Farmland and Railroad Levee, which was damaged in the state’s flooding last March.

After the flooding earlier this year, the breaches were temporarily repaired, said Lottie Mitchell, grant coordinator and executive assistant.

The project will begin after the spring of 2020 to wait after any potential flooding, but the repairs currently in place should withstand any future flooding, Mitchell said.

Out of the funds awarded, $450,000 is for project costs, $10,000 is for construction and $25,000 is for grant administration.

Mitchell said NENEDD would be doing construction management when asked by Councilmember Susan Jacobus.

The Community Development Agency unanimously approved forwarding a proposed redevelopment plan for the Fremont Mall to the Planning Commission. The agency is made up of the same members as the city council.

The redevelopment plan would request that the area of the mall collect a 1% occupation tax over the next 20 years and be declared an enhanced employment area.

Mike Bacon, an attorney representing the mall, said although the redevelopment plan is similar to those that Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) is used on, the mall’s plan does not involve TIFF.

The purpose of the tax is to provide funding to rehab the mall’s roof, air conditioning and interior to attract new tenants, Bacon said.

“There has been a significant decline in sales at the site from about $18 million down to significantly less; it’s about a third of what it used to be,” he said. “That means there’s a significant loss in sales tax revenue to the city and to the state of Nebraska.”

The total cost of the project would be over $4 million, but the occupation tax would provide a net $2.2 million in usable funds over the next 20 years, Bacon said.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing for the plan and vote on it during its Dec. 16 meeting. It will then go back to the council in January, back to the CDA and then to the council for final approval.

The council also approved a conditional use permit for four triplex dwelling units on a property at Linden and K streets.

The property is currently owned by the Fremont Presbyterian Church, but is currently not being used, said Stan Darling, who represented the church.

“The mission of a church is to provide housing, so that’s our intentions for our grassy area to the south,” he said.

The property will be sold to LifeHouse, which will use the property as low-income housing. It received just under $3 million from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development in October 2018.

“Our hope is to really have a holistic approach to this housing project and not just provide a place to live, but also to have wraparound services and teach life skills classes, have on-going case management and really address any underlying issues for families living in our triplexes,” LifeHouse CEO Tera Kucera said.

Jacobus expressed concern at the property’s close proximity to a school, but Kucera clarified that the properties would not be a shelter, but would have case managers coaching families.

Yerger motioned to postpone discussion, which he said was necessary to complete the ordinance language and let the public have additional time to speak for or against the project.

But Kucera said LifeHouse has sent notices to everyone in the area about the project and held multiple public meetings on it. Yerger’s motion failed to obtain a second.

The council voted 7-1 to approve the permit, with Yerger voting against.

The council also unanimously approved a fee waiver for a fundraising event for the Fremont Horse Arena Improvement Association at the Christensen Field Indoor Horse Arena.

Kim Koski, parks and recreation department director, said events like this usually don’t fall under its categories for a fee waiver request.

“This is unique where it’s not for an outside individual or event, it’s something that the money’s going to be put back into the arena,” she said.

A first reading was also held to make the city a Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) District. PACE would provide Fremont with financing for energy-friendly projects.

The council also unanimously approved the Deerfield Clubhouse Apartments’ expansion from 122 units to 166 and to annex a lot to be used as a lab building for Costco partially inside Inglewood.

The council approved the liquor licenses for the Dugout Bar and Chuy’s Mexican Restaurant, previously La Antigua Restaurant.

A previous version of this article stated that Councilmember Mark Legband was the sole vote against the open prayer item. Councilmember Mark Jensen was the actual sole vote against.

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