Mayor Josh Moenning shared his priorities for the future of Norfolk at a town hall meeting Wednesday, focusing on economic growth, quality-of-life enhancements and infrastructure improvements.
All three must work hand-in-hand to grow the city, he said.
About 25 people attended the meeting hosted by the Nebraska Conservation Educational Fund at the Norfolk Area Chamber of Commerce..
An additional focus of the meeting was discussion on how Norfolk can use renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, and whether the city can be more energy efficient.
Moenning said the city follows federal guidelines for energy efficiency, but utility companies like NPPD and Black Hills Energy offer ways to help citizens become more energy efficient in the home and at workplaces.
City officials are considering investing in solar, among other potential projects, he said. That’s partly because the state of Nebraska is one of the top states in the country in terms of wind and solar energy potential.
“If we can develop some cheaper, renewable, home-grown power, that would be beneficial,” Moenning said.
Another topic of discussion at the meeting was the planned development of new apartments throughout Norfolk.
Moenning said the city has issued the most building permits this year than any year since 2006, and there are more than 900 new units planned or proposed in Norfolk.
Several residents were concerned about whether rents would be affordable and whether there are enough good-paying jobs available to support future tenants.
“More development coming in means more competition and more choices, so rents should be more competitive and affordable,” Moenning said.
He said new industries would be more inclined to come to Norfolk because of better infrastructure and housing options. There also are jobs outside of traditional manufacturing that have workforces in need of housing options, such as health care and education workers.
Moenning also discussed future plans for downtown and riverfront development. He said that in the past, the North Fork has been considered more of a liability than an asset, but flood control has given the river new potential.
“We have a unique situation with a waterway running right through downtown,” he said. “We can make the river the lifeblood that it used to be.”
Other topics of discussion included questions about the viability of the Sunset Plaza Mall, and Moenning said it’s no secret the mall is struggling. Its owners will have to prove they can be creative to continue to be relevant.
“I won’t be giving any bailouts,” Moenning said.
He said Norfolk is a retail hub for the area, and online sales are cutting into sales and tax revenue. But he said that while the traditional idea of a mall may be becoming a thing of the past, downtown revitalization will provide a new shopping experience for future generations.
“Successful malls now typically have an outdoor element,” he said. “We have an outdoor mall here in Norfolk: downtown.”
Moenning and several residents also noted that declining farm incomes were affecting the mall and the local economy, and that the success of Norfolk depends on the success of outlying communities and farmland.
Other topics brought included plans to expand Highway 275 to four lanes all the way from Norfolk to Omaha, plans for the future of tourism, hotels, roads, the police division and taxes.