Americarts rendering

This rendering shows what the proposed Americarts family entertainment center would look like if funding can be secured. Founders of the project announced Tuesday plans to build the facility — which would have an emphasis on education and inclusion for people with disabilities — have hit a snag.

The developers of a proposed family entertainment center are going back to the drawing board.

Americarts announced Tuesday that it is no longer in a purchase agreement with the owners of the Livestock Sales Barn property. Representatives from Americarts had signed a purchase agreement in July 2022 with the owners of Nebraska Livestock Sales of Norfolk for the property, 1601 S. First St., and for the past four months, had worked closely with various private investors and investment groups to try to secure the funding for the land, which would allow for phase 2 of the project to begin.

“We felt confident that we had met the right investor. We negotiated the structure of a mutually beneficial agreement to share the land,” said Stephanie Goodrich, a founder of Americarts. “Securing the land would allow us to start the eligibility process for a Business and Industry Loan, which can take at least 120 days to complete. Unfortunately, the day before our purchase agreement deadline, we received a message saying (the investors) were no longer interested.”

The Business and Industry Loan program aims to improve, develop or finance new or existing businesses that will improve the economic and environmental climate in rural communities. Unlike Small Business Administration loans, these loans can be used for larger projects, up to $25 million in size.

Goodrich said these types of loans require a significant amount of work to obtain, but Americarts is ready for that challenge.

“Of course, we are disappointed, but we are also excited to see what other commercial properties are available in Norfolk,” she said.

Americarts founders said they are grateful to have had the opportunity to try to repurpose the Livestock Sales Barn land. “The property owners have been wonderful to work with; they’ve been very supportive of our efforts to revitalize this historic part of Norfolk,” Goodrich said.

For those who had purchased a Founder’s Circle Membership, the company said it would greatly appreciate it if members could hang on for one more year. As promised, refunds can be issued if Americarts is unable to open in Norfolk.

Americarts officials welcome the opportunity to meet with Northeast Nebraska regional investors who understand the unique demographics and needs of this area.

The founders of Americarts said they would try for at least another year to create the first location in Norfolk before considering other cities. Robert Johnson, president of Americarts, said three investors had told him if Americarts selected a different city with a larger population — such as Omaha or Grand Island — they would be on board.

“Many people have told us that a state-of-the-art entertainment center with an emphasis on education and inclusion for people with disabilities won’t work in Norfolk. They say that Norfolk is too small of a town,” he said.

But, Johnson added, he grew up in Madison and raised his children in Norfolk and believes Americarts would do well in the community.

“I also know that the hard-working people of Norfolk and the surrounding towns deserve an amazing place available year-round, to go and celebrate birthdays, gather with friends, and have fun with their families. A place where there is something for everyone — that includes everyone,” Johnson said.

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