Building beautiful communities to inspire The Good Life

Building beautiful communities to inspire The Good Life

April 26, 2024

by Jamdan Clang, Nebraska Department of Economic Development 

LINCOLN--Nebraska offers a peaceful pace of life, family-friendly neighborhoods, and sense of rootedness that are increasingly attractive in an oft-chaotic world. The Nebraska Department of Economic Development (DED) is helping the state’s communities build quality amenities to enhance their appeal. Through Community Development programs, DED is investing in the creation and enhancement of parks, cultural centers, and other public gathering places. These projects elevate local quality of life and help draw new residents and tourists to Nebraska.

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), Civic and Community Center Financing Fund (CCCFF), and Shovel-Ready Capital Project programs are three of the main ways DED supports community betterment initiatives.

The CDBG program provides funds to help communities enhance economic well-being, local vitality, and quality of life. The program is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and is celebrating its 50th year in 2024. The cities of Lincoln, Omaha, Bellevue, and Grand Island administer the CDBG program directly in their municipalities. DED administers CDBG program funds for all other Nebraska communities through its annual application process.
The CCCFF program helps develop cultural centers, aquatic facilities, recreation centers, auditoriums, libraries, and other inviting spaces for communities to gather and play. CCCFF also supports the development of historic buildings and districts. Municipalities and tribal governments may apply for these state funds on an annual basis. Established in 1999 by the Unicameral, CCCFF is funded through a turnback of 30% of state sales tax generated by certain arenas and their nearby retailers.
The Shovel-Ready Capital Project program was established in 2021 to assist non-profits with capital projects delayed by the coronavirus pandemic. Initially, it was funded primarily with federal dollars received by Nebraska through the American Rescue Plan Act. In 2023, the Nebraska Legislature approved a second round of shovel-ready awards using money from the state’s general fund.

The benefits of these programs are on display in Red Cloud, a charming town of 1,000 residents in south-central Nebraska and the childhood home of Willa Cather—one of America’s greatest writers.

Community Development Block Grant

In 2015, assisted by $300,000 in CDBG tourism development funds, the City of Red Cloud, the Willa Cather Foundation (WCF), and other partners began construction on the National Willa Cather Center (NWCC) — a multi-use facility designed to celebrate and preserve the author’s life and works. Featuring a museum, shops, climate-controlled archive, and other amenities, the NWCC serves as the centerpiece of Red Cloud’s heritage tourism assets. The NWCC was completed in 2017, with former First Lady Laura Bush presiding over the ribbon cutting.

A community survey conducted in 2015 found that childcare access was one of the biggest issues facing the future of Red Cloud. At the time, there was only one certified childcare provider within a 20-mile radius of Red Cloud. With support from a CDBG grant, Red Cloud has built one of the nicest, most innovative childcare facilities in the state—The Valley Child Development Center.

Civic and Community Center Financing Fund

In 2019, the City of Red Cloud and WCF received a $562,000 CCCFF award to restore local historic sites and improve their accessibility to tourists. These properties included Farmers and Merchants Bank, Burlington Depot, Grace Episcopal Church, and St. Juliana Catholic Church.

Earlier this month, DED announced another CCCFF award for Red Cloud Heritage Tourism Development. The community will use the funds to restore Hardwick Park. The project includes creation of a memorial to honor the area’s veterans, including Donald Stratton a decorated World War II veteran who survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and went on to serve throughout the war.

Shovel-Ready Capital Projects

The Willa Cather Foundation has undertaken a major project to renovate and expand the historic Potter Block building. The completed development will include a 28-room boutique hotel (Hotel Garber), event and meeting space, catering facilities, a small library, and artwork on exhibit. DED is supporting the project with a $2.3 million shovel-ready project award.

In October 2023, DED awarded an additional shovel-ready project grant of $350,000 to support WCF with restoration of the Willa Cather Childhood Home. The home, where Cather lived from 1884 to 1890, is one of only twenty-one National Historic Landmarks in Nebraska. It’s a featured destination in Nebraska’s Tourism’s 2024 Passport program.  

Combined, these initiatives are making Red Cloud an even more wonderful place to live, and they’re strengthening the community’s ability to attract new families and promote itself to tourists.  

Red Cloud native Willa Cather well understood the connection between the beauty of one’s surroundings and the quality of one’s life. In an interview 100 years ago, the famed author pointed to the neglect of placemaking as a reason why America lagged behind other nations, like France, in the creative arts.

"The Frenchman [is] greatly occupied with building the things that make his home. His house, his garden, his vineyards, these are the things that fill his mind. He creates something beautiful, something lasting. And what happens? When a French painter wants to paint a picture he makes a copy of a garden, a home, a village. The art in them inspires his brush.

Restlessness such as ours, success such as ours, striving such as ours, do not make for beauty. Other things must come first: good cookery; cottages that are homes, not playthings; gardens; repose. These are first-rate things, and out of first-rate stuff is art made."

DED is committed to helping communities develop first-rate amenities so that Nebraskans can savor the Good Life. To learn more about the many programs the agency has to offer, visit