Plans for an inclusive entertainment center hitch a snag | news

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 sales agreement with the owners of the Livestock Sales Barn property. Americarts representatives had signed a purchase agreement with the owners of Nebraska Livestock Sales of Norfolk for the 1601 S. First St. property in July 2022 and have worked closely with various private investors and investment groups over the past four months to attempt financing of the property, which would allow Phase 2 of the project to begin.

“We were convinced that we had found the right investor. We have negotiated the structure of a mutually beneficial agreement to share the land,” said Stephanie Goodrich, a founder of Americarts. “Securing the property would allow us to begin the selection process for a corporate and industrial loan, which can take at least 120 days to complete. Unfortunately, the day before our purchase agreement deadline, we received a message that (the investors) were no longer interested.”

The Business and Industrial Loan Program aims to improve, develop or finance new or existing businesses that 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 this type of loan requires a significant amount of work, but Americarts is up for the challenge.

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

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

For those who bought a Founder’s Circle membership, the company said it would appreciate it if members could stay for another year. As promised, refunds can be given if Americarts is unable to open in Norfolk.

Americarts officials welcome the opportunity to meet with regional investors from Northeast Nebraska who understand the region’s unique demographics and needs.

Americarts founders said they would try for at least another year to create the first location in Norfolk before considering other cities. Americarts President Robert Johnson said three investors told him that if Americarts chose another city with a larger population — like Omaha or Grand Island — they would be on board.

“Many people have told us that a state-of-the-art entertainment center with a focus on education and inclusion for people with disabilities is not going to work in Norfolk. They say Norfolk is too small a city,” 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 that is available all year round to celebrate birthdays, catch up with friends and have fun with their family. A place where there’s something for everyone — that’s inclusive,” Johnson said.

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