Downtown Grand Island has changed significantly compared to what it was 25 years ago.
For one, it’s been branded with a new name: Railside.
New businesses and living spaces have been popping up into once empty buildings.
Property owner Tom Ziller said in 1993 people thought downtown was dead. He said people thought he was crazy for actually investing in it.
“I think the biggest thing is the public’s perception of downtown has changed drastically,” Ziller said. He said the business community’s attitude toward downtown was that of the general public.
“People 25 years ago didn’t think it could happen here,” Ziller said of downtown Grand Island, which is growing into a vibrant place where people flock to.
In 1993, he added, downtown had very low pedestrian traffic and after 5 p.m. very few businesses were open. He said downtown had few restaurants and bars.
Now all of that is changing or has already changed.
There’s a good selection of downtown restaurants and bars, including many that opened within the last couple of years such as McKinney’s Irish Pub, Prairie Pride Brewing and Kinkaider Brewing.
Even though people thought he was crazy for buying into downtown in 1993, Ziller said he saw the potential. He said the first building he bought downtown was so he could live in a 1,500-square-foot apartment. He said he had lived in downtown Denver where he went to school and got a degree in graphic arts.
“I kind of saw it was an opportunity to live in a cool space,” Ziller said.
He mentioned that there’s a trend with younger generations who long for city-type living. Television shows such as “Seinfeld” and “Friends” may have contributed to that desire, compared to older shows that portrayed country or suburban living, such as “Leave it to Beaver” and “The Andy Griffith Show.”
“Thats a perception of, ‘Wow, I want to live in a place where my friends are,’” Ziller said.
He said in 1993, the only apartment building in the core downtown area was the Yancey.
With the new business improvement district in Railside, Ziller said there’s a lot of momentum.
Fourth Street is also part of downtown, but the businesses haven’t formed their own business improvement district, which requires the businesses to tax themselves. Ziller said it’s important to work with Fourth Street and try to encourage them in leadership so Railside can cooperate with their possible district. On many evenings and nights, there is more commerce and activity on Fourth Street than any other downtown thoroughfare.
Ziller sees downtown continuing to grow and diversify.
“There are a lot of good projects for downtown that are in the works, so I don’t see us losing momentum anytime soon,” Ziller said.