Kearney, Neb. -- Two weeks ago the City of Kearney agreed to use keno money to help support the Great Platte River Road Archway. On Tuesday a divided Buffalo County Board voted to use tax dollars to do the same.
More than 60 people crowded into the Buffalo County Board room, many wearing support stickers for the Archway.
But about half the speakers during the public hearing urged board members to not financially support the museum that stretches over I-80.
"Good and lively discussion this way certainly is not something that we should try and not have - we should discuss these issues very thoroughly," says Archway Board President Joel Johnson.
Some taxpayers say that after filing for bankruptcy to overcome its debt, there's no saving the Arch.
"The track record is a matter or public record - 13 years of operation and $20 million in the hole," taxpayer Larry Day told the board.
But Kearney city leaders, who pledged $75,000 a year for three years, say they have to try.
"If we walked away and they had to tear down the facility - those funds would have to come from somewhere," says Kearney Mayor Stan Clouse.
"Somewhere" is likely state roads funding, and officials believe that money would be taken away from local projects. Officials say it would cost $5 million to tear the Archway down, and the facility's own removal fund has only a few thousand dollars in it.
"It could cost us significantly more than $75,000 a year, and we're not talking three years, we're talking possibly 20 or more that this thing could cost us," said Buffalo County Board Member Ivan Klein just before the board's vote.
People opposed to the county giving support to the Archway questioned what would happen if the museum still isn't sustainable in three years. There were also comments about the Arch being more important to Kearney than to the rest of Buffalo County, but supporters say it's valuable to the whole region.
"We are center stage as people around the state and around the country are watching to see what we're going to do and trying to figure out what our decision is going to be whether we're going to pull together and try and make something work, or whether we're going to walk away," says Clouse.
"I can see it's a real divided issue," said Dennis Reiter, another Buffalo County Board member, who also felt the board should put the issue to a vote of the people, not themselves.
A motion to enter into the interlocal agreement with city and contribute $75,000 a year for three years of tax payer funds was approved with a 4-3 vote. Kent Greder, Sherry Morrow, Klein, and William McMullen all voted yes; Francis Biehl, Joseph Brayton, and Reiter voted no.
"Today is a very big day for us," says Johnson.
The Kearney Visitors Bureau has also pledged financial support for the Archway. Jorgensen says the city will take over operations while a committee that will include a city council member and a county board member keeps evaluating progress and moving the museum toward sustainability.
The first payment from the county is due Jan. 31. Like the city, they can get out of the interlocal agreement with 30 days notice.
Buffalo County has agreed to provide financial assistance to the Great Platte River Road Archway, a move that will make other funds available.
The Buffalo County Board of Supervisors voted 4-3 Tuesday to approve $75,000 a year for three years to help support the archway.
The Kearney City Council approved a similar three-year agreement in a 3-1 vote on Nov. 26. That assistance was contingent on Buffalo County providing funds. The Kearney Visitors Bureau will also provide financial support.
The archway museum opened in 2000 over Interstate 80 in south-central Nebraska. It has struggled with disappointing attendance.
The archway emerged from bankruptcy in September after it settled more than $20 million in debt with bondholders, vendors and businesses by paying $100,000.