Utica celebrates downtown improvements

Downtown Utica is looking good these days with new streets, sidewalks and landscaping. It's all the result of a community-wide effort.

This revitalization effort began with a program called "Marketing Hometown America" through UNL and the Seward County Chamber. "I went through training, and I went through training with a committee of nine," Utica Betterment Committee Chairperson Joyce Schriner said. "They bought into the concept of 'let's grow Utica'."

But to grow Utica, many people felt the downtown area needed a face lift. "We needed new sidewalks, we needed a new street because we had drainage problems, and we needed something downtown that would draw people in," Schriner said. Through public meetings, the community decided on making improvements. "The village board said, Ok, let's see if we can find a grant," Schriner said. The village board did get that grant. "The total grant was $225,000, and that covered re-doing the sidewalk and the street," Utica Village Board Chairman Don Olson said.

But that's just part of the story. Local residents also formed the Utica Foundation, and worked hard to raise money. "We've held three black tie events they are called "tie one on", which is a fancy meal and entertainment, and an auction," Utica Foundation President Tim DeWaard said. " Those proceeds have gone to this project." The foundation provided funds for new decorative street lighting, and awnings for businesses. People with ties to Utica bought bricks as part of the downtown project, and the American Legion provided funds for this veterans memorial. "This is a perfect example of partnership that has taken place in downtown Utica," Seward County Chamber and Development Partnership President and CEO Jonathan Jank said.

Joyce Schriner says seeing the project come together with the help of the entire community has been exciting. "I feel like I've had four babies," Schriner said. "Baby number one was the street, baby number two was getting the bricks started over there, three was the lighting, and four was the monument."

The community hopes this is just the beginning. They want the revitalization project to attract new residents and businesses. The Utica foundation hopes to provide funds for future projects. And, it's all the result of a small town working together. "None of this happens without people coming together and collaborating," Jank said. "It's amazing to me how the community has gotten behind every fundraiser," Olson said. "They've been very generous and supportive of this whole venture. I'm really proud of the people in this community, and it's a privilege to live in a community like this."