- Associated Press - Saturday, August 27, 2016

GRAND ISLAND, Neb. (AP) - Brent Lindner and Sharena Anson are believers in downtown Grand Island.

Lindner owns Wave Pizza, J. Alfred Prufrock’s, The Glass Bar and Sin City in downtown, while Anson owns The Chocolate Bar, The Grand Island Independent (https://bit.ly/2bKiUXO ) reported. But their belief goes beyond running their own successful businesses. That’s why both have been involved in helping to organize and promote the Hear Nebraska concert series in downtown Grand Island all summer long. They believe all downtowns should remain community centers.

“It’s always been, ‘this is what real downtowns have.’ They have outdoor concerts, art shows and car shows, on the bricks, on the pavement,” Lindner said. He acknowledged that the concerts have had some beneficial business effects, saying, “restaurants and lounges seem to be pretty busy on Fridays with the shows.” Still, he and Anson felt there is a larger purpose to the concerts.

“We just felt it was a step up in making downtown a legitimate downtown, where people would want to come,” he said.

Four or five years ago, Lindner said, he was talking with the then-downtown director, who discussed the results of a recent survey that showed many people were not coming downtown because it had a poor image. Anson said that was a self-fulfilling prophecy.

“Over the past 20 years, a lot of misconceptions have come from the lack of people coming downtown,” she said. “Over the past two years, six or seven new businesses have come downtown. With that and with the enhanced culture and the new events businesses are also trying to do, downtown is starting to come back to life for sure.”

“The last two years, it’s really kind of snowballed in a positive way,” Lindner agreed. He said the Hear Nebraska concert series has brought a lot of people downtown and “people have been really enjoying it.”

Anson said Hear Nebraska has a mission of going to cities where they felt the local music scene could be boosted. “They pinpointed Grand Island as one of those places,” said Anson, who noted Hear Nebraska considered other communities before choosing Grand Island.

“We said, ‘You know, we do have a music scene that needs to thrive more and we do need to get this partnership.’ It’s something we can do for our community,” she said.

The seeds for the Hear Nebraska concert series were planted in 2015, when Brad Mellema of the Hall County/Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau helped bring the Good Living tour to Grand Island. “That is how Hear Nebraska was introduced to Grand Island, though the CVB here in town,” Anson said.

The Good Living Tour concert first happened in downtown Grand Island last year, which led to hosting Hear Nebraska concert series this year.

The Good Living Tour concert, which hits 12 towns, returned to Grand Island for one night this summer. But Hear Nebraska is a series of free Friday night concerts held throughout the entire summer. Lindner noted that Hear Nebraska has been in Omaha and Lincoln for several years, which means Grand Island “is the third installment.”

Chris Rosacker, chair of the economic vitality committee for the Downtown Business Improvement District, applauds Lindner and Anson for promoting downtown Grand Island via the concerts. “There is no question that the free Friday night concert series has been bringing in groups of people to the downtown area.” He said some of those people have never been downtown, while others may not have visited for years.

“Downtown Grand Island right now has a lot more to offer than it did in years past, so it’s crucial for people to see that there is a location here that has lots of things to offer in terms of restaurants, shops and entertainment. You’ve got to get people on the street to see that and events like these concerts are doing that,” Rosacker said.

Perhaps the highlight of all the summer performances in Grand Island came last Thursday evening, when Conor Oberst performed a free concert downtown. Grand Island was the first stop of Oberst’s fall tour that included the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival in Lyons, Colorado. Lindner said some other stops include The Fillmore in San Francisco, Austin City Limits, Carnegie Hall in New York City, Thalia Hall in Chicago and the Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles, Lindner said.

“It’s a lot of work,” said Lindner, describing the preparation that goes into hosting a successful concert. “It’s a lot of phone calls and emails and text messages - an intense amount of communication, but you have to have that to pull it off. You have to be in constant contact with everybody until the lights go up and the first drum beat beats.”

Both Lindner and Anson said they want Hear Nebraska return in 2017. Lindner said they they’ve formed great partnerships with corporate sponsors, the city and nonprofit organizations. Nonprofits have been part of nearly every concert this summer, with the nonprofits receiving some money for their work through the partnership.

Anson said that it takes about an average of 15 people to pull off each concert, with a core of about eight people working on every concert and then volunteers from the various nonprofits filling in. Hear Nebraska typically provides two bands for each concert in Grand Island. Anson said she and Lindner then added one local band to the concert, then began adding two local bands to each Hear Nebraska concert.

Anson came to Grand Island from Jacksonville, Florida, following an uncle who began farming near Grand Island. She met and then married Amos Anson, who is developing several downtown properties. Anson has lived in Grand Island for 15 years, since 2001, giving her an overview of the positive changes downtown. Lindner went to grade school, junior high and Grand Island Senior High, graduating in 1985. He then lived in California and Australia before returning to Grand Island. As a result, Lindner can see an even longer arc of improvement, starting in the late 1970s when the last of the big downtown department stores moved to the Conestoga Mall.

Lindner said that was perhaps downtown’s low point. Now Lindner feels downtown is the most vibrant it has been in nearly four decades. However, both Lindner and Anson do not think that downtown has yet reached its zenith, because more buildings can be developed and even more activities can be added to the list of things to do.


Information from: The Grand Island Independent, https://www.theindependent.com

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