Nebraska’s inaugural veterans home to undergo renovations for contemporary living.
After 130 years of providing services for veterans, the longest-standing veterans home in Nebraska was relocated to a neighboring city, leaving eight buildings obsolete. However, 45 acres of the campus have since been designated historic and earmarked for a projected $50 million transformation, and Liberty Campus is now emerging on the site. The project is being led by White Lotus Group, with the initial space being repurposed to create affordably priced dwellings for low-income veterans and their families, seniors, and new workers of area businesses.
Developer White Lotus Group is working with local entities such as Chief Industries to help redevelop the campus on behalf of the H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, Love for People) charitable foundation, and proposals were presented in line with a five-year housing study in 2019. The report projected that, by 2024, Grand Island would need 1,361 more housing units to meet demand, a combination of owner, rental, and rehabbed dwellings, costing $382 million. Since 2019, 688 permits to build residential units have been granted, but vacancy rates have remained high.
The Liberty Campus complex will bring innovations to the city’s housing market, with an ambition to offer varied affordable dwellings. Mary Berlie, who heads the Grand Island Area Economic Development Corporation, sees Liberty as a piece in solving the city’s “housing puzzle”. She is eager to see how “out-of-the-box” ideas such as employer-sponsored housing will impact employer recruitment.
White Lotus plans to preserve the core buildings on campus while creating innovative housing options on vacant land as well. Apart from renovating the Anderson and Pershing Buildings for older veterans with low incomes, the developer plans to have at least 100 units of what the development team calls workforce, or employer-sponsored, housing. Local employers will lease a cluster of apartments and, in turn, rent them to new recruits. Bullington, the development manager, believes these options will help to encourage businesses to relocate to Grand Island, stressing the need to focus on almost every age group.
Liberty’s funding will come from state and federal historic and low-income housing tax credits, some administered through the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority, with about $700,000 coming from public tax-increment financing. Early phases of the project are projected to cost about $14 million according to the developer’s proposal, with total investment estimated at $50 million.
While the relocation of the veteran’s home was a blow to the community, Berlie and other officials believe that new opportunities are filling the physical gap and contributing to the growth of the state’s fourth largest city. Grand Island has already converted about 80 acres of the original 640 acres of dedicated veteran’s land into a new city sports complex, which has become a popular spot for residents. There are plans for other civic and commercial uses yet to be incorporated into the emerging Liberty Campus. The site’s historic distinction is worth noting, as the Nebraska Soldiers and Sailors House, the former veterans’ home, was established in 1887, and in 2019, it landed a spot on the US Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.