November 26, 2022

Developers of a proposed family entertainment center are going back to the drawing board.

Americarts announced Tuesday that it is no longer in a purchase agreement with the owners of the Livestock Sales Barn property. Americarts representatives signed a purchase agreement in July 2022 with owners Nebraska Livestock Sales of Norfolk for the property, 1601 S. First St. and, over the past four months, have worked closely with various private investors and investment groups to try to secure land financing that would allow phase 2 of the project to begin.

“We felt confident that we had met the right investor. We negotiated the structure of a mutually beneficial agreement to share the land,” said Stephanie Goodrich, founder of Americarts. “Securing the land would allow us to begin the business and industry loan eligibility process, which can take at least 120 days. Unfortunately, one day before the deadline of our purchase agreement, we received a message saying that (the investors) were no longer interested.”

The Business and Industry Loan Program aims to improve, develop or finance new or existing businesses that will improve the economic and environmental climate in rural communities. Unlike Small Business Administration loans, these loans can be used for larger projects of up to $25 million.

Goodrich said these types of loans require a significant amount of work to obtain, but Americarts is up for the challenge.

“Of course we’re disappointed, but we’re also excited to see what other commercial properties are available in Norfolk,” she said.

The founders of Americarts said they were grateful to have the opportunity to try to repurpose the Livestock Sales Barn land. “The property owners were wonderful to work with; they have been very supportive of our efforts to revitalize this historic part of Norfolk,” Goodrich said.

For those who have purchased a Founder’s Circle membership, the company said it would greatly appreciate if members could stay for another year. As promised, refunds can be issued if Americarts cannot open in Norfolk.

Americarts officials welcome the opportunity to meet with regional investors in Northeast Nebraska who understand the unique demographics and needs of this area.

Americarts’ founders said they will try for at least another year to create the first location in Norfolk before considering other cities. Robert Johnson, president of Americarts, said three investors have told him that if Americarts chooses another city with a larger population — such as Omaha or Grand Island — they’ll be on board.

“Many people have told us that a state-of-the-art entertainment center with a focus on disability education and inclusion will not work in Norfolk. They say Norfolk is too small a town,” he said.

But, Johnson added, he grew up in Madison and raised his children in Norfolk and thinks Americarts would do well in the community.

“I also know that the hardworking people of Norfolk and the surrounding towns deserve an amazing place available all year round to go and celebrate birthdays, get together with friends and have fun with their families. A place where there is something for everyone — that includes everyone,” Johnson said.

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