KEARNEY — A group of community leaders announced today they have surpassed $100,000 in pledges in their effort to save the embattled Great Platte River Road Archway.
The Arch Forward Committee's pledge goal is $140,000, and the money will be used as part of the recovery plan when the archway emerges from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, possibly in September.
“We are pleased with what we have raised so far,” said businessman Tom Henning, chair of Arch Forward. “Pledges are large and small. People are giving what they can. Our goal is to finish raising the balance of the money by the middle of June.”
Arch Forward began its pledge drive three weeks ago. Last week, Henning asked the Buffalo County Board of Supervisors to consider a three-year commitment of $200,000 annually.
Henning said Arch Forward also would be requesting $200,000 annually for three years from the city of Kearney.
During that three-year period, Henning said, archway backers believe they can transition from today's private ownership by bondholders to permanent ownership, a governance arrangement and a long-term financial strategy.
Last year, when the archway recorded its worst attendance since opening in 2000, expenses exceeded the operational income of $480,000 by about $365,000. The archway filed for bankruptcy in March owing bondholders $20 million and assorted vendors more than $121,000.
Henning said the archway's community support is increasing, with the Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce, The Development Council of Buffalo County and the Kearney Visitors Bureau boards of directors on record in favor of saving the archway.
Marion McDermott, executive director of the Kearney chamber, said the archway is a key tourist attraction, and supporting it falls within the chamber's mission statement, “promoting the success and profitability of our members through involvement, education, advocacy and marketing of the Kearney area business community.”
McDermott said, “The Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce believes that supporting the Arch Forward Committee and its endeavors to keep the Great Platte River Road Archway as a viable tourism attraction fits with the KACC mission statement.”
Arch Forward members are hopeful a new Nebraska Department of Tourism center inside the archway and opening of the Cherry Avenue exit on Interstate 80 one mile east of the archway will boost attendance.
“We think that visitation at the archway will increase, diminishing the level of long-term support for the archway,” Henning said.
He said Arch Forward would approach the Kearney City Council in the next two weeks to request $200,000 annually for three years.
Henning said having financial commitments in hand would be necessary when the archway submits its recovery plan in bankruptcy court.
The recovery plan will include budget projections for several years, an aggressive marketing plan, creation of an endowment and recruiting additional attractions to the archway area.
Backers also propose to create a friends of the archway membership club and to solicit grants to support the archway's historical and educational mission.
“The next couple of years might be a little challenging, but 20 to 30 years from now the next generations aren't going to be thinking about these challenges. They're going to be proud of the monument,” Henning said.