KEARNEY, Neb. — It’s no longer named the Great Platte River Road Archway.
In a move intended to develop a new image for the embattled Kearney icon, the Great Platte River Road Archway has been abbreviated to: “The Archway.”
“We’re trying to get a fresh new start. This is a way to get people to look at it in a way they haven’t,” explained Joel Johnson, chairman of the Great Platte River Road Archway Foundation Board of Directors, which now owns the attraction spanning Interstate 80 three miles east of Kearney.
A press release explained that abbreviating the attraction’s name will simplify Internet searches, travel guide directories and other promotional materials.
Johnson said he isn’t aware whether the name change might present any trademark issues. The Kearney archway tops most Internet searches, although a number of other “archway” listings emerge, including a publishing house, a cookie manufacturer, a high school and a host of businesses in St. Louis, home of the 630-foot-tall Gateway Arch.
Dropping “Great Platte River Road” from the title isn’t the attraction’s first name change.
The archway opened in 2000 as the “Great Platte River Road Archway Monument,” but the word “monument” was dropped several years later. Displays inside the structure depict the nation’s westward migration, which followed the California, Oregon and Mormon trails, all of which converged at Kearney and paralleled the Great Platte River Road.
Johnson said he hopes the abbreviated name launches the start of a new era and more positive image for the Archway, which has weathered declining attendance for the past decade and recently emerged from bankruptcy.
Earlier this month, the Archway board repaid the last of its creditors after an October ruling in federal bankruptcy court allowed the attraction to pay bondholders $50,000 of the $20 million they were owed. The Archway also owed various vendors and other businesses about $121,000, and it repaid those creditors $50,000.
The Archway now is debt-free and under local ownership, Johnson said, so he and other supporters hope to craft a new image as the attraction transitions during the next several years from a private business into a community asset.
Last week, the Buffalo County Board agreed to partner with the City of Kearney and Kearney Visitors Bureau in providing partial funding for the Archway as it regains its footing. The city and county will each provide $75,000 annually for three years, and the Visitors Bureau will provide $110,000 in the first year and $150,000 the second and third years.
The public funds will cover about half of the Archway’s operating expenses of $770,000 while supporters devise a marketing strategy and a long-term funding plan.
Johnson said the name change is one of several developments on the drawing board as the archway dusts off the past and sets its sights on the future. Johnson has begun a vigorous public appearance effort.
Johnson said the positive side of the Archway’s recent troubles is that a great many supporters have surfaced in Kearney, across Nebraska and outside the state.
Donors provided $140,000 to settle the bankruptcy case and pay legal counsel. Currently, the attraction is being run almost exclusively by volunteers, including Leonard Skov, the volunteer executive director.
Johnson said additional re-branding efforts will emphasize the positive developments following the rocky past decade.
“We’re actually thinking about shutting down for a month or so in January and then having a grand re-opening,” he said.