The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t stopping the Railside Business Improvement District from showcasing some of Grand Island’s downtown treasures.
Typically, Railside hosts on-site tours, drawing about 200 curious visitors; this year, however, organizers had to think outside the box.
Andy Gdowski, a member of Railside’s board of directors and a member of the economic vitality committee, said in past years the tours have gone well and the 2021 virtual version should be no different.
“We’ve been fortunate this has been going on for the past several years,” Gdowski said. “Unfortunately, with the pandemic, we’ve had to improvise a little bit. We knew we had to do something a little bit different with the tours this year.”
Brad Mellema, executive director of Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, said having virtual tours could expand Railside’s outreach to potential customers, businesses and developers. These potential visitors and occupants will get an opportunity to see what Railside has to offer without necessarily traveling to Grand Island.
“Someone from another community can get a deeper dive from the tour,” Mellema said.
With the help of one of Railside’s businesses, the marketing firm Tally Creative, virtual tours of 10 businesses will be available from the comfort of one’s own computer.
“It really worked out that we could utilize them,” Gdowski said. The online tours will be available “indefinitely.”
Featured in this installment of the Railside tour are businesses that have completed relatively recent renovations. He said there were several central goals for the project, which was conceived of and completed within about six months.
“We felt we owed it to the Railside business owners,” Gdowski said. “One of the reasons we do this tour is that we try to showcase the properties as an option for businesses and developers.”
Through the years, tours have illustrated the money coming into the district, the downtown businesses and the buildings themselves.
“A lot of these property owners downtown understand there is a lot of history behind these buildings,” he said.
Mellema said that is one element of Railside his organization has observed.
“People come to town with lots of curiosity — history is one of them,” Mellema said. “It creates excitement.”
The visitors bureau relocated to Railside’s Hedde Building last April.
“It was a long process for our board to decide to (move), but it was a solid financial decision for us and another way to connect,” he said. “We think the physical move will help elevate our presence in the Grand Island community.”
Elevating the presence of businesses and organizations like Grand Island Convention and Visitors Bureau is one of the key objectives of Railside BID. Others are business development, cultural development, cleanliness, community safety, connections and communications.
The visitors bureau has been utilizing Railside BID’s philosophies for some time, Mellema said. “We’ve been collaborating with them for years.”
Railside BID property owners form a collective, with each contributing to maintenance, development and promotion of the district. According to Railside’s website, it is dedicated to helping “facilitate the preservation and growth of downtown Grand Island by promoting our downtown as a destination for business, culture and entertainment with a focus on developing and supporting new and established businesses and residential living.”
Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420.