U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith was in Beatrice on Wednesday to recognize a local organization for its work in preserving and growing the downtown area.

The congressman from Nebraska's third congressional district presented Main Street Beatrice with the 2018 Third District Excellence in Economic Development Award at the organization's office, 205 N. 4th Street.

Main Street Beatrice is among 11 other businesses or individuals to receive the economic development award, which recognizes those who've helped strengthen Nebraskan communities through innovation, hard work, entrepreneurship and historic preservation.

"Getting an economic award means a lot - means a lot to our organization as Main Street, means a lot to our community," said Michael Sothan, director of Main Street Beatrice. 

The non-profit organization, founded in 1996, focuses on revitalizing Court Street and the surrounding downtown area through historical preservation and economic growth.

"A lot of people, when they look at the health of the community, they're looking at what the downtown looks like," said Sothan. "...So if we have a stronger downtown or if at least it looks like it's improving, that makes a big difference on a community as a whole."

Rep. Smith said Main Street Beatrice is a great example of a community coming together to bring vibrancy to a downtown by attracting and expanding business.

"There is abundant evidence that this is a successful approach and it's exciting to see this," Smith said.

Much of Beatrice's downtown buildings are anywhere from 100 to 140 years old, according to Sothan. That's why historical preservation and revitalization is an important tool for the organization.

Historical buildings are often the most important aspect of any community, Sothan added. 

"Its' oftentimes our buildings, its our landmarks, it some of those things, so if we lose those, we cannot replace them," he said. "So historical preservation can play a really key role in economic development and quality of life, and recruiting people to come to your community but to also stay in your community."

Smith joined Sothan in praising historical preservation as a means of jump starting local economies and communities.

"It's worth it when you can just bring about a more vibrant atmosphere and community by restoring some of the older buildings and growing the economy, in general," the congressman said. 

Main Street Beatrice was formed when officials worked to include Beatrice in the Nebraska Lied Main Street program and the Certified National Main Street program, according to a press release from Adrian Smith's office.

The organization provides guidance and resources to downtown businesses, building owners and others by utilizing the National Main Street Program approach. 

Sothan said he optimistic about downtown Beatrice and its growth. The city, for example, has attracted 42 businesses downtown over the past three years, with a net gain of 16 businesses. Main Street is also expecting over $3 million to be invested on downtown buildings in 2018, alone. 

"There's just a lot of excitement, a lot of optimism," Sothan said. "We're seeing that on behalf of consumers, but also the property owners and the business owners, themselves."

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