J.C. Smith and Justin Strasburg are proud of the town they call home. Their deep sense of commitment to the community of Gothenburg has inspired them to come up with a plan for revival. It’s called Exit 211, and their hope is that it will become a brand that thousands of tourists will want to check out.
The Exit 211 plan calls for the revitalization of the area that serves as the corridor between Interstate 80 and downtown Gothenburg. “This area has been deteriorating for a long time,” said Smith. “Just driving by every day and seeing this exit decline was frustrating. If we keep letting it get worse and worse, and eventually die, there will be nothing to draw people from the Interstate into town.”
The pair, who also work together at Crop Tech Solutions, completed the first step in their Exit 211 plan on Jan. 31, when they closed on the purchase of the Sod House Museum. The museum is located behind Cubby’s Express and Lasso Espresso and has been a part of Gothenburg’s history since 1954. Smith and Strasburg have every intention of keeping it that way.
The Sod House Museum features a barn, sod house, windmills and life-sized barbed wire sculptures. The barn is filled with old artifacts and photographs of early life on the Plains, and the sod house serves as a replica of the early homes of the area. Strasburg and Smith said the plan is to keep the museum open, and add attractions to draw more visitors.
“We are planning on adding a dog park to give travelers a place to get out and walk their dogs,” said Strasburg. He said he and Smith are also talking about adding trails to create opportunities for hiking and biking. And that is just the tip of the iceberg of the Exit 211 vision.
“Once we get people off of the Interstate, they may decide to drive on into town and check things out. This will be good for the entire community,” said Smith. “We’ve been talking to people about this grander idea of the Exit 211 brand, and they are jumping on board. Anybody can own a piece of Exit 211 to promote businesses and services in town.”
Smith said he and Strasburg are thankful there are groups like GIC who are working to promote the business and industry sector of Gothenburg, and sees the Exit 211 project as working hand-in-hand with that type of organization. As the third largest industry in Nebraska, tourism has a large statewide economic impact. According to the U.S. Travel Association, domestic and international travelers to Nebraska spent $3.4 billion in 2018. Each dollar spent by tourists in Nebraska is re-spent in the state to produce an additional $1.70 in business and income, creating an overall economic impact of $2.70.
“People might think we are crazy with this idea and for buying the museum, but we see this as a gold mine,” said Smith.
Strasburg added, “We hope by doing things like this we can create more amenities in our town.”