By Suzi Nelson The Ashland Gazette
ASHLAND – Plans to develop a parcel of land long hidden by trees and other terrain along Highway 6 were unveiled last week.
On Aug. 10, Phil Ruhlman laid out his plans for Oxbow Crossing, a new retail and multi-family housing development planned on the east side of the highway near the Silver Street intersection.
It was the first of two town hall meetings hosted by the Ashland Area Economic Development Corporation (AAEDC) at the Ashland Public Library. The second meeting will be Thursday, Aug. 18 at 6 pm, also at the library.
Ruhlman is working with two of his brothers through Ruhlman Development Company. Matt Ruhlman is in construction and Mark Ruhlman is a realtor.
There are six other brothers and sisters in the Ruhlman family, and all have contributed ideas.
“All the siblings want something to do with the project,” Phil Ruhlman said during the town hall meeting.
People are also reading…
The lynchpin of the retail development will be Ruhlman’s Steakhouse, a dream Phil Ruhlman had long had, but did not view until recently.
“I didn’t ever think in my lifetime I’d be at a point where I could afford a project like this,” he said.
Ruhlman began to visualize and vocalize the idea last September while watching the Cornhuskers play in Norman, Oklahoma with his brother, Mark.
He told Mark he wanted to build a steakhouse in Ashland, the community near the lake development where he has lived for the past four years. Soon Mark and Matt Ruhlman had signed on and the dream became reality.
Phil Ruhlman has also enlisted longtime friend and restaurant entrepreneur Willie Theisen for help. The pair meet once a week in Ashland to discuss the project.
“Willie joined the effort in November as an advisor,” Phil Ruhlman said.
Along with the steakhouse, Ruhlman said a well-known fast food franchise has also signed on to occupy space in Oxbow Crossing.
“Runza has signed a letter of intent for the property at the entrance,” he told the crowd of about 20 people.
If all goes as planned, the Runza restaurant will be open by August 2023, Ruhlman said.
Behind the steakhouse and Runza buildings, a 6,300 square-foot retail space is also being planned. Ruhlman said he is working on an agreement with at least one local business to occupy part of the building.
Two apartment buildings with a total of 48 apartments are also included in the plans. Ruhlman says one building will be rented exclusively as vacation rentals.
“The community needs more space for that type of accommodation,” Ruhlman said.
The other apartment building will be regular rentals.
Ruhlman plans to take advantage of the untapped natural beauty of the property, which he said has been hidden for decades.
“I don’t think people realize it is part of Ashland right now because it’s covered up,” he said.
Removing dead and diseased trees, but keeping the healthy plants, will clean up the area to make it an attraction.
“Our goal is to have a lighted path from Highway 6 on the edge of the entire ditch,” Ruhlman said.
The developers also want to take advantage of the untapped beauty of the Lincoln Water Works facility, which releases water through its filters five times a day into the creek and sounds like a rushing river.
“The sound is incredible,” he added.
Oxbow Crossing is located some distance from downtown Ashland, but Ruhlman and his brothers want to make it seem as if they are next door because he is enchanted with the atmosphere.
“Downtown Ashland is unique to anything else you’re going to find between Omaha and Lincoln,” he said.
Ruhlman plans to replicate the old-fashioned street lights in the downtown area at Oxbow Crossing to make the area “feel like” the city’s historic area. The exterior design for the buildings will also include stone elements and earth tones to tie in with the nature of the area, he added.
The project is still in the preliminary phases, Ruhlman said. First, the project will have to go in front of the Ashland Planning Commission before it is voted on by the Ashland City Council.
Ruhlman said he will be asking for tax increment financing (TIF) from the city council for the project to help with public improvements like site development or installation of public infrastructure.
“Without (TIF), it becomes not impossible, but far less attractive to ever do,” he said.
The area has already been declared blighted and substandard after a study done by the city in 2021. TIF can be used as a tool to assist in financing redevelopment projects, but must be approved by the local municipality. Property taxes generated from the increased property valuation are captured for up to 15 years to finance the public improvements.
Although TIF can be a polarizing subject for many in the community, Ruhlman said his development is “worthy of a TIF project.”