By MIKE KONZ
Hub Enterprise Editor
KEARNEY — Crowbar or hammer in hand, architect and entrepreneur Patrick Moore tries to be a good listener when he’s working on an old building.
Two years ago when McCue’s Nebraska Taproom opened on the ground floor of the former family grocery store building, it was a testament to the value of good listening because he heard what the old place was telling him.
This fall, when Moore completed the renovation of the building’s top two stories into an upscale Airbnb, it again proved the value of listening.
“I had an idea in my head what I was going to do, but as we started tearing things out, my mind changed quite a few times. Until you’re actually letting the space speak to you, you don’t know,” Moore said about restoring the former McCue’s Grocery store, built at 2008 Avenue A in 1907.
With its top three floors now gleaming with the glow of modern decor and the patina of age, the old building teaches something about Kearney’s past. Also, it’s among the structures setting the course for downtown Kearney’s future, Moore said.
He is among a group of young entrepreneurs who are gutting historic downtown buildings and repurposing them for new lives as boutiques, coffee houses, offices and event centers to name a few.
“There are so many buildings in downtown Kearney with so much potential,” said Moore, referring to plans for his restoration of the Fair Building near the intersection of Central Avenue and North Railroad Street. Several offices are housed in the structure now, but Moore plans to turn it into smaller apartments for tenants who want to discover the benefits of downtown living, within walking distance of shopping, dining, culture and entertainment.
After standing vacant several years after the family closed its grocery store, Buffalo County purchased the McCue’s building and nearly razed it for a parking lot. Alley Rose owner Shawn Engberg bought the old store and later sold it to Moore, whose career as an architect and restoration expert convinced him that tearing out the old and crumbling parts would expose the building’s good bones.
“We did the taproom first, then the retail space on the north. When those were finished, I built the apartment on the second and third floors.
The two-story apartment encompasses about 1,700 square feet, has two bedrooms, two baths and has spacious kitchen and living room areas.
Most of the living area is bathed in natural light.
Moore did all the nail pounding and his wife, Katie, handled furnishings and decor.
The apartment is well suited for Airbnb guests, but Moore also rents it short-term for traveling nurses, or new CEOs and college professors waiting to find permanent housing.
An orange door is the apartment’s street level entrance.
“The best part about the apartment is all the natural light it has. It was built with lower buildings on either side. It has windows on all four sides. You get this great quality of natural light. It really makes the place welcoming,” Moore said.
Moore incorporated a downtown restoration grant into the McCue’s project, and also tapped the program for monetary help on the Fair Building. Both buildings had structural issues.
“The grant program is wonderful. You can use the money for a number of different improvements for the buildings,” he said.
Moore had been employed at Wilkins ADP, but he’s launched his own firm, Good Life Architecture. He hopes to tap his knack for restoration helping owners of buildings in downtown Kearney.
“I want to do my architectural practice in a way that helps other people do what I did. Nobody has to reinvent the wheel. I can coach them along with their own projects,” Moore said.
Asked whether he would do anything differently on the McCue’s apartments, Moore said, “I think what we ended up with, we’re really happy with how it turned out. It’s cash flowing really well.”
He said when restoring old buildings, it’s helpful to have a positive attitude. “A lot of times it’s not like you’re discovering problems, you’re discovering opportunities.”
And about being a listener? “I listened to a lot of stories from people who remembered visiting that old grocery store.”
Looking back, Moore said maybe he could have finished the McCue’s building a lot faster if there hadn’t been so many stories to hear.