SIOUX CITY | Children can play in Dale Street Park and get wet in the process. Residents can tend a community garden by St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Others have purchased their first home through a city program. Commercial districts and neighborhoods have been improved.
While a number of people are responsible for making those projects happen, Paul Barnes led the way in many. Since he was named the city's neighborhood services supervisor in 2008, he has overseen programs and federal funds benefiting the community.
Friday will be his last day at City Hall. Barnes, 30, will start work Monday in the Lincoln Planning Department, where he will analyze applications for residential, commercial and industrial developments in the Nebraska community.
I met Barnes in 2002 when I wrote a story about city interns. A junior at Iowa State University at the time, he talked city officials into giving him a part-time internship in the planning department. He worked for no money that summer, holding down two part-time jobs to pay the bills.
"It was a great opportunity to show me what happens in real life in a planning office," he said ten years later.
After graduating from ISU in 2004, he worked for a nonprofit agency and returned to Sioux City as a city planner in 2005. He also obtained a master of business administration degree from the University of South Dakota. Through the years, he has become an ardent advocate for programs benefiting neighborhoods.
His favorite project was the renovation of the dilapidated Dale Street Park, at 15th and Dale streets. In 2009 the first "splash pad" in the city opened, allowing children to play in such water features as frog and monkey cannons and a pelican that rains water on their heads.
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"There were undesirable activities going on there," Janet Reynolds, president of the Jones Street Neighborhood Coalition, recalled of criminal activities that kept people away. "With the splash pad, we have hundreds of families there all day. Paul had a lot of good input on what should be in there."
Barnes thinks the splash pad, which cost $120,780, transformed the neighborhood.
As the staff adviser to Historic Preservation Commission, he helped members take a more active stand on preserving historic red-tagged houses, as well as stage the annual Historic Preservation Week activities.
"He has been a guiding force for that project," commission Chairman Jim Jung said. "He's energetic and really goal-directed."
Neighborhood Network President Rick Arnold added, "Paul has done great things for our neighborhoods and projects that helped the city. Sioux City definitely will miss him."
Part of the reason he decided to move to Lincoln entails the opportunity for job advancement. With a population of 260,000, Nebraska's capital city has a much larger planning department. He also has good friends there.
"I think one of the most rewarding parts of the job is seeing things happen from the planning stages through fruition," Barnes said. "There can be a lot of great ideas, but if you don't have a plan, nothing happens."