Oxbow Crossing development to include steakhouse and retail | Ashland Gazette

By Suzi Nelson The Ashland Gazette

ASHLAND — Plans to develop a plot of land long hidden by trees and other land along Highway 6 were unveiled last week.

On August 10, Phil Ruhlman outlined his plans for Oxbow Crossing, a planned new commercial and multi-family housing development on the east side of the freeway near the Silver Street intersection.

This 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 take place on Thursday, August 18 at 6 p.m., also at the library.

Ruhlman works with two of his brothers through Ruhlman Development Company. Matt Ruhlman is in construction and Mark Ruhlman is a realtor.

There are six other siblings in the Ruhlman family, and all have contributed ideas.

“All the siblings want something to do with the project,” Phil Ruhlman said at the town hall meeting.

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The keystone of the retail development will be Ruhlman’s Steakhouse, a dream that Phil Ruhlman had long had but only recently dreamed up.

“I never thought in my life that I would be at a point where I could afford a project like this,” he said.

Ruhlman began visualizing and vocalizing 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’s lived for four years. Soon Mark and Matt Ruhlman signed on and the dream came true.

Phil Ruhlman also enlisted longtime friend and restaurant entrepreneur Willie Theisen for help. The couple meet once a week in Ashland to discuss the project.

“Willie joined the effort in November as an advisor,” Phil Ruhlman said.

In addition to the steakhouse, Ruhlman said a well-known fast-food franchise has also committed to take up space at Oxbow Crossing.

“Runza signed a letter of intent for the property at the entrance,” he told the crowd of about 20 people.

If all goes according to plan, 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 planned. Ruhlman said he was working on a deal 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 this type of accommodation, Ruhlman said.

The other building will be regular rentals.

Ruhlman plans to take advantage of the property’s untapped natural beauty, which he says has been hidden away for decades.

“I don’t think people realize it’s part of Ashland right now because it’s hidden away,” he said.

Removing dead and diseased trees, but keeping plants healthy, 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 amazing,” he added.

Oxbow Crossing is located some distance from downtown Ashland, but Ruhlman and his brothers want to make it look like they’re next door because he’s enchanted by the atmosphere.

“Downtown Ashland is unique compared to anything you’ll find between Omaha and Lincoln,” he said.

Ruhlman plans to replicate the old-fashioned streetlights of downtown Oxbow Crossing to make the neighborhood feel like the city’s historic district. The exterior design of the buildings will also include stone features and earth tones to tie in with the nature of the area, he added.

The project is still in the preliminary stages, Ruhlman said. First, the project will have to go through the Ashland Planning Commission before being voted on by the Ashland City Council.

Ruhlman said he would seek tax increment funding (TIF) from the city council for the project to help with public improvements such as site development or the installation of public infrastructure.

“Without (TIF), it doesn’t become impossible, but much less appealing to do,” he said.

The area has already been declared degraded and unsanitary after a study carried out by the city in 2021. The TIF can be used as a tool to help finance redevelopment projects, but must be approved by the local municipality. Property taxes generated by the increase in the property assessment are collected for up to 15 years to finance public improvements.

Although TIF can be a polarizing topic for many in the community, Ruhlman said its development was “worthy of a TIF project.”

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