Papillion’s ranking keeps rising


John Ferak

Papillion wants to become known as the best small community in America in which to live, work and raise a family. The growing Sarpy County city continues to make a push for the top honor in the CNN/Money magazine review of “Best Places to Live.”

Monday, jubilant Papillion officials celebrated their city’s distinction in snagging third place in the listing.

In 2005, Papillion finished 23rd. In 2007, the city climbed to the sixth spot.

Since then, Papillion has added the Shadow Lake Towne Center and the $1.5 million outdoor Sumtur Amphitheater at the Walnut Creek Recreation Area. The city also learned that the Omaha Royals planned to build a new minor league stadium on the western edge of Papillion.

The first-place spot went to Louisville, Colo., a city of about 19,000 six miles from Boulder. Minnesota’s Twin Cities suburb of Chanhassen captured second place.

More than 75 city employees packed into the City Council chambers to learn the news in Papillion.

“Hey, No. 1 is still out there, folks. Let’s go out and get it,” a jubilant acting Mayor David Black told everyone.

The CNN/Money magazine review alternates every other year between large cities and small communities (less than 50,000 residents).

The review started with more than 2,000 communities nationwide, which the magazine staff eventually whittled to a list of 100 that will appear in the August edition. The magazine will reach newsstands later this week.

Papillion, which has about 22,000 people, was the only city in a six-state region — Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Kansas and Oklahoma — to be ranked in the top 25. Two other Nebraska cities made the top 100. Norfolk finished 98th and Columbus was 99th.

Papillion’s honor comes on the heels of upheaval at City Hall.

Two-term Papillion Mayor James Blinn, 40, a rising star in Nebraska’s political scene, unexpectedly quit early last week.

Blinn, a local civil and criminal defense attorney in private practice, has refused to provide reasons for his departure.

Darren Carlson, Papillion’s community relations director, reiterated Monday that city officials are not commenting on Blinn’s resignation. Black, 48, will serve out the remainder of Blinn’s four-year term. The next city election will be in November 2010.

Black told Monday’s packed audience of city workers to take great pride in the Money magazine honor. Department by department, he heaped praise upon employees, including some officials who have worked for Papillion for many years.

“This is very unique, so feel good about what you accomplished,” Black said. “I believe we’ve got the best professional staff in the state.”

The Money magazine rankings are based on a four-week process that includes a thorough review of city statistics, visits from Money magazine reporters and photographers and interviews with residents, community leaders and business owners.

According to the magazine’s analysis, Louisville, Colo., has a median family income of about $103,000 and a median home price of $310,000. Papillion had a median family income of about $94,000 and a median home price of $156,000. The Colorado city had nearly twice as many restaurants within a 15-mile radius as Papillion listed.

Unlike Papillion, the small Denver suburb features eight world-class ski resorts less than two hours away. That city also sits an hour’s drive from Rocky Mountain National Park. It has 30 miles of trails and a historic downtown where residents flock for ice cream, live music and dining.

The magazine said Louisville had little violent crime, low property taxes and highly rated schools. The magazine offered a complimentary write-up about Papillion, stating, “It’s rare for a town to rack up great scores in both economic performance and housing affordability. This friendly community outside Omaha delivers both.”

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