By Tony Lopez

LINCOLN (CBS13) – It was at one time the fastest growing city in the nation. But the city of Lincoln fell on hard times during the Great Recession.

Now for the first time in years, it’s spending money again to improve the quality of life.

As the horn blares and the tracks vibrate just a stone’s throw away along the main drag in Lincoln, workers are busy making some noise of their own – shaking things up like never before. They’re putting on not just a fresh coat of paint, but installing new benches, fresh landscaping, touching up fancy decorative sidewalks and improving road crossings.

All this work is serving as a symbol that the city of Lincoln has finally crossed over into a new, promising era after years of nearly turning into a recession-plagued ghost town.

“We got hit pretty hard. We were facing insolvency for about 18 months,” said Mayor Paul Joiner.

Mayor Joiner joins his 45,000 neighbors in welcoming this change.

“For the longest time, Lincoln has been a city that people talk about as that cute little town with such great potential. And I think what you’re seeing now is the realization of that potential,” Joiner said.

The Lincoln Boulevard Project, as it’s called, comes with a hefty $3.3 million price tag.

So just how was Lincoln able to afford the major downtown facelift?

The city’s road to riches – the Lincoln Bypass – opened to traffic three years ago, replacing the Highway 65 route through downtown Lincoln. The state paid the city $3.3 million in what’s called “exchange money” once it transferred ownership of this stretch of road back to city control.

The money will also make up for expected lost revenue because of the roadway diversion.

This project is in phase one of spending that dough – in creative ways.

“The downtown has a renewed look a refreshed look, and included with that is this amazing mural behind me,” said city manager Matthew Brower.

A mural that stretches a quarter of a block, easily spotted on the side of a building through the main part of downtown – a sort of calling card business owners are happy to show off.

“The businesses are looking forward to it because hopefully more folks will come downtown,” said Wayne Cisneros, president of the Downtown Lincoln Association.

And the hope is more shop owners in other areas will take a look at the new re-do.

The city of Lincoln is holding a celebration Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. to unveil its new downtown look. Everyone is invited.