Future Home of the Nebraska Cornhuskers
Planned opening in 2013
Planned opening in 2013
A new arena (and a new conference) for the Huskiers! :cheers1:Lincoln arena gets green light
By Leslie Reed
LINCOLN - It sounds like a major case of déjà vu.
A major Nebraska city has voted to build a new sports and concert arena on a former railroad yard, near a renovated warehouse district and the city's oldest commercial area. The local college basketball team will be the primary tenant.
Ten years after Omaha voters approved construction of the Qwest Center Omaha, Lincoln voters gave the green light to a 16,000-seat, $168 million arena, a slightly smaller version of the Qwest Center, minus a convention center component.
The new facility expected to open in the fall of 2013 will compete with the Qwest Center for many acts, but Lincoln leaders say there's room for two arenas within a 50-mile section of Interstate 80.
Mayor Chris Beutler said he was proud of Lincoln voters for making a difficult decision in economically challenging times.
“This was a difficult vote because it's the largest project of all time in Lincoln and it's being suggested to people during a severe recession,” he said. “It took some forward-thinking people to reach out and do this at this time. I think it's an indication of a new spirit in Lincoln.”
Opponents, who raised concerns about the project's cost and its location on the contaminated rail yard site, vowed to carefully monitor the effort.
“They'll be watching this like a hawk,” said Brad Carper, a spokesman for the No2Arena group.
The total financing plan calls for $340 million in public debt, including the cost of land, public parking garages and other infrastructure.
Tuesday's vote decided only whether to issue $25 million of bonds, to be repaid with a share of state sales taxes generated at the facility, as required under state law. Other financing bonds would not require a public vote.
Both Beutler and Wendy Birdsall, president of the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, pledged to reach out to doubters.
“I'd like to say I'll take my shovel out myself tomorrow and start digging,” Birdsall said. “But a good percentage of people didn't vote in favor of this proposal, and we've still got some selling to do.”
Others involved with the project said they are eager to get under way.
Developer Will Scott said he and his brother and partner had reserved a booth at a major retailers convention in Nevada later this month to recruit trendy new stores for a shopping complex to be built near the arena. Hotels, office space and condominiums also are anticipated near the arena.
Stan Meradith, an architect and principal with Omaha's DLR Group, designed Lincoln's Haymarket Park baseball stadium, along with the Qwest Center. His company also won the contract to design the new arena.
“I do this for a living, but this is something that Lincoln really, really needs,” he said.
The vote culminated more than five years of study on how to best replace the city's aging Pershing Center, which opened in 1957.
The crowd at a jubilant election night party included former Mayors Coleen Seng and Don Wesely, who started the ball rolling on an arena project back in 2003.
Also watching Tuesday's vote was City Councilman Jon Camp, a real estate developer who 28 years ago began renovating buildings in the Haymarket district, now the site of trendy bars, restaurants, coffee shops and a popular farmers market.
“This is a proud moment, to see this coming to fruition,” Camp said, adding that the plans will preserve the area's charm.
At least seven other locations including several downtown sites, the former state fairgrounds and the Lancaster Event Center, where the county fair is held were considered before Lincoln leaders settled on the Haymarket district.
The proposal first was scheduled for a public vote in 2009, but the economic downturn led Beutler to postpone it.
Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne agreed to wait another year before pursuing other digs for the University of Nebraska basketball teams.
University athletic officials were instructed not to comment on the arena vote results Tuesday night, said Marc Boehm, NU's executive associate athletic director who oversees basketball.
Osborne and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman are scheduled to discuss the vote Wednesday at a 9:30 a.m. press conference.
Last month, Osborne said the vote was a potential turning point for the city.
“I really think it's going to be somewhat of a signal event, whether Lincoln decides to maintain a future-oriented posture or retrench,” he said then. “It's like an athletic team you never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse.”