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NE: Pershing Center could become a new library for $43M

By   /   August 21, 2012  /   News  /   5 Comments

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

This is a rendering of a new Lincoln main library. The city’s Library Board is expected to vote Tuesday night on whether to convert the Pershing Center into a new, bigger downtown library.

Updated 10 a.m. Wed., Aug. 22:

LINCOLN — The city of Lincoln’s Library Board voted Tuesday night to make a bid for converting the city’s old arena, the Pershing Center, into a new bigger, better downtown library.

A six-month, privately funded $95,000 study by library consultants concluded that rather than renovate the main downtown library, it would make more sense to either renovate the Pershing Center for $40 million or demolish it and build a new library for $43 million. The downtown library is landlocked by a historic building on the east and private development to the north.

A new $179 million arena under construction on the west end of downtown is replacing the half-century-old Pershing Center

However, a conservative Lincoln business group says many Lincoln people voted to build a new arena with the assumption the city would sell the old arena to a private developer and get it back on the property tax rolls.

Coby Mach, head of the Lincoln Independent Business Association, said this is a rare opportunity to offer up an entire city block downtown for redevelopment and provide tax relief.

“The citizens of this community voted for a new arena, but there were expectations from the community that the Pershing Center would no longer be subsidized by the taxpayers and that’s what’s going to happen if it turns into a library,” Mach said in an interview.

He said LIBA isn’t necessarily opposed to a new downtown library — it just wants Pershing back on the tax rolls.

Library Director Pat Leach declined to comment on LIBA’s view, saying only, “I think they’ve been pretty consistent in that position.”

Despite opposition from LIBA and a government watchdog group, the Library Board voted to proceed with the recommendation and respond to a city request for proposals for Pershing.

It’s not clear how the city would pay for a new library. Leach said that hasn’t been decided, but the city’s capital construction plan lists a new library, with funding half public and half private. A general obligation bond issue — increase in property taxes — could be needed to come up with the public portion.

“I don’t think that the city or the library foundation has $40 million laying around to redevelop Pershing,” Mach said.

The city’s Urban Development Department is accepting proposals from public, private and nonprofit groups through Oct. 1, for what could be done with the Pershing Center. A committee selected by Mayor Chris Beutler will recommend a winner.

The library study says if the Library Board isn’t awarded the Pershing Center site, it will pursue another downtown location.

Mach also is concerned about some of the expensive features planned for the new library, which would be nearly twice as large is the current 64,000-square-foot Bennett Martin Public Library.

The study envisions a “21st century main library” with a café, 250-seat auditorium with green rooms, a black box theater, kitchen, Internet stations and larger adult, children and teen areas. There is no projected increase to the staff of 60.

The plan also includes a 100-person meeting room and two, 30-person meeting rooms. That would be a 256 percent increase in meeting space compared with the existing library.

Mach said the city has private meeting facilities and “a couple” of black box theaters.

“There just seem to be a lot of amenities in this proposal,” he said.

Consultants looked at seven locations for a new library, but prefer the Pershing Center due to its proximity to downtown customers, public transportation and bike traffic, as well as on-site parking for 200 cars. It’s a full city block owned by the city, where other sites would require the purchase of several parcels from private owners, which can be time-consuming and expensive, the study noted.

Other possible locations for a library are in the new arena development west of downtown and in the Antelope Valley Project, a $246 million redevelopment and flood control project the city just completed on the east end of downtown.

If the Pershing Center can’t be gotten, the study said the board could pursue the possibility of leasing space in a private building near the new arena or building on two city-owned sites south of the Harris Overpass.

The library study found Lincoln is about average in terms of overall library space, with 0.669 square feet of library space per Lincolnite, but the main library is small compared with other cities in the study.

The study also found that Lincoln’s libraries aren’t well used, posting the fourth lowest rate among 10 other comparable cities, at 5.59 library visits per person.

Contact Deena Winter at [email protected].

Editor’s note: To subscribe to News Updates from Nebraska Watchdog at no cost, click here.


Deena formerly served as staff reporter for Watchdog.org.

  • I love this, I just got a letter from Heineman and Johanns in response to my inquiry about implementing the ACA in NE. and in both cases they babble on about the increased costs to NE. Tax Payers if the ACA is allowed to go into affect in NE. yet here we’re talking about a 246 million dollar redevelopment project and 40-43 million dollar renovation or building of a new library for Lincoln which evidently there is abundant money for. They go on to talk about updating the electronic the need to fund several Universities in the state which should be funded by tuition costs that are already out of control, “updating electronic medical system” Question; I can get on my lap top and skype a friend on the other side of the country via vid chat but in order to go to my specialist in Lincoln, I have to drive there just to spend 20 min in his exam room so he can listen to my heart, weigh me, take my temp, and ask me if I’m feeling alright. But yet these Politicians are concerned about managing the cost of medical care? Does anyone but me see a problem with this Pic? Humana sends me out a pamphlet telling me I can earn $10.00 gift certificates with them if I elect to have a bunch of expensive tests done that are neither necessary or indicated by my Dr as a needed procedure. Who’s benefiting from these procedure’s, me or the medical, ins industries?
    I have lived in Central NE for almost 30 yrs and over that period of time I have watched as more and more jobs have been moved to Lincoln and Omaha and what do we get in return? Our smaller schools are closing while our property taxes continue to rise and we got the State Fair in GI. WHOOOT= FAIL. I could go on for pages about the pork and overspending of our wonderful Republican and pseudo Democratic senators and Congressman not to mention the Governors in the city’s of Omaha and Lincoln spewing rhetoric about cutting back on spending for Pork but what’s the point.
    Recently a small state park in central NE was deeded back to the township of Ayr after a bad storm had caused major damage to the park. The State didn’t want to foot the bill to clean it up and so instead of gating it off the residents of the township came together and did the work themselves. The Lake still needs to be dredged and a new well sunk in order to feed the lake but we don’t have the money for that and the state is unwilling to give any financial help. Then I read about the need for a 40 million dollar library in Lincoln? I will bet you that little park gets more use from the citizens of Hastings,Ayr, Blue Hill, Roseland, and surrounding communities than the existing Library in Lincoln does but yet it is not beneficial to Lincolnites. also if you consider the many yrs that that park brought in tourists, campers, fishermen, boyscout jamborees and much more it appears more like this new Library is a shiny new hood ornament for Lincoln the Great. Personally I say you can take that Library and shove it in the back of a dusty bookcase and let it rot.

  • Biff

    It is a grand idea to convert Pershing into a sparkling state-of-the-art main city library and allow the old Bennett Martin site to be sold and put back on the tax rolls. As for Coby’s predictable and not-so-grand idea: I don’t suppose he has a buyer in mind for the Pershing site, does he? Didn’t think so.

  • nocapitalletters

    serious waste of money. 40 million for a new library is atleast 40 times too much. city government in lincoln is full of out of touch idiots. look at the city bus drivers, the run ahead of schedule so they can park and smoke a cigarette every half hour. they even get out and smoke with riders who are cleary schizophrenic. lincoln bus drivers need to be fired!

  • David

    Great Ceaser’s Ghost, Batman! They’ve got amenities!

  • Mark Budka

    For Mr. Mach: I didn’t want the new arena as it was presented. Develop the Pershing area for WHAT? Another Bank? State Offices? This city needs a new main library more than it needed an arena. Get your kids to a library and teach them something vs. a rock concert or basketball game where they are merely entertained. The Watchfulness of the Citizen is the Salvation of the State not useless arenas or business-government buildings.