By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
Will Lincoln finally get a full-fledged grocery store downtown? Or a brand spanking new $40 million library? Or both?
That’s up to a committee of city officials to decide after receiving three proposals this week regarding what to do with the city’s old arena, the Pershing Center, once its new arena is open west of downtown next year. The $179 million Pinnacle Bank Arena under construction on the west end of downtown will replace the half-century-old Pershing Center next year.
One proposal is from the city library board, seeking to build a new downtown library at a cost of up to $43 million. The other two proposals are by private developers wanting to build housing, retail and possibly a grocery store. One major difference: one of the developers is also proposing a civic building and new library.
One $24 million private proposal is to build a 90,000-square-foot development with four three-story buildings that contain 5,100-square-foot grocery store, clubhouse, coffee shop, exercise room and swimming pool on the ground floor. The first floor would have a 209-space parking garage topped by three floors containing 108 apartments, with five courtyards between the buildings.
The development team is composed of Speedway Properties, Ayars & Ayars Inc., and Hallmark Campus Communities, a Columbus, Ohio, development company that specializes in student housing.
Darl Naumann of Ayars & Ayars said the developers would demolish the Pershing Center, but would use tile and limestone off the arena to try to blend the development in with the historical nature of the area, which is near the Capitol and about-to-be-renovated Centennial Mall.
What about that 1950s-era mural on the Pershing Center – which is iconic to some residents? “There’s a real possibility for re-using the mural,” Naumann said. “But it wouldn’t be in the same location.”
The other private proposal would demolish the Pershing Center and build a civic building with a new downtown library, a residential building and retail building, possibly a grocery store. The $30 million development would also have a 54-unit, four-level residential building on the south side of the block, with first-floor parking and a 16,000-square-foot retail building on the east side of the block, potentially a grocery store and café.
The developers propose a sale-leaseback arrangement in which the city would transfer the property for cash and immediately lease the property, so the city can raise cash but also maintain control of the property. At the end of the term, the property could go back to the city.
The proposal by BVH Architects and Pollina Corporate Real Estate – a Chicago-based brokerage and consulting firm — would have Pollina auction the development to the highest bidder.
Both proposals from private developers seek a city subsidy in the form of tax increment financing – in which the city or developer borrows money by selling bonds that are repaid with the increase in property taxes generated in the area of the new development.
Officials from the Lincoln Independent Business Association and Lincoln Chamber of Commerce have expressed interest in getting the property back on the tax rolls, but if TIF is used, property taxes wouldn’t technically be “on the rolls” for about 15 years.
The business groups’ support for a private development would seem to make the library option a hard sell, but the library board proposal argues the 50-year-old downtown library is inadequate and requires costly maintenance. The library board says if the downtown library were moved to the Pershing site, the old library site could be sold and returned to the tax rolls.
The library would likely require voter approval of a general obligation bond — another tough obstacle as many Lincolnites reacted to news of the library proposal with doubt about the need for such as facility in an increasingly digital world. The library board proposes that 75 percent of the costs be public and 25 percent private.
Hallie Salem of the Urban Development Department said a selection committee will begin looking at the proposals in mid-October and make a recommendation to Mayor Chris Beutler, who has the final say.