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Big arena backers in NE get big arena contracts

By   /   February 26, 2013  /   11 Comments

Part 5 of 9 in the series Lincoln Arena
Many of the biggest proponents of Lincoln's publicly financed basketball arena are landing big contracts to build it.

IF THEY BUILD IT: Many of the biggest proponents of Lincoln’s publicly financed basketball arena are landing big contracts to build it.

By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog

LINCOLN — Some Lincoln business leaders who were among the biggest backers of the city’s plan to build a $346 million basketball venue downtown are getting some big contracts to help build the arena and related development.

Perhaps the most visible cheerleader for the project — the man who led the drive to get Lincoln voters to approve the biggest public works project in the city’s history in 2010 — was Dick Campbell. He chaired a mayoral task force that studied the arena and talked to more than 100 groups about the merits of the project.

Now his landscaping company has landed a $620,927 landscaping contract and is bidding to do streetscape work in the former rail yard being developed west of the Haymarket and south of the rising arena.

Campbell said he doesn’t see any conflict of interest, since his company won the bid with the lowest bid and the highest score.

“I’d be more than happy to put that one right out on the table,” he said.

Campbell noted he didn’t win the bid to landscape the festival space that will be built northwest of the arena. He didn’t hesitate to bid on arena work, saying when he was advocating that Lincolnites vote “yes” on the arena project he did so as a “private citizen doing a community duty.”

“I saw no conflict at all whatsoever,” Campbell said.

Construction of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb., is about half done.

PROCEEDING: Construction of the Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Neb., is about half done.

Jane Kinsey, a member of a Lincoln government watchdog group, said it seems like a conflict of interest for business people who pushed Lincolnites to vote “yes” on the project to now benefit financially from that decision.

“I’m disappointed that it turned out that way,” Kinsey said.

Another proponent of the arena project was Jim Abel, chairman of a construction and development company called Nebco. He’s also owner of the Lincoln Saltdogs, a minor league baseball team that plays in nearby Haymarket Park, which he built in partnership with the city and University of Nebraska.

Nebco owns several companies that have won $2.8 million worth of contracts:

• Ready Mixed Concrete won a $2.6 million contract.
Reimers Kaufmann Concrete Products won a $115,133 contract.
Trafcon, (specific amounts not available).
U Mix Products won a $35,000 contract.
Western Sand & Gravel won a $8,851 contract.

In 2007, Abel acknowledged he might benefit from the arena project, but said he was motivated by “passion about our town.”

Abel is a member of a private group of community leaders that formed in 2006 to promote 10 Lincoln projects, including the arena. The group, called 2015 Vision, pledged $20 million to help fund the arena project — so far, it has contributed $5 million.

Kinsey said it’s clear many members of 2015 Vision are now making money off the project.

“It was pretty easy to see that those people who were promoting the arena were going to make some money off the construction and maybe even other areas,” Kinsey said.

Another member of 2015 Vision and arena supporter was Doug Lienemann, co-owner of Midwest Steel Works, a steel fabricator located just four blocks south of the arena now under construction.

Midwest Steel has landed $4.2 million in contracts so far, partnering with a Minneapolis steel company, LeJeune Steel Co., that won the $13.8 million structural steel contract. Midwest Steel is expected to provide about half the steel fabrication in the arena and is also making handrails. All told, Midwest Steel will end up with about $6 million in contracts.

Lienemann served on one of the original arena boards that began planning and promoting the arena project nearly a decade ago. He said Mayor Chris Beutler promised to steer as much work as possible to local companies — which he did by allowing the general contractor to use a different bidding system rather than the city’s usual low-bid-wins system. The only certified steel fabricator in Lincoln, he hoped to get some arena work but knew his company couldn’t do the whole project itself.

He said the bidding process was open and transparent, so he sees no conflict of interest.

“Just because people were advocates for the arena I don’t think that should bar them from getting contracts or bidding on them,” Lienemann said. “It’s coincidental that I was on 2015 Vision, WHAT (an arena board) and got the bid.”

He noted that Sampson Construction was involved in planning the project from the beginning, too, but didn’t win the construction contract — Hampton Construction did. Longtime Lincoln home builder Joe Hampton was also a big supporter of the project, writing letters to the editor, joining 2015 Vision and standing with other former City Council members in support of the arena vote.

Today, the company he founded, Hampton Construction, is benefitting perhaps more than any other local company, landing $11.6 million in arena work to date. Hampton got in on the work by partnering with a Minneapolis construction company, Mortenson Construction, to manage the arena’s construction.

Another leader of the effort to get the arena project approved by voters was Nick Cusick, owner of IMSCORP, sports equipment manufacturer. Last year, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce honored Cusick for his leadership on the arena project.

A former division of IMSCORP, Signco — which makes scoring tables, stadium ribbon message boards and other sports marketing devices — won two arena contracts worth $709,393. But that division was sold in June 2012.

Schelde North America, a subsidiary of IMSCORP, won a $38,676 contract for three portable basketball goals.

Cusick said he just happened to be chairman of the local chamber the year of the arena vote, and the chamber was a big supporter of the project. He said his subsidiary won the bid after a competitive bid process, not because he was a supporter.

“Certainly it wasn’t necessarily anticipated that we would benefit directly,” he said.

Hampton and Abel could not be reached for comment.

Contact Deena Winter at deena@nebraskawatchdog.org

Part of 9 in the series Lincoln Arena

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Deena Winter has been a journalist for over 20 years, writing stories for the Northwood Gleaner, Bismarck Tribune, Associated Press, Denver Post and Lincoln Journal Star before joining Watchdog.

  • Fletch

    I don’t see a big issue here, if people like Dick Campbell are truly providing the low bids. If I spin the story another way – if I sold a product or service, pizza for example, and there was a chance to build a national pizza museum or attract national pizza conventions, I’d push like heck for it, too. And then I would submit bids to be a vendor. I think it makes sense, as long as things are done legally and above board.

  • Goblin Shark

    Nothing to see here, folks.

  • Fascinated

    So, let me understand. The community leaders work hard to get an important project for the city advanced, its approved, then you want local businesses to get the jobs associated with the project but you want to exclude the local business leaders from participating. So the only local businesses that can get contracts are those who opposed the project in the first place. Fascinating logic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/deena.winter Deena Winter

    I never set expectations that local companies would get most of the work; the mayor and JPA did. But when they began calling companies headquartered out of state “Nebraska companies,” we cried foul.
    Now we are merely pointing out that some of the biggest proponents of the project in the run-up to the election are getting big arena contracts.

  • theyshouldhaveusedtheirown$$

    ‘…it wasn’t necessarily anticipated that we would benefit directly…’ HAHAHAHA -
    that is for sure the biggest joke I’ve heard in a long time!

  • Irwin Fletcher

    THIS is a cause of concern “allowing the general contractor to use a different bidding system rather than the city’s usual low-bid-wins system. “

  • http://www.facebook.com/ricky.fulton Ricky Fulton

    Lincoln is a small town right? I would not expect contracts to go to outsiders.
    That was part of the deal to provide jobs and revenue for Star City.
    What I want to see is if the Haymarket can bring concerts and events to pay off the bonds. That is a big IF.
    The only tenant I know of now is the lousy Nebraska basketball team whose former AD, Tom Osborne, did a terrible job with the basketball program and everything else including not allowing beer sales at the Haymarket.
    ricky

  • SkepticalRealist

    How can anyone, in their right mind, even pretend to take something that is clearly a great happening for the local community as a whole, and spin it as though it’s almost evil? Ridiculous doesn’t even scratch the surface. I mean, did you miss a deadline and realize that you had to write SOMETHING – so this spewed out?? My better side feels the need to help you out for next week’s eye popping ‘news.’ So here’s an exclusive for you for next week that I have been following for years. Every year, there is man that runs around committing immeasurable Breaking and Entering counts, Fire Safety laws, Illegal Dumping, Property Damage, Animal Cruelty, Labor Law Infringement, Anti-Trust Laws, and not to mention his incessant contribution to child obesity. Of course, he being considerably overweight himself, who could blame him. He gives ‘free’ gifts to children under the guise that they behave throughout the year. People need to know of this monster! He should be exposed for the fraud that he is and be held to justice. Even his appearance is grotesque. He is completely unshaven to cover his filth and he wears an all red suit that is obviously chosen as a deliberate attempt to avert attention from his massive gut or to cover his ‘rosy’ cheeks – the flushed look is undoubtedly a product of severe alcoholism. Oh, and I failed to mention his Child Voyeurism. It has been reported that he watches them when they are sleeping, and when they are awake! For the sake of the children – Let’s get together and bring down this horrible man that masquerades under the alias of Saint Nick, Papa Noel, Kris Kringle, and most recently Santa Claus. Oh…and your welcome. Seriously, it’s forced conspiracy stories like these that render all your subsequent reports toothless. Can’t wait for your next drivel.

  • Expecting Better

    This is the biggest joke of a story. First, companies headquartered outside of Nebraska absolutely CANNOT be considered Nebraska companies (how many companies in the world are headquartered somewhere, but have brick and mortar in other regions/states, employ people in those areas, have employees that pay local taxes and contribute to the community? Answer: every major company). And now this.

    The only thing worse than reading these “articles” (I prefer to call them hit pieces) is seeing the words “BREAKING” or “EXCLUSIVE” or some other random bull in front of nearly every tweet the author sends. Give it a rest.

  • Watching_From_Lincoln

    It’s being built, it’s ahead of schedule, under budget, lots of local people are employed building it, local companies and business owners are involved either as lead contractors or as co-contractors or as subcontractors, so much of the money stays in Lincoln and is rolled over several times in the local economy. Bids awarded locally were either lowest bid or scored highest on the points system. Our unemployment rate is half the national average, so what’s the freaking problem, folks? When completed, not only will we have a premier sports facility, but a damn fine convention/entertainment venue, too, that will draw events/activities to Lincoln that wouldn’t have come here previously. Hell, we may just get back some of the State High School Championships back that we lost to Omaha and the Tri-Cities out of the deal, too.

  • DownWithDeena!!!

    Deena Winter is a joke, she was a joke at LJS when she covered the arena vote. Go away Deena!!!