The city’s 50-year-old auditorium would be converted into a modern food market with booths for Nebraska-grown food, space for three restaurants, a greenhouse and loft apartments for professionals.

The plan, unveiled last week, is being discussed at the same time everything inside the building at 226 Centennial Mall South goes up for auction.

The auditorium will be open Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for people interested in buying pieces of Pershing history or just taking a last look around.

The city is also considering tearing the empty auditorium down.

The Pershing plan, still in the draft stage, would provide for renovation of the auditorium and creation of an administrative structure for a regional food hub to connect ag producers, consumers and distributors and promote local ag production, said Cecil Steward, president of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities, which proposed the project.

The Omaha-based group promotes an integrated approach to sustainability through education, public visioning, partnership, and coordination. Steward presented the group's proposal to the mayor’s environmental committee on Thursday.

The market and the regional food hub are interrelated, Steward said.

"Don’t be concerned about the low volume of ag production nearby," he said. "If you build this, it will stimulate that production very quickly."

Under the proposal, the 28,000-square-foot basement would be used for parking, but it also could become an initial distribution and food processing center. A full distribution and processing facility would require more space, Steward said.

The arena floor would be dedicated to market booths, selling locally produced food, arts and crafts. There could be some permanent store facilities along one side.

Three restaurants would face N Street, and they likely would be specialty restaurants focusing on local or ethnic foods.

At the northwest corner, taking advantage of the N Street protected bike lanes, would be a bike repair shop, showers and lockers for people who ride bikes to work.

The building would have a new entrance on the west, retrofitted to keep the mural, Steward said.

A district energy corporation would be housed in the east, where the stage is now located, and would serve existing and future buildings that would use the energy rather than add furnaces or air conditioning units. The General Services Administration in the federal building is very interested, Steward said.

An indoor greenhouse would be built on the north side of the arena floor where arena seating is now.

The building would be expanded to the north and south, with 30 housing units on two levels. Steward said his daughter, a production artist in Los Angeles, is lobbying for these to be artist-style loft housing for production artists.

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The building also would include space for community functions and administration offices.

The concept includes a large HuskerVision-style bulletin board on the east wall of the market floor, where all community events would be listed. It also could be used for entertainment, similar to the cube in the West Haymarket.

It would cost an estimated $5 million to renovate the building for the marketplace function. That could be done first while people work on the other concepts, Steward said.

The entire project, including creating the food hub administration, could cost about $25 million. The project would require some government support, philanthropic support and private money, Steward said.

When the proposal is finished in late February, it will be presented officially to the Nebraska Investment Finance Authority and the city. NIFA is considering whether state and federal new markets tax credits could help pay for the renovation.

Steward hopes the city will agree to explore the idea and seek developer proposals.

"I hope this gives people a new idea for new opportunities," he said.

Mayor Chris Beutler rejected three proposals after the city solicited renovation ideas in 2012. They included turning Pershing into the main city library and two private plans that would have required city help.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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