A major intersection, one intended to move thousands of cars a day from a shopping center onto nearby streets, sits quietly at the southwest edge of Lincoln, its banks of signal lights staring into cornfields.
Private developers spent more than $4 million to improve county roads, on a new private street with brick medians and a double lane roundabout, on a two-mile water line, on a sewage pumping station. All in great anticipation that a shopping center, anchored by a Walmart, soon would follow.
Instead, what followed was the stock market crash of 2008. And the death or delay of many dreams.
In 2006, representatives of developer Dial Realty told city leaders they expected the regional shopping center could open in late 2008, with 1.3 million square feet of retail space and three big box stores, one of them a Walmart Supercenter.
Developers and city leaders expected that Southwest Village eventually would be home to two or three hotels, restaurants and even light industry, as well as more than 100 homes.
A major development at Lincoln's western edge would be a boon for the city's goal of concentric growth, said Dan Marvin, a councilman when land for Southwest Village was annexed.
But four years later, the two-lane roundabout that would have helped move thousands of cars in and out of the shopping center near Folsom Street and West Denton Road is merely a playground for rabbits.
The city's previous experience was that projects of this magnitude generally were built, said City Councilman Jonathan Cook. So city leaders moved ahead, requiring the developer to pay almost all the upfront costs but expecting to eventually repay some of those costs with the revenue from city impact fees paid by developers as the stores were built and house lots platted.
What happened is a reflection of the economy.
First, Walmart changed its retail strategy, moving away from super stores.
"Walmart made a major change in their planning for new stores, and they pulled the plug on a lot of projects that had been in the works," Cook said.
"Then we had the complete economic collapse and the inability of businesses to get credit for a while," said Cook, a veteran councilman and one of the seven council members who unanimously approved the annexation agreement for Southwest Village in 2006.
That agreement spells out the developer's dreams and the responsibilities of both the city and Dial Realty.
Dial built the interior road system for the shopping center and improved West Denton Road and Folsom Street. The developer also put in two miles of 16-inch water line and a sewage pumping station that would temporarily serve the new homes.
The city was to cooperate with right of way purchase but had little initial financial obligation. However, in response to citizen complaints, the city eventually improved the remaining portion of West Denton Road, at a cost of $800,000.
Under the annexation agreement, the city was responsible for reimbursing Dial for the water line and the improvements on the two county roads, but not for the internal road nor the pumping station.
The city already has paid more than $1.185 million to Dial for the water line, with not a single home connected to it.
That bill came due in the 2009-10 fiscal year.
The city owes the developer almost $2 million for improvements to Folsom Street and West Denton Road beginning in 2018-19. The 11-year delay was to allow time for the city to recoup money from impact fees. So far, the city has collected none because there has been no development.
There is some wiggle room in the annexation agreement. The city must make its "best efforts" to meet the repayment schedule. But the city is taking that obligation seriously and has begun to look at "how and when" to pay the developer, says Marvin Krout, planning director for the city.
Southwest Village is not the only Lincoln example of redevelopment delayed by the recession and of new roads awaiting homes. The Walmart at 84th and Adams streets was supposed to attract other retailers. It stands alone.
But the infrastructure for the unbuilt Southwest Village probably is the biggest and most obvious road to nowhere, Krout said.
Putting in some infrastructure ahead of development is necessary, Krout explained. The city needs to make sure that water and sewer lines are in before development occurs.
"People need to be able to flush the toilets and have fire protection. The roads are a little more variable," he said.
But Southwest Village was going to be a regional shopping center with a big box store that could generate 5,000 cars a day, he said. "The city was told there was a letter of intent from a major retailer." So getting roads improved early was important.
The recession may make city leaders more cautious about obligating future impact fees, he said.
At the time, in the midst of an economic boom, the concept of using "delayed impact fees" and keeping the city's upfront costs low seemed like a good idea.
"That center was expected to stimulate development in that quadrant of the city," Krout said. "And some day it will. It is just a matter of timing.
"It's a nice location. It's easy to get to the rest of the city. Eventually, there will be an interchange on the South Beltway near that area, Krout said.
The developers are looking for ways to use the land. They offered it as the site for a new state fairgrounds several years ago, when the state was looking for a new location. "We are trying to think outside the box," said Rick Kiolbasa, who represents the developer.
"We had an excellent corn crop last year. And the street allows the combine to get to the crop easily," he said.
Kiolbasa said he'd welcome good ideas for development on that land.
"I'd like to have something else besides corn on it. But right now that's what we've got."