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Industrial Arts Building
Industrial Arts Building (LJS file)

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has received one bid to renovate a building that has been a fixture on the former state fairgrounds for nearly 100 years.

"It will be exciting to see what the university thinks," said Joe Alexander, president of The Alexander Company of Madison, Wisc., which submitted the only bid to UNL to renovate the Industrial Arts Building. "We feel like we put together a great proposal."

Thursday was the last day for developers to submit bids to renovate the Industrial Arts Building. UNL now will consider the Alexander Company's bid, said university spokeswoman Kelly Bartling.

She said the university wouldn't offer any other details about the bid until it has had a chance to further examine it. Alexander also declined to offer details about the bid, other than to say it would involve a business incubator that would allow UNL to grow businesses on its Innovation Campus.

Historic preservation advocates who have argued for the building's renovation hailed the bid Thursday.

"If we were just going to get one proposal, I think we got a really good one," said Diane Walkowiak, who helped organize a petition drive to save the building.

But she criticized UNL for giving interested developers just four months to submit plans to renovate the Industrial Arts Building, which the university plans to demolish to make way for Innovation Campus if it doesn't approve any renovation plans.

"We feel like it's a good use for the Nebraska Innovation Campus," said Tom Miller, president of Madison-based Miller and Associates, which has worked with The Alexander Company on the bid.

J.L. Schmidt, executive director of Heritage Nebraska, said The Alexander Company has a long history of renovating historic buildings, adding that he thinks the project bid likely includes laboratory space.

"They are definitely preservation architects," he said. "I think the university should look favorably on this proposal if it fits the need."

Joe Alexander said his company has completed major public-private renovation projects like the Industrial Arts Building. His company has restored structures such as small Victorian houses, former schools and factories.

He said his company is currently working to restore a 300,000-square-foot former federal courthouse in Kansas City, Mo., a project that has become a major public-private partnership.

"A lot of our work involves dealing with a really diverse group of local stakeholders," he said.

His company has won national awards for its work, such as the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Honor Award. The Alexander Company has undertaken 250 new and historic projects and specializes in urban infill, new construction, brownfield revitalization and historic preservation.

The company has enlisted the help of Nebraska companies to develop and execute the bid should it be approved. Those companies include Bahr Vermeer Haecker and The Clark Enersen Partners of Lincoln and Boyd Jones Construction of Omaha, as well as Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates of Chicago (with offices in Lincoln).

"I hope the university takes a good close look at it," said Dan Worth of Bahr Vermeer Haecker. "It could be exciting."

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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