Speedway Properties and Nelnet plan to turn an old industrial area near Lincoln High School into a new neighborhood with retail outlets and about 200 apartments in new and remodeled buildings.
The two Lincoln companies laid out their plans for the $72 million second phase of the Telegraph District, including $8.9 million in tax-increment financing, to the City Council on Monday afternoon.
The Telegraph District will be large enough to have a variety of services, will have great access and affordability and will be bike-friendly, said Clay Smith, with Speedway Properties.
It has a 99 bikeability score, “which means it is a biker's paradise,” he said.
Once-vacant buildings, renovated in the first phase, already house more than 1,000 Nelnet and Allo employees. And there is a new Mill coffee shop already in place with a Subway sandwich store coming this summer, he told the council.
This new project will transform a largely vacant industrial tract into a vibrant neighborhood where people will work, shop, walk and play, he said.
But a group, representing lower-income renters, told the council that redeveloping the blighted area will not provide any much-needed apartments for lower-income renters nor help with the serious low-income housing problem in Lincoln.
The Telegraph District project doesn’t replace any existing housing since it's an industrial area. But it could negatively affect vulnerable populations who live nearby, said Amanda Huckins.
The redevelopment could raise nearby property values and thus increase the rents in nearby apartments.
TIF funds should be rejected until an affordable housing goal is met, she said, and TIF should help accomplish the city’s fair housing goals.
The group urged the council to require developers using TIF on apartment and condo projects to provide some housing for low-income renters.
Other cities have requirements that developers provide some affordable housing in new developments, sometimes by providing the units or setting aside money for affordable housing, the council was told.
The Lincoln Housing Authority has about 4,000 households on a waiting list for low-income housing vouchers, and receiving a voucher takes two to three years, said Isabel Salas, a community builder for the South of Downtown Community Development Organization.
“This is really a big need,” she said.
The median income on nearby census tracks is between $21,500 to $23,300, according to Grant Daily, with the Lincoln organization Renters Together. So the apartments in the Telegraph District will be largely unaffordable for people who live in those areas, he said.
Members of the group suggested the council reject the Telegraph District redevelopment agreement so it can be renegotiated to include affordable housing.
But David Landis, director of the city’s Urban Development Department, said any new policy requiring TIF redevelopers to help with affordable housing should apply to future developments, not already negotiated deals.
Landis agreed Lincoln has a serious affordable housing problem and that some other communities do require developers on new projects to help, some with city subsidies, some without.
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Speedway and Nelnet did consider some low-income units when the companies went through their analysis, Smith said.
But construction prices are going up dramatically and much of TIF is being used for city street, water and sewer line needs. There isn’t much left for other uses, he said.
The City Council is expected to approve the project and the 190-page redevelopment agreement, the largest in city history, at its April 30 meeting.
The agreement provides for two TIF amounts, depending on whether the developer is able to buy the Randolph Car Wash property at near 21st and N streets.
The TIF will be $8.9 million if the developer is able to acquire the car wash property and build Telegraph Loft West, but just $7.266 million if the developer builds a smaller building, Telegraph Lofts South, instead.
The TIF will be used to buy city-owned land, for city sewer and water improvements, and for streetscape and building facade improvements, according to the agreement.
The TIF is based on a current value of $2.177 million and a new value of either $55.277 million or $45.2 million, depending on what apartment units are eventually built.
Taxes paid on the increased value are used to repay 15-year TIF bonds.
The developer expects to begin construction of Telegraph Lofts East this fall, Telegraph Lofts West next spring and Telegraph Flats Commons in the fall of 2019, based on the agreement.
Telegraph District, Phase 2, includes the following improvements:
* Telegraph Flats Common: A new, four-story building on the west side of the block, with about 121,000 square feet of first-floor commercial/retail and about 68 apartment units on the top three floors.
* Renovation of Towel Building, 2019 N St., and Power Plant, 2023 N St.: The Towel Building will house first-floor retail and second-floor apartments. The Power Plant building will be accessory uses for the apartments.
* Telegraph Lofts East: A new four- or five-story building, with 25,000 square feet, first-floor commercial uses and about 62 apartments on upper floors.
* Telegraph Lofts West or Telegraph Lofts South: The developer hopes to build a new building with 19,700 square feet, first-floor commercial and about 65 apartments, at the Randolph Car Wash site.
If the developer cannot acquire that land, then the developer will construct Telegraph Lofts South, a four- or five-story building at the northwest corner of South 21st and M streets, with 12,000 square feet of first-floor commercial space and about 30 apartments on upper floors.
* 1935 O St.: First-floor commercial and/or studio space, with about eight apartments on the second floor.
* LES substation: A 9-foot tall, metal-screen decorative fence will hide the LES substation. Most of the cost will be paid by Lincoln Electric System and the city.
Façades for the buildings are to be higher than required by the city as spelled out in the redevelopment agreement.
The façade will be brick, stone, or other richly textured, highly durable masonry with metal architectural accents permitted on the exterior, according to the redevelopment agreement.