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Nebraska celebrate their lead over Michigan in the fourth quarter during the Huskers' Big Ten conference opener at Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday.

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70,000 miles, 23 flat tires — Lincoln's bike-share program rolling into second year

The fleet of rental bicycles introduced in April have already rolled almost 70,000 miles — nearly enough to circle the globe three times.

And they’re still rolling. Even after more than 28,000 trips — most of them short jaunts around downtown — all of the 100 BikeLNK bikes remain intact.

None of them broken, none of them stolen.

And just 23 flat tires, or one every 3,000 miles.

“They’re made durable,” said Jamie Granquist, BikeLNK manager. “Everything has held up really well to being in the elements, and being ridden by lots of different people at all times of the day.”

The bikes were busiest in September, when they were taken on nearly 5,400 trips. Despite the winter weather, customers and commuters are still riding them — almost 2,500 times during a bitter November, and closing in on 1,000 trips so far this month.

The service, a partnership between the city and BCycle, didn’t have specific ridership goals, she said. But Lincoln’s numbers are measured against use in comparable cities where BCycle operates, such as Omaha and Madison, Wisconsin. And Lincoln is holding up, she said.

“We’re off to a great start,” she said. “Everybody is really happy with the numbers that our riders are showing. They’re meeting and exceeding all expectations.”

Still, BikeLNK is using the slower season to overhaul the three-speed Treks, up to a half-dozen a day — taking each one apart, replacing cables, adjusting brakes, straightening wheels, lubing all of the moving parts, getting them ready for their second year.

And staffers have looked back at the first year, compiling a year-end report that shows how quickly the sharing service took off, and how quickly users made it part of their routine once the 19 kiosks opened around downtown and on UNL’s three campuses.

“The fact that so many people made it part of their life is very encouraging,” Granquist said.

A few of their findings:

* The bikes are used roughly three times more on any weekday than on Saturdays and Sundays — likely because of the number of students and workers downtown during the week.

* The bikes are busiest at 8 a.m, noon, and 5 p.m. — though they’ve been used at all hours of the day and night. The fewest trips were taken at 4 a.m.

* The three most popular routes — based on check-out and check-in logs — are from 11th and N streets to 14th and R; 14th and R back to 11th and N; and 14th and R to 21st and Q.

* At UNL, the most popular kiosks are 14th and R (4,960 trips); 19th and S (1,559); and 14th and Avery (1,866).

* The No. 1 rider has already logged 806 trips and 1,354 miles — 1,000 more miles than No. 2.

* Since April, BikeLNK riders have burned an estimated 2.6 million calories and prevented about 63,000 pounds of carbon emissions.

It’s too soon to announce any changes for 2019, Granquist said, though she would like to add more bikes to the fleet. It’s also considering requests for kiosks in other parts of the city — such as the North Bottoms, near the Children's Zoo, and in the Near South neighborhood.

“Nothing’s off the table,” she said. “We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen.”

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Lincoln's Sears one of 80 marked for closure

An anchor tenant of Gateway Mall will be closing its doors by March.

Sears told its employees Thursday it will close 80 stores, including its Lincoln location at 6400 O St.

The news arrived Friday with some initial shock, but Gateway General Manager Chad Becwar said it wasn't unexpected.

"We were preparing for it," he said. "Sears is iconic in name and had been around a long time. It will be missed ... but we look at an anchor closing as an opportunity."

In this instance, it's another opportunity for Gateway.

In August, Younkers, another anchor tenant, closed its doors.

"Both of them create different opportunities for the property," Becwar said, without wanting to elaborate.

The Sears closing should provide Starwood Retail Partners, which owns Gateway, the chance to purchase the high-profile space in the Lincoln mall facing O Street.

Sears owns the building, which was built in 1971 and is worth a little more than $5.4 million, according to the Lancaster County Assessor's Office. Sears also owns the building that houses Red Lobster at 6540 O St., which is valued at a little more than $2 million, as well as vacant land nearby that's valued at about $180,000.

"We would entertain the opportunity to have the parcel back, seeing as it's owned by someone else," Becwar said.

Sears started as a mail-order catalog in the 1880s, and Sears, Roebuck and Co. grew into one of the country’s most iconic retailers.

But the century-old department store is teetering on the brink of liquidation, the Associated Press reported. It set a deadline of Friday for bids for its remaining stores to avert closing down completely.

Sears closed one of its Omaha locations in September and announced in November that its store in Grand Island was among 142 locations to close as part of the bankruptcy.

Friday's announcement included plans to close the Sears store at Crossroads Mall in Omaha, and the state's last Kmart location, in Alliance.

Sears said it would begin liquidation sales at stores marked for closure within the next two weeks.

CNBC reported that Sears has announced plans to close more than 260 of its 700 stores nationwide since filing for bankruptcy in October.

Sears Chairman Eddie Lampert submitted a bid in an effort to buy the retailer and keep it alive, people familiar with the situation told CNBC late Friday.

Lampert’s hedge fund, ESL Investments, put forward his tentative proposal for Sears earlier this month with his formal submission due Friday.

A bid could help divert liquidation, but may not necessarily. Sears’ advisers had until Friday to decide whether ESL is a “qualified bidder.” Only then could ESL take part in an auction against liquidation bids Jan. 14. The advisers will weigh the value of Lampert’s bid against offers to liquidate the company.

The terms or structure of Lampert’s bid could not immediately be determined, CNBC reported. If it is similar to the $4.6 billion proposal Lampert outlined earlier this month, it is likely to face pushback from the company’s unsecured creditors. As part of the initial bid, which regulators required Lampert to make public, financing would in part stem from $1.8 billion in debt that Lampert would forgive through a so-called “credit bid.”

Unsecured creditors said earlier this month they will object to a credit bid. Those creditors believe there may be claims against Sears for transactions under Lampert’s leadership. Those deals include Sears’ spinoff of Lands’ End and transactions with Seritage Growth Properties, a real estate investment trust Lampert created through select Sears’ properties.

Journal Star file photo 

Sears announced that the Lincoln location at Gateway Mall will close by March 2019.

Shutdown could block federal aid to farmers hit by trade war

WASHINGTON — The end of 2018 seemed to signal good things to come for America's farmers. Fresh off the passage of the farm bill, which reauthorized agriculture, conservation and safety net programs, the USDA last week announced a second round of direct payments to growers hardest-hit by President Donald Trump's trade war with China.

Then the government shut down.

The USDA in a statement issued last week assured farmers that checks would continue to go out during the first week of the shutdown. But direct payments for farmers who haven't certified production, as well as farm loans and disaster-assistance programs, will be put on hold beginning next week, and won't start up again until the government reopens.

There is little chance of the government shutdown ending soon. Trump and Congress are no closer to reaching a deal over his demand for border wall funding, and both sides say the impasse could drag well into January.

Though certain vital USDA programs will remain operational in the short term, that could change if the shutdown lasts for more than a few weeks.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, helps feed roughly 40 million Americans. According to the USDA, eligible recipients are guaranteed benefits through January. Other feeding programs, including WIC, which provides food aid and nutrition counseling for pregnant women, new mothers and children, and food-distribution programs on Indian reservations, will continue on a local level, but additional federal funding won't be provided. School lunch programs will continue through February.

USDA earmarked about $9.5 billion in direct payments for growers of soybeans, corn, wheat, sorghum and other commodities most affected by tariffs. The first round of payments went out in September. The deadline to sign up for the second round of payments is Jan. 15.

The impact of the shutdown, which began shortly before most federal workers were scheduled for a holiday break, started coming into focus by midweek.

About 420,000 employees are working without pay, while another 380,000 are being forced to stay home. In the past, federal employees have been paid retroactively. But government contractors won't get paid for hours they'll lose staying home, causing problems for those who rely on hourly wages.

In anticipation of the financial bind many federal workers and contractors may soon find themselves in, the Office of Personnel Management offered some advice: haggle with landlords, creditors and mortgage companies for lower payments until the shutdown is over.

The shutdown also is affecting national parks, although unevenly: Some remain accessible with bare-bones staffing levels, some are operating with money from states or charitable groups, while others are locked up.