Lincoln City Council approves controversial downtown luxury high-rise
The Lincoln City Council approved a redevelopment agreement for a mixed–use high-rise on the corner of Ninth and P streets Monday, meaning the project can now move forward despite significant opposition from Haymarket business owners and tenants.
The redevelopment agreement passed on a 4-2 vote, with council members Sändra Washington and Michelle Suarez voting against it.
But both those council members joined Bennie Shobe, James Michael Bowers, Richard Meginnis and Tom Beckius and voted in favor of authorizing a record $24.1 million in tax-increment financing for the project, the primary reason a redevelopment agreement was necessary in the first place. Councilwoman Tammy Ward was absent.
Washington said one of her concerns was a lack of notice about the proposed development, which several people testifying at a public hearing last week said was the reason no one testified at a Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission meeting in November.
A change in state law intended to ensure public notice is sent to neighborhoods affected by local government business inadvertently meant neighborhood groups were notified, but not nearby businesses, Washington said.
“We should be engaging our neighborhoods and businesses. Everyone who has a stake should be engaged,” she said. “Folks said last week they didn’t know. What we had last week was a lot of conversation about the decisions and impact this project could have. It was the first time they could really speak."
Washington said she also was unconvinced that the northwest corner of Ninth and P streets — the longtime location of Melichar’s 66 gas station — was the best spot for the modern high-rise. She said earlier decisions by local leaders to exempt the Melichar’s property and two other nearby lots from a lower-height limit required for other businesses west of Ninth Street were short-sighted.
Suarez, appointed to replace Jane Raybould after she was elected to the Legislature in November, said this was the toughest decision she’s faced so far, and one of her biggest concerns was the effect construction would have on local businesses.
“I do have concerns about how growth happens and at what pace,” she said.
A development group is planning a 254-foot high-rise that would include 36,000 square feet of office space, 70 luxury apartment units and 33 condos and would become the second-tallest building in the city, surpassing the Lied Place Residences at 11th and Q streets by 6 inches.
The development group includes Executive Travel owner Steve Glenn, his son, Paul, Mike Weatherl, who founded Silverhawk Aviation and now owns a company that provides security and janitorial services, and Alexander Carlson, whose family owns ARYSE, a startup that makes high-tech orthopedic braces.
While the use of $24.1 million in tax-increment financing, or TIF, was part of the redevelopment agreement, the council had to take separate votes to authorize it. TIF will allow the developers to divert taxes paid on the improved property for 20 years to pay for infrastructure improvements and some up-front costs of the project.
The $24.1 million for Lincoln Bold is the largest amount of TIF the city has approved. The project also includes a $90.8 million private investment.
Proponents of the project pointed out that because it will use TIF, the city gets input on the project. As a result of that, developers have made several design changes so the high-rise better fits into the neighboring historic Haymarket buildings; they've agreed to use $3.2 million in TIF directly for streetscape and right-of-way improvements; and they will contribute $721,000 to the city’s affordable housing efforts.
That $721,000 contribution — made instead of including affordable units in the high-rise — is the reason Washington said she voted to authorize TIF on the project even though she opposed the redevelopment agreement. Once it was clear the project was moving forward, she said, she wanted to show her support for using a portion of TIF for affordable housing.
Opponents expressed a number of concerns about the project, including that a luxury high-rise was not an appropriate use of TIF.
But one of the biggest concerns was parking — the negative effect on businesses during three years of construction, and the increasing demand for downtown parking from the number of residences being built.
Once it's built, the high-rise will offer valet parking to city garages for residents, and the developers have offered to provide free valet parking to patrons of businesses who will lose street parking in the Haymarket during construction.
Beckius, who voted for the redevelopment agreement, said demand for parking in the Haymarket will continue to grow, whether the Lincoln Bold project is built or not.
He said he was dedicated to making sure the city continues to do what it can to support businesses.
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