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Nebraska football coach Scott Frost engages in a Q&A with Huskers fans on Wednesday during the the annual Big Red Blitz at the Younes Conference Center South in Kearney.

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Gold's Building up for sale; lack of historic tax credits scuttles redevelopment plans
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The owner of the Gold’s Building -- the once venerable downtown department store anchoring 11th and O streets -- says he plans to demolish the building after the latest redevelopment plans fell through.

“Two things happened that will cause the building to be demolished,” said Gerard Keating, a Nebraska native who bought the building in 2019. “One, the city refuses to relocate its derelict, unpoliced, filthy bus transfer station, ... (and) the National Parks Service (which administers historic tax credits) rejected a request to put windows on the south facade. It’s ridiculous.”

In May, the City Council approved a $50 million redevelopment agreement to turn the building into apartments and first-floor commercial space, including authorizing $6.1 million in tax-increment financing for what would have been one of the largest apartment projects in downtown history.

Jeff McMahon, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate who has his own real estate company in the Kansas City area, negotiated the agreement with the city and planned to buy the building from Keating, who owns Keating Resources.

The plan would have created about 180 mostly one-bedroom units, renovated the first floor for commercial use, the rooftop into amenities for residents, and the basement into storage for building residents or businesses.

Developers also would have razed a vacant building next door at 1023 O St. to create a small park or open space for residents and the developer would have taken over use of the skywalk leading to the old Centrum parking garage, where 220 stalls would have been reserved for residents.

The problem: McMahon needed historic tax credits to help pay to add windows to the south side of the building. The National Park Service, which administers the program, said no.

When that happened, McMahon didn’t go through with buying the building. Keating said it remains on the market but he doesn’t think anyone will buy it because of the bus transfer area on 11th and N streets along the sides of the building and because the parks service won’t allow windows on the south side of the building.

“Thanks to that, it will end up in the dump, like many historical buildings, and that makes me sad,” he said.

Keating Resources bought the building in December 2019 for $2.3 million, and announced plans for a 110-room hotel and remodel of the four-story south portion of the building for the tenants, which were state offices.

Then the pandemic happened, and its effect on the hotel industry led the company to rethink its plans and put the building up for sale in November.

Dan Marvin, the city’s urban development director, said after Keating bought the building the city negotiated with him in an effort to compress the amount of space used for bus transfers so it wouldn’t impede the entrance to the planned hotel.

There are numerous Federal Transportation Administration guidelines the city must follow to move a transfer station, either temporarily or permanently, which has complicated the issue, Marvin said.

Negotiations with Keating went dormant after the pandemic closed everything down, and when they started up again, they were with McMahon, Marvin said.

Part of the new redevelopment deal that the city had worked on with McMahon was to use $500,000 in TIF to raze the old police station at 233 S. 10th St. to make way for a bus transfer station. When he didn't get the historic tax credits and the redevelopment deal fell through, that TIF money was no longer available.

Marvin said the city needs a grant to build a transfer station, which it has wanted for years. It has applied for a grant, but it hasn't heard yet whether it's been approved. Two other grant applications were unsuccessful.

Keating doesn’t believe the transfer station is necessary and is angry the city won’t agree to move the transfer lanes away from his property. People urinate and defecate on the sidewalk because there are no bathrooms, and the area isn’t policed, he said, and he spends $4,000 a month steam-cleaning the sidewalks.

“Instead of focusing on providing a safe, clean transfer station, they want to build a Taj Mahal where people will buy $5 lattes,” he said.

Marvin said it’s possible the building could sell, noting that Keating bought the building with the transfer station there and no windows on the south side.

Demolishing the building for a surface parking lot would be an expensive venture, Marvin said, saying similar demolitions of large buildings have cost millions.

“It would be a very expensive parking lot,” he said.

Marvin said it’s not all that unusual for projects like this to fall through, noting that plans for the Journal Star building and one at Ninth and O streets initially fell through but both are on track with new projects.

Plans to buy the Journal Star building at Ninth and P streets and turn it into apartments, offices and commercial space fell through when the developer couldn’t secure financing, but now an Indiana company plans to demolish the building and build a 13-story apartment building.

The Holiday Inn Express soon to open at Ninth and O streets wasn’t the first project slated for that corner, Marvin said, but came to fruition after the first plan fell through.

“Absolutely we are disappointed,” Marvin said about the Gold’s project. “I think the better course of action would be to save the building, but I’m not the owner of the building.”

The existing lease for state government offices, the remaining tenants in the Gold's Building, will expire in October, at which point the offices will be relocated to other state government buildings.

Todd Ogden, president and CEO of the Downtown Lincoln Association, said he’s also disappointed but remains hopeful that the owner can find a developer that can make it work. There are developers looking for space for downtown residential projects, he said.

“The redevelopment plan was perfect,” he said.

It fit well with the downtown master plan, and Keating has already made improvements to the building and had a vision for it. Other projects in downtown, including plans to rehab the Atrium, will help spur other development, he said.

“I’m confident we’ll see something,” he said.

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Remarkable Kids Rodeo allows children of all abilities to experience Western sports
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Rodeo is a tradition in 9-year-old Mickayla Bear Robe's family.

The Randolph Elementary School student travels to the National High School Finals Rodeo every year to see her aunt, Miss South Dakota High School Rodeo 2021 Tashina Red Hawk, compete in barrel racing and pole bending.

This year, she only had to travel to the Lancaster Event Center.

In addition to watching her aunt, Mickayla also looks forward to partaking in the Remarkable Kids Rodeo every year -- a simulated rodeo that makes classic events like roping and racing accessible to children with disabilities.

"It's a good experience for her to learn about Western heritage and get familiar with the rodeo environment," said Red Hawk, who lives on the Rosebud Reservation, on Wednesday.

This year, Mickayla enjoyed the rodeo expo trade market at the event center and, for the event, picked out her "cute cowgirl outfit," as her grandmother Noella Red Hawk put it. In her new Western wear, she slalomed through poles on a stick pony as her family cheered her on.

During the Remarkable Kids Rodeo, participants receive their own back numbers, while attempting to rope cattle dummies, run through barrels and poles with stick ponies and ride a faux bull pulled by volunteers. When finished, they all receive a goodie bag with prizes, including their own belt buckle.

"It's a traditional event for (the NHSFR) that's been going on for well over 40 years," said Stephanie Rodrigue, who coordinated this year's event with representatives from North Dakota, Ohio and her home state of Louisiana.

Rodrigue said organizing the Remarkable Kids Rodeo starts with doing local outreach in the host city. This year, in Lincoln, the coordinators reached out to autism centers, equine therapy programs and summer programs for kids with special needs. In addition to locals, siblings of rodeo contestants are also invited to join. There is no age limit.

"It's a chance for children with challenges to participate in what we all know and love about rodeo," Rodrigue said.

In total, the organizers prepared for 50 kids to participate in this year's event. The rodeo queens work the event as part of their service requirement, and sign autographs in addition to leading kids to each simulated event. It is also the annual project for NHSRA student officers.

This year, at least 75 rodeo contestants volunteered to work the event as well, showing kids how to rope and afterwards hosting a pizza party for them.

For Mickayla, the Remarkable Kids Rodeo is a chance to experience the rodeo activities in which her Aunt Tashina and mom, Whitney, both participated.

"She grew up watching her aunt as an ambassador for the Western way of life, and now she gets to participate in it," Noella Red Hawk said. "It's good for the mind, and it's good physical activity."

Noella A Red Hawk said that the Remarkable Kids Rodeo "makes all abilities equal" when it comes to learning about rodeo.

"She gets so excited about learning how to throw rope," Noella Red Hawk said. "It's cool to see the next generation grow up and learn these skills."

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National Guard, including Nebraska, set to cancel training until October because of funding impasse
  • Updated

National Guard members in Nebraska, Iowa and across the country may lose training and pay for the next two months because Congress has failed to repay the Guard for protecting Washington, D.C., in the months following the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The National Guard Bureau spent $521 million to keep about 25,000 troops in Washington, manning concrete fencing and checkpoints around the building and providing security during President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Most left within a few weeks, but some soldiers stayed until the end of May.

The bureau expected Congress would pony up funds to repay them. But the bill to cover the costs has gotten tied up with Washington’s partisan gamesmanship.

“Time is running out,” said Maj. Gen. Richard Neely, adjutant general of the Illinois National Guard, at a media briefing Friday. “The loss of these funds will have a major impact on our readiness, both for our federal missions and for state emergencies.”

The Nebraska National Guard is facing a shortfall of $3.4 million. A state marksmanship contest scheduled for August already has been scrubbed, said Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, the state’s adjutant general, and a workshop for commanders to plan next year’s training has been postponed.

“We simply couldn’t afford to do it,” he said.

The critical question now is whether to cancel weekend Guard drills in August, which typically take place the first or second week of the month. Some soldiers and airmen also have not yet completed two weeks of annual training. They could also lose two months of Guard pay.

“Those are checks that they count on to support their families, to feed their families, and to go to college and all those sorts of things,” Neely said.

In Nebraska, Bohac said, top priority is given to soldiers who need training to receive credit for a year of service toward retirement as well as members of units that are deploying soon. That includes a pair of units slated to join the border patrol mission in October.

“We’re preserving where we can,” Bohac said.

The National Guard has been exceptionally busy in the past two years. Guard units aided with food distribution and vaccination clinics during the COVID-19 pandemic, security during Black Lives Matter protests in various cities last summer, and support for U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents along the U.S-Mexico border.

That’s in addition to the aid provided after natural disasters such as the March 2019 floods that hit both Nebraska and Iowa.

Neely warned that Guard units across the country would suffer “multiple and cascading effects” if forced to cancel drills and annual training.

“It would be punishing the force that has worked extremely hard in the last year, the last two years,” he said.

The National Guard Bureau raided its operations and maintenance funds earlier in the year to cover the deployment, with a promise of reimbursement by Congress later in the year.

Repaying the National Guard Bureau has nearly universal support in Congress. But, as often happens, the reimbursement package has gotten wrapped up with other budget priorities.

In April the House passed a $1.9 billion measure that wrapped up the Guard reimbursement with provisions to beef up the Capitol Police, including the creation of a quick-reaction force.

The Senate has not voted on a bill, but Senate Democrats are pitching a $3.7 billion bill that adds funding for the military’s coronavirus response and aid for resettlement of Afghan refugees with Guard reimbursement and Capitol Police funding.

A Senate Republican proposal priced at $633 million includes the Guard reimbursement with a few extras for the Capitol Police.

Last week, a group of House Republicans began building support for the National Guard Emergency Supplemental bill, a slimmer measure with only the Guard funding. Rep. Don Bacon of Nebraska has signed onto that. “Our Guard deserves to be fully trained, equipped and ready to answer the call,” he said in a statement.

Bohac said members of Congress may want to solve the problem, but there is so little time before Congress takes its traditional five-week August break.

“You’re talking days and hours, not weeks and months,” he said.

“This is really not typical,” Bohac added. “This is a one-off event that’s really causing a lot of disruption.”