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VA campus

A three-story apartment building for homeless and near-homeless veterans is the first private project on the VA campus near 70th and O streets.

It looks like construction of apartments for low income and homeless veterans will begin soon at the Veterans Affairs campus in east Lincoln.

But plans for moving the city’s Aging Partners offices and building other apartments and medical offices on the 57-acre campus await a federal decision on where the VA will locate a new outpatient clinic in Lincoln.

A new agreement between the developers and the the city allows construction to move forward on the 70 units of low-income veteran apartments, called VASH apartments, named after the funding mechanism used to subsidize the rent.

VASH housing construction will begin by Oct. 30 and be completed by Dec. 31, 2017, according to the agreement.

A public hearing is scheduled on the agreement at the Lincoln City Council’s 3 p.m. meeting on Oct. 17. The council is expected to vote on the agreement at that meeting.

The agreement also describes proposed projects for later phases at the VA campus, which is being renamed Victory Park. But the agreement specifically says future phases can be abandoned if the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs does not pick the VA campus for Lincoln’s new outpatient VA clinic, a decision that is expected within the next two years.

The agreement allows both the city and the developer to withdraw from future projects if the outpatient clinic is built elsewhere in Lincoln.

Moving Aging Partners offices from downtown to the VA Campus is part of the second phase of Victory Park development.

A renovated administration building on the VA campus, with a new 1,200-square-foot addition, will provide offices and a senior center, with program space and feeding operations, said Randall Jones, Aging Partners director.

A neighboring building, a former residence for staff who worked at the VA hospital, will provide storage and some office space, Jones said.

Aging Partners anticipates continuing meal programs and some services at other locations, but the staff offices at 1005 O St. and a health and fitness center at 233 S. 10th St. would be moved to the VA campus, Jones said.

“The public won’t see any difference in services, just increased access,” he said.

Aging Partners would actually have less space at the Victory Park location, but it would be more efficient space, Jones said. The downtown location, in an old drug store now owned by the city, is very inefficient, he said. The same holds true for the health and fitness center, now located in the old police station, he said.

The city's decision to move Aging Partners to Victory Park, near 70th and O, is dependent, in part, on the VA clinic location decision, Jones said.

“Things are really preliminary. Our hope is the VA can make a decision on that clinic so we can move forward with the plans (for Aging Partner offices),” he said.

The new agreement provides for using $200,000 in tax-increment financing, or TIF, to help with renovating Aging Partner’s new location at Victory Park. It also includes allowing the city to use an additional $300,000 in TIF in later phases.

The best case scenario is that the VA clinic is located at the VA campus and the project is built out, said Wynn Hjermstad, community development manager for the city’s Urban Development Department.

The worst case is that the clinic is not located there and the developer exercises their out clause and nothing further happens, she said.

The project has multiple partners. The Seniors Foundation, a local nonprofit, has the long-term lease with the federal government for the campus. America First Real Estate Group is the developer and Sampson Construction is building the VASH apartments.

Preliminary plans indicate more than $128 million will be spent turning the VA campus into Victory Park, with about $7.65 million of that coming from TIF funding.

TIF generally uses 15-year bonds repaid through the property taxes paid on the increased value created by the development.

The priorities listed for using TIF are the following: first, reimbursing the city for the cost of issuing bonds; second, site preparation and public infrastructure; third, lease assistance; fourth, historic facade enhancements and rehabbing of historic buildings; fifth, energy enhancements.

Future phases include the outpatient VA clinic, private medical office buildings, rental townhomes for veterans and seniors and remodeling of the old VA hospital into offices and apartments.

The first phase, construction of the VASH housing, is an expected $8.6 million investment with about $320,000 coming from TIF.

The second phase, an anticipated $41.7 million cost with around $2.9 million coming from TIF, would include the Aging Partner’s office and program space.

The Seniors Foundation has been working on a plan for the VA campus since 2011. The City Council approved a similar TIF agreement in late September 2015, to allow the developer to qualify for  the Housing and Urban Development housing vouchers.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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