Sunday brought Lincoln chilly temperatures, overcast skies and the longest night of the year. But for many, the day was all about a light.
Hundreds of people braved the chilly winter solstice to dedicate the Lincoln Community Foundation Tower Square and Ascent tower on 13th and P streets.
"This tower will be a beacon that welcomes all to the heart of Lincoln's downtown," said Mayor Chris Beutler to the crowd.
City council members, state senators, donors and many who had a hand in the vision, funding and construction of the square were present. Jun Kaneko, the Omaha artist who designed the tower and square, also made the trip.
After some speeches and a lengthy list of thank-yous, a giant light switch next to the tower was flipped on. “Ascent” lit without a hitch and the square full of people erupted in applause.
"It is beyond my expectations," Beutler said after the ceremony. "It's just brilliant in its color, in its scale, in its symbolism. I think the city will fall in love with it."
Beutler said he was excited for Husker fans to see the tower on football game days next fall.
Wayne Mixdorf, parking manager for the city, said he's watched the park's progress since it was nothing but a parking lot.
"It's gorgeous," he said. "It's everything I thought it was going to be."
Tower Square cost $2.95 million, and “Ascent” alone cost $1.15 million. Its lighting system includes 19,200 LEDs and 3,000 feet of electrical cable. The project was funded by donations, tax increment financing and city keno revenue. A $600,000 endowment for the maintenance of the park's art has been funded by the Sheila Dickinson Dinsmore Graf Fund at the Lincoln Community Foundation.
Kathy and Paul Vandewater, who came to Sunday's lighting, said they enjoy spending time in downtown Lincoln and have been particularly excited for the new park.
"It couldn't be better," Kathy Vandewater said. "It's a center point for the downtown area, I think."
Michelle Penn, a member of the city's Urban Design Committee, had a hand in making the square a reality.
"We approved the design, so it's exciting to see it all come together," Penn said. "It's as beautiful as we'd hoped it would be."
The vision for the square began almost 10 years ago with the city's 2005 master plan, the mayor said. Sunday night, that vision was finally realized. He called Tower Square an "iconic public space."
Beutler concluded the ceremony with a Susan Cooper poem:
"The Shortest Day."
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.