The University of Nebraska Board of Regents on Friday approved business and master plans for Innovation Campus, the research and development campus that soon will begin taking shape at State Fair Park.

The board OK'd plans for the $801 million campus following a bus tour of the now-quiet fairgrounds, during which regents donned hard hats and got a firsthand look at the 4-H and Industrial Arts buildings.

The 4-H Building is slated for renovation into a campus commons area at the heart of Innovation Campus. The Industrial Arts Building is scheduled, at least for now, for demolition.

Regents long have supported the concept of a research campus, saying it has the potential to help NU capitalize on its record-breaking research programs, create high-paying jobs, lure top faculty and students to campus, and keep bright young people in the area.

"It's truly an outstanding vision," Lincoln Regent Tim Clare said Friday.

But at least one regent cautioned his "yes" vote doesn't mean he supports tearing down the Industrial Arts Building.

University leaders and Innovation Campus consultants haven't fully explored all options for preserving the building, Regent Chuck Hassebrook of Lyons said.

He said the building, with its ornate features, is exactly the type of attraction that would draw young people to Lincoln.

"It is the kind of architecture that is appealing," Hassebrook said. "To destroy that would be a shame."

Renovating the building instead of demolishing it and constructing something new would be more environmentally friendly, Hassebrook added, and would serve as a nod to the fair's century-old history in Lincoln.

Hassebrook wasn't swayed by Innovation Campus consultants' assessment the building is in a state of such disrepair it shouldn't be remodeled.

It's true it needs a new roof and other major work, he said. But, he said, it's "basically a sound structure."

"There should be a real effort to try to make it work," he said.

Hassebrook was backed by testimony from a local architect and preservation expert Friday. And Heritage Nebraska, a group that advocates for preservation of the state's historic features, previously sent regents a report from two architects and a structural engineer that said keeping the building would be cost- and Earth-friendly.

"There are reasons to believe it could work," Hassebrook said.

But Jay Noddle of Omaha-based Noddle Cos., the company that led the effort to craft a business plan for Innovation Campus, said preserving the Industrial Arts Building isn't the best use for that site.

Consultants seriously considered preservation, especially in light of the recent report, Noddle said.

But renovation would be extremely costly, he said. Beyond that, the building's site -- expected to serve as part of Innovation Campus' "front door" -- has higher potential.

"Preservation is worthwhile, but you've got to pick your spot," Noddle said. "What happens right here (at the site) is huge."

The site could be used for office or research space, or perhaps a hotel, he said.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Chancellor Harvey Perlman said preserving the Industrial Arts Building would require private funding, since UNL can't afford work on that building in addition to the 4-H Building renovation and infrastructure costs.

So far, no company or donor has expressed interest in saving the building, Perlman said. And the university doesn't have much time to wait, because the site is part of Innovation Campus' first phase of development.

"I have no passion for tearing down Industrial Arts," Perlman said. "But I do have a passion for making this project succeed."

In approving plans for Innovation Campus, regents reserved the right to inspect future plans for the Industrial Arts Building before they are implemented.

UNL acquires the 251-acre State Fair Park on Jan. 1, and the fair will move to Grand Island.

In all, consultants estimate Innovation Campus will require an investment of more than $801 million. Hundreds of millions of that will come from private donors, companies and federal grants.

The campus' first tenant is expected to be a U.S. Department of Agriculture research facility. A companion UNL research building will be privately funded.

By Melissa Lee at 473-2682 or mlee@journalstar.com.


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