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City Hall: Gauging support for a new central library, the cost of cleanup, the new 84th Street
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City Hall: Gauging support for a new central library, the cost of cleanup, the new 84th Street

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The Foundation for Lincoln City Libraries is testing the waters.

It's dipping its metaphorical finger into the well of Lincoln residents’ psyches, at least the part that might have an opinion about the city’s libraries — including how they feel about a new central library downtown and how willing they are to pay for it.

The foundation hired a consultant to survey Lincoln residents, another step in what’s been a long process — spanning two mayors — to decide whether the city should build a new central library on the block where the now-empty Pershing Center sits.

The idea got a significant nudge when Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird invited developers to submit redevelopment proposals to repurpose the Pershing block — an area bounded by Centennial Mall South, 16th, M and N streets.

Three of the four proposals included a central library, and the mayor’s choice — a plan by Omaha-based White Lotus Development — was one of them.

Lincoln 2050 growth plan moves forward

White Lotus wants to build a 300,000-square-foot multi-use space that would include 100 affordable housing units, small retail spaces, a wellness center, child care center, underground parking, community green space and a 90,000-square-foot, three-level public library.

The City-County Planning Commission approved the project, and it cleared the first step with the City Council. The city and developer must still hammer out a redevelopment agreement.

Developers have told city officials the project will go forward with or without the library, which will require a bond issue approved by voters and a capital campaign by the foundation.

In June, the library board hired BVH Architects, which is working with a firm from the Twin Cities, to come up with a design to show the public and a cost estimate.

The library board approved spending $503,550 in operational funds for that work, about 8% of the total $3.2 million the design work will require if the project comes to fruition.

Lincoln City Council approves measures allowing Pershing block redevelopment to move ahead

With the preliminary design work still in progress, library officials have estimated a total cost of about $55 million, including furnishings and other fixtures, said Lincoln City Libraries Director Pat Leach. Improvements to existing library branches, which would be part of a bond issue, are estimated at about $10 million, she said.

Leach said the library foundation would look into any possible grants, such as those available for making the building energy-efficient and employing other green technology in construction, in addition to a capital campaign.

“We want to be part of the White Lotus project,” Leach said. “We are at the point of doing schematic designs so we can go to the voters at some point.”

'Catalyst project': Proponents sing the praises of redevelopment plan for Pershing block in Lincoln

While the foundation would run the capital campaign, the city would bring forward a bond proposal, which the City Council must approve.

Gail McNair, executive director for the foundation, said it has done surveys periodically over the years and with the White Lotus project underway, it’s important to know what residents want.

Pat Leach

Pat Leach, director of Lincoln City Libraries, at Charles H. Gere Branch Library on Thursday. 

Leach said library officials have estimated a $65 million bond issue would cost the average homeowner ($226,000 valued home) about $36 a year, but they are hoping a capital campaign or other funding sources would require a smaller bond issue.

The survey questions offer some insight into the goal: $22 a year for the average homeowner, according to one of the survey questions, obtained by the Journal Star.

Respondents are asked to indicate their support for that, as well as whether the city should issue bonds up to $40 million.

Pershing redevelopment plans moving forward – with or without library

Next year is an election year, which would be a natural time to float a bond. Nothing has been set, Leach said, but it would more likely be on the general election ballot in November.

Ask Leach to describe how she envisions a new central library, and she’ll tell you about many of the aspects touched on in the survey: that it would support children and families, serve the people living near downtown and also draw people from across the city with conference space and maker-spaces.

She said she loves the idea of a public-private partnership and being part of turning the Pershing block into something new.

“I’m excited about seeing this part of downtown get revitalized and creating a link between downtown and the Telegraph District,” she said.

City looks for architect to envision new library for voters to decide on in 2022

Clearing homeless encampment

It cost city officials $15,246 to clear a homeless encampment in a wooded area along Salt Creek near Sun Valley Boulevard in west Lincoln, according to financial records of the West Haymarket Joint Operating Agreement.

City officials defend action this week to pack up west Lincoln homeless encampment

In July, city officials sent the Health Department and firefighters to the area after determining the conditions were dangerous for those living there — a remote location with fire hazards that would be hard for emergency responders to reach.

The land is owned by the West Haymarket JPA, the quasi-governmental agency created to oversee creation and management of Pinnacle Bank Arena and other west Haymarket redevelopment. It recently reimbursed the city for the cost of the cleanup.

The new 84th Street

As the city moves east, 84th Street has morphed from the fairly open roadway on the edge of Lincoln I knew growing up to a major thoroughfare flanked by grocery stores and strip malls, restaurants and offices and its fair share of churches.

Enter South 98th Street and a project to pave 3 miles of the street from Old Cheney Road to A Street.

Pam Dingman

Pam Dingman: Woman of the Year and Excellence in Government Service finalist

Lancaster County Engineer, Lancaster County Engineering

“It will definitely relieve pressure from 84th Street," Lancaster County Engineer Pam Dingman said of the project. “As the city continues to move east, it’s just the next logical connection point.”

The project will include a single-lane roundabout at the future junction of South Street.

This will be the first county project using money from the Metropolitan Planning Organization, Dingman said. The city organization develops the city and county transportation plan and approves projects that will use federal highway funds.

The MPO funds will pay 80% of the $3 million cost of the project, and the remaining 20% will come from the county’s engineering budget, Dingman said.

Construction on the Old Cheney-to-A paving project could begin as early as spring of 2023 and be completed by that fall.

The county engineering department will have an informational open house on the project Nov. 18 from 5-7 p.m. in the Lincoln East High School cafeteria, 1000 S. 70th St.

South 98th Street has been paved for years from Nebraska 2 to Old Cheney, Dingman said. The next phase — maybe about 2025 — would be the section from A to O streets.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7226 or mreist@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSreist

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Local government reporter

Margaret Reist is a recovering education reporter now writing about local and county government and the people who live in the city where she was born and raised.

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