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

An Iraqi refugee wants to start a pita bread baking business, the first in the region, in a commercial building he will build on North 27th Street.

The Urban Development Department is asking the City Council to sell Hussain Kaibla a lot at 534 N. 27th St. for his business.

This is the last city-owned property to be sold in that tax-increment financing district, which was created to improve the North 27th Street business district and adjacent neighborhood.

The city has a long history with Kaibla, who took over a restaurant with a troubled health safety background and turned it around and used loans to help rebuild dilapidated buildings “with skills he learned from his father, who built homes in Iraq,” said David Landis, department director.

He follows the rules, he builds and he delivers on what he says, Landis said at a public hearing on the land purchase this week.

The city bought the property in 2001 for $120,000 and demolished a dilapidated four-plex for another $10,000 as part of cleanup efforts in the area, Landis said.

Kaibla has offered $40,000 for the lot, which has no access to North 27th Street, and he promises to start construction within six months.

This was not the highest bid, but it was one both the city and the North 27th Street Business Association preferred.

Lincoln does not have anyone locally who provides fresh pita bread, which is generally brought in from Chicago, St. Louis and Detroit.

The city’s history with Kaibla, his promise to begin a specific project within six months and the fact that a pita bread bakery would export a product, which has a higher multiplier effect economically, were all part of the decision, Landis said.

Kaibla, who fought against Saddam Hussein, started as a dishwasher at The Cornhusker hotel when he first immigrated.

He likes to do things that make his children proud, he told the council.

“They can say, ‘My dad, he did this.’”

Liquor in the parks

The City Council will likely expand the time liquor can be served on city-owned property.

The Lincoln Children’s Zoo, which leases its land from the city, wants to be able to serve alcohol at private events such as corporate meetings and wedding receptions. The zoo would hire a company with a liquor license for the events, which would be regulated under what are called special designated licenses, or SDLs. Currently, the zoo can only serve alcohol at zoo-related fundraising events.

The Hub Cafe, a restaurant in Union Plaza, wants to serve food and craft beer at six Thursday night parties in the park in August and September. The proposed ordinance change would allow adults to buy and drink the beer in the park area around the restaurant.

The city Parks and Recreation Department is trying to encourage more community use of Union Plaza, created along Antelope Valley at the east edge of downtown Lincoln.

The city allows liquor to be served at fundraisers that benefit city departments and services in nine park and park facilities. 

The city also allows alcohol to be sold and served at golf courses and at Pinewood Bowl during summer concerts.

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Not all candidates using news releases 

Two of the three mainstream Lincoln mayor candidates have frequently offered their opinions on city issues, from raising the mayor’s salary to icy streets after the recent blizzard.

Jeff Kirkpatrick, a Democrat who is taking a leave of absence as city attorney, has provided media with at least 10 news releases on local issues.

Cyndi Lamm, a Republican and City Council member, has sent out at least six news releases.

But Leirion Gaylor Baird, a Democrat and current City Council member, has provided no unsolicited, issue-oriented news releases, though she has offered comments on issues when reporters asked for a response.

News releases can provide candidates with greater name recognition when they are used in the newspaper or aired on TV or radio.

However, Gaylor Baird, who has successfully run two citywide campaigns and has served almost six years on the council, already has very good name recognition — particularly with her unusual first name.

Therefore she doesn’t need to risk expressing opinions in order to build name recognition, according to people who follow local campaigns closely.

City gets new fire engine

The city has received a new fire engine — victory red in color — that will go into service within the next couple of weeks.

The engine will be stationed at Fire Station 6, on South 48th Street near Pound Middle School, where it will replace a 12-year-old engine.

The Spartan/Smeal engine, built near Snyder, was ordered in December 2017 and took 450 days before it was delivered.

That is the long timeline you get when you buy one engine at a time, said Fire Chief Micheal Despain.

The city just ordered seven more engines, for $3.5 million, and those will take 330 days to build, Despain said.

Funds for the seven engines will come out of two budgets and will be paid in two installments.

The department still needs another five engines to have a healthy fleet, Despain said. But he called the just-ordered seven new engines "huge progress." 

The department doesn't have new engines for the two new fire stations under construction. Two additional stations are being built as replacement stations.

Despain hopes to buy the two engines necessary for the new stations with some of the money left over from the quarter-cent sales tax that was used to pay for a new emergency radio system and new fire stations.

But the City Council hasn’t yet made that decision and there are competing ideas on how best to use that money. 

The firefighters union would like to use the leftover money to replace items cut from the new fire stations, and some residents believe the money should be saved for future police radio system needs.  

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

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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