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Pershing Center

Pershing Center has sat vacant for four years. Now the city council and mayor are trying to decide what to do with it.

Pershing Center, sitting vacant in downtown Lincoln for the past four years, is back on the public radar screen.

Councilman Jon Camp is asking the mayor, through a formal resolution, to immediately seek proposals for the Pershing site.

That resolution is scheduled for a public hearing during Monday's 3 p.m. council meeting.

And the Lincoln Library Board of Trustees has renewed its proposal to use the site for a new downtown library in a letter to the council.

Both Camp and the library board point to the city cost for maintaining the vacant Pershing, about $120,000 a year.

The site “will remain a drain on the budget and an eyesore to the community unless the site is developed,” said the letter from Library Board President Herb Friedman.

“Keeping the site in its current condition for the foreseeable future is not in the best interest of our city,” Friedman wrote.

Camp’s resolution would direct the mayor to “immediately prepare and issue a request for proposals for the Pershing block with the goal of encouraging offers from the private sector to purchase the property and put this asset to work for the Lincoln community.”

Council members said they welcome the attention to Pershing and would like to see that block put to good use.

But they don't agree on timing or at looking at only private development. 

“I think it is long past time we do something with Pershing,” said Councilman Roy Christensen. “It costs too much money to have it sitting there doing nothing.” 

Christensen agreed with Camp that it was time to push for proposals and find a good private use for the site, 226 Centennial Mall.

Pershing has become a liability to the city, Camp said in an email. He said his resolution directs Mayor Chris Beutler to have a request for proposals and actively solicit responses.

"We need economic development on this block by the private sector," he wrote. 

But not everyone agrees there should be pressure for a quick decision or that private development is necessarily the best alternative.

Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird suggested the Pershing discussion be coordinated with the downtown master plan efforts now underway by Progressive Urban Management Associates, or P.U.M.A.

The consultants will be offering some guidance for that block with a final report by the end of the year.

There already is an open-ended invitation for redevelopment proposals, Gaylor Baird said. So there is nothing stopping someone from coming forward with a proposal, she pointed out.

Beutler and his staff also think the best strategy is to allow the downtown master plan to play out before developing guidelines and soliciting proposals.

Those consultants are soliciting ideas from stakeholders on what would be best for that block, said Rick Hoppe, chief of staff to the mayor.

There seems to be quite a bit of support for the library at that site and also quite a bit of support for private development, Hoppe said.

And the two are not mutually exclusive, he said. They could co-exist on that block. A library could serve as a catalyst for other development.

“We don’t want to take things off the table that could lead to a more prosperous downtown," said Hoppe.

Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm doesn’t think the city needs to wait for the downtown study. In fact, she’s not sold on consultants in the first place. 

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“I think we are consulting ourselves to death. We pay a lot of money for consultants" for work that could be done by city staff, she said.

And it’s clear from listening to people that many would like to see a downtown grocery or more retail opportunities in that location, she said.

Mixed-use is also appropriate in that location, she said.

"We need to see what developers might have in mind for that particular space. We don’t need consultants,” she said.

Councilman Carl Eskridge, who was part of the committee that considered three specific proposals six years ago, says it is appropriate to again look at the best use for that property. 

"There has been a for-sale sign on the property for a long time and nothing has come forward," he said. 

Eskridge said he has heard of potential interest by a number of entities, including the community college, Lincoln Public Schools, the state. 

Though this is a prime location, adjacent to the newly renovated Centennial Mall, it has limitations for private use, Eskridge noted. Because the building is near the Capitol it cannot be more than three stories tall.   

"It may be that the best use of that property is for various government uses," Eskridge said. 

Details from the Pershing Center mural

Artists playing Pershing Center

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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