Eight years after city voters gave a green light to building a new city arena on an old rail yard, most of the money has been spent — $365.4 million for the arena, the new street system, parking garages and environmental cleanup.
And the plan for bringing in revenue to pay back the bonds and maintain the arena seems to be successful so far.
At the end of the last fiscal year, on Aug. 31, the West Haymarket Joint Public Agency, the entity that built the arena and is paying off the bonds, had almost $39.5 million in its reserve.
An occupation tax — on restaurant and bar food and beverages, hotel rooms and rental vehicles — has brought in about $115.6 million over the past six years, far more money than expected.
In the early years, the occupation tax revenue grew by 4 to 8 percent each year. Though it has leveled off in the past two years, with average 2 percent increases, total occupation tax revenue is still far ahead of projections.
In fact, city leaders didn’t expect the occupation tax revenue to hit the current $17 million in annual revenue until 2030, said Brandon Kauffman, the city’s finance director.
The occupational tax has been so successful that the West Haymarket JPA (consisting of the mayor, a University of Nebraska regent and a City Council representative) has given several million dollars annually to the city to help with operating the arena itself. The arena operation is a city responsibility.
Over time, the city's tax revenue will benefit from associated expansion in the West Haymarket.
As the West Haymarket has developed, including corporate headquarters buildings for Hudl and Olsson Associates, the assessed value of the area has increased dramatically, growing 97 percent between 2013 and 2017, Kauffman said.
In 2013, the assessed value for the property in the West Haymarket was $119 million. By 2017, it had risen to $234 million.
For the arena itself, the bond payments will peak in 2021-22, at $24.6 million, then gradually decrease over time, according to Kauffman.
Projections show the JPA should bring in enough money to pay off the bonds and maintain the arena over the next three decades.
The JPA expects to have income of more than $1.03 billion over the 30-year life of the West Haymarket bonds and expenses of $963.4 million.
Dec. 15, 2004
The city releases the Convention, Sports and Leisure study to the public, identifying a spot adjacent to Lincoln’s main post office as its preferred site among five for a 12,000-seat arena that’s estimated to cost $50 million.
The economic downturn put plans on hold for a couple years before the topic re-emerged, albeit in a much larger form.
Jan. 9, 2008
The arena committee announced its choice for a potential arena would indeed be in the West Haymarket. Both the Vision 2015 group and University of Nebraska-Lincoln leaders involved in the project supported the decision.
Shortly thereafter, Mayor Chris Beutler promised to take an initiative to Lincoln voters to determine if they wanted to pay for a facility — forecast to cost between $200 million and $300 million — that would rival what was then known as Qwest Center Omaha and replace Pershing Auditorium.
Feb. 9, 2010
Though Beutler had originally indicated voters would have their say on a potential new arena during municipal elections in the spring of 2009, it took until 2010 for the Lincoln City Council to agree to put a portion of the financing up for a public vote.
Following a parade of testimony — most of which was in support — the council voted to put a $25 million funding question on the 2010 primary ballot. At the same meeting, council members approved plans to include UNL in the joint public agency that would help finance the arena and for the Husker men’s and women’s basketball teams to play in the city-owned arena.
May 11, 2010
By a 56-44 margin, Lincoln voters approved a $25 million general obligation bond — the public portion of the financing, to go along with $319 million in bonds issued by the JPA to build a 16,000-seat arena in the West Haymarket area in what was the largest public works project in the city’s history, at a total cost of $344 million.
With its passage came two taxes to help pay for the arena construction and maintenance — 2 percent surcharges on restaurant and bar sales and 4 percent taxes on hotel rooms and car rentals — and plans to build an entertainment district across the street that later became known as the Railyard.
Nov. 16, 2010
Lincoln’s downtown footprint shifts, as construction equipment begins work on the West Haymarket arena site. The former site of railroad tracks began its transformation from a blighted area into a crown jewel of the city center.
For nearly three years, it underwent the metamorphosis that converted a remnant of the heavy industry that once abutted downtown Lincoln to the west to an arena with rounded edges and distinctive silver paneling around its upper levels.
Dec. 6, 2011
Beutler announces the West Haymarket arena will be named Pinnacle Bank Arena. The agreement calls for the bank to pay $11.25 million for the naming rights for 25 years, with the option to renew.
"We're happy with the name,” said arena coordinator and former City Councilman Dan Marvin that day. “We think it reflects the direction that Lincoln is going."
Sept. 13, 2013
Michael Bublé opened Pinnacle Bank Arena on Friday the 13th, with a rousing show for a sold-out crowd. The concert featured plenty of his own numbers, in addition to songs by Frank Sinatra, the Beatles, Jackson 5, Daft Punk, Van Morrison and Nat King Cole.
He was the first of many performers in the building to pay homage to the Huskers, revealing a No. 13 jersey beneath his tuxedo during the concert.
“I feel honored you chose me to open this up,” he told the inaugural crowd.
Dec. 1, 2013
An hour into rapper Jay Z’s concert, the power went out — the first mishap in Pinnacle Bank Arena’s short existence.
For 40 minutes, the high-energy show ground to a halt until the lights shined once again. He returned to the stage — wearing a No. 93 Blackshirts jersey — for what the Journal Star’s review called at the time “the liveliest Pinnacle Bank Arena show yet.”
“We turned up too loud in Nebraska,” Jay Z told the crowd. “We broke the (expletive) building. I appreciate every one of you in the building that stayed and rocked with me.”
March 9, 2014
Nearly five years later, the three-word name still elicits fond memories from Nebrasketball fans: No-Sit Sunday.
Before an electric record crowd of 15,998, the Husker men’s basketball team upset No. 9 Wisconsin 77-68 en route to an at-large NCAA tournament berth, the team’s first — and only — since 1999. No event at the facility, before or after, can claim larger attendance.
March 31, 2014
Though the Nebraska women’s basketball team was upset one game shy of playing on its home floor in the Lincoln Regional, the Sweet 16 round went on. Eventual national champion UConn emerged from the four-team field over BYU, Texas A&M and DePaul.
"All we heard before we came here was how amazing the facilities and the people were,” Huskies coach Geno Auriemma told the crowd after cutting down the nets. “If I have anything to do with it, we'll be back."
He was a man of his word. UConn returned to Lincoln on Dec. 21, 2016, and secured an 84-41 victory over the Huskers.
Jan. 17, 2015
In more than four decades of touring, Fleetwood Mac encountered a first in Lincoln.
The iconic rockers were unable to finish the show after founder and drummer Mick Fleetwood fell ill during the concert. After he went backstage to throw up, the band played two more songs, abruptly ending the show at 90 minutes — nearly an hour shorter than it had been running elsewhere.
Singer Stevie Nicks had promised a show and a half on the band’s return to Lincoln, which came last month. This time, Fleetwood completed a full 24 songs and 2½ hours of music.
May 21, 2015
The largest crowd ever to see a concert at Pinnacle Bank Arena, eclipsing the previous record set in 2013 by Elton John, rocked out to 28 songs by Eric Church.
According to Church’s website, the concert drew 15,823 people — making it the most attended event in arena history that wasn’t a Husker men’s basketball game. The country star entertained the packed house for 2 hours and 15 minutes, acknowledging early in the show that they were making history together.
“We’re in a place that has been very, very good to me,” he told the audience. “Tonight, you have broken a record. There have never been more people in this arena than there are tonight. That means we’re going to be here for a long time and play a lot of songs.”
Church later opened his 2017 “Holdin’ My Own” tour in Lincoln, noting that the attendance and energy were major reasons for that decision.
March 24, 2018
The show went on for Lorde — but it wasn’t without a close call.
The singer from New Zealand asked her fans on social media if she should go ahead with her Lincoln show if the full stage performance — one she’d designed herself and considered an integral part of her live performance — was unable to arrive in time for the concert. A snowstorm and a wreck elsewhere stranded one of her equipment trucks en route to Pinnacle Bank Arena.
More than 100 people encouraged her to take the stage regardless. In the end, the momentary panic was for naught, as the truck arrived 45 minutes before the doors opened, and the lighting in it was installed during an intermission between the opener, Run the Jewels, and the headliner.
Sept. 6, 2018
Metallica didn’t set the record for largest crowd in what was the closest thing to a fifth-anniversary concert, but it was the largest show in arena history in terms of weight.
The hard rockers hung 100 tons of audio and visual equipment from the rafters in their first-ever appearance in Lincoln. Few venues could withstand the stress of supporting that much weight, but Pinnacle Bank Arena was built with such A-list displays in mind.