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Plans to demolish the old police station help nudge plans for new bus transfer station forward
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Plans to demolish the old police station help nudge plans for new bus transfer station forward

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The days of the old police station, whose block-glass windows have adorned South 10th Street since the 1940s, appear to be numbered.

That’s good news for the prospect of a StarTran bus transfer station, which the city has been wanting to build for years.

Those plans got a nudge forward recently, when the City Council approved a redevelopment plan for the Gold’s Building at 11th and O streets.

The city authorized $6.1 million in tax-increment financing for the Gold’s project, $500,000 of which would be used to finance the demolition of the former police station building at 233 S. 10th St., which now sits empty.

Former police station identified as preferred site for StarTran bus center

Tax-increment financing allows developers in blighted areas to use the increased property taxes generated by the project to pay for certain costs upfront. Typically they get bonds or a loan, then divert the additional property taxes to pay it off.

Securing financing for the demolition is a step forward for the bus transfer station project, but it still faces the biggest hurdle: getting a federal grant to help pay for it.

The city first applied for a grant in 2015, seeking $19 million for what officials then envisioned as a $28 million transportation center on the block bounded by Ninth, 10th, N and M streets.

The city didn’t get the grant and reapplied with a scaled-down plan that would include 14 covered bays adjacent to a two-story building with a lobby, customer service center, administration offices, among other amenities, on the southern half of that block.

That grant application wasn’t successful either, and now officials are applying again, this time hopeful that the work they’ve done will lead to federal money to pay for 80% of the cost of a $16.5 million transfer station.

Transportation officials are now armed with more information: Engineering consultants did a feasibility study, analyzing 17 downtown sites, seven of which were possibilities, the top choice being the southern half of the block between Ninth, 10th, M and N streets — the home of the old police station, known today as the 233 Building.

The transfer station would face M Street along the southern half of the block. The city owns all but one parcel on the southern half of the block. B & J Partnership owns the portion of block where a nightclub burned down in 2015.

StarTran wants to look at possibilities for new site for bus transfer hub in Lincoln

The city also conducted a study to see how important various amenities would be to riders, and officials are now finishing an environmental study of the land, at the suggestion of the federal officials who manage the grant.

They’ll apply again for the grant by July 12, and Lincoln Transportation and Utilities Department Director Liz Elliott said they’re hopeful.

“We are cautiously optimistic this could be our year,” she said.

Discussions about the need for a central transfer station to replace the shelters at 11th and N streets, the central hub for StarTran transfers, dates back to 2004, Elliott said.

That area is ill-equipped to handle the number of buses and people waiting for them, who are subjected to long waiting times in all kinds of weather, with no bathrooms or significant cover from the elements.

StarTran averages about 7,000 riders daily, Elliott said, down about 30% since the pandemic. Initially, ridership dropped by about half, though it’s begun to come back, she said.

She expects ridership to continue to increase and doesn’t think it will affect the city's grant prospects, since the pandemic caused similar drops in transit systems across the country.

The idea of a “multi-modal” transit center, as envisioned in the feasibility study, could allow bike-share docks, another location for scooters and could accommodate one bus bay for a planned intercity commuter route between Lincoln and Omaha, as well as restrooms, vending machines and a covered waiting area.

City Hall: Should a new Lincoln StarTran center have a deli or Wi-Fi?

The demolition costs for the 233 Building would be included in the city’s share of the cost, and officials are exploring public-private partnerships, Elliott said.

The time frame depends on the grant application, but were it to be successful, Elliott said it would be another three to five years before a new transit station would sit where the building sits now.

That building has a long and varied history and is one of the few examples of what Ed Zimmer, the city’s former historic preservation planner, says is Art Moderne, an architectural style that developed out of art deco.

“Locally, it’s pretty unique,” he said, though renovating it would be problematic because of several additions to the building over the years.

Smith-Dorsey, a pharmaceutical company, built the original building in the early 1900s and nearly doubled its size in 1925, followed by three other additions in the '30s and '40s. In 1944, the company bought the gas station on the corner and two years later wrapped the whole building in the Art Moderne facade that remains today.

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In 1961, the pharmaceutical company moved to a plant along U.S. 6 east of town, and Western Power and Gas Co. bought the building. The city bought it in 1977, and, two years later, the police department moved in, staying there until 2000, when it moved south three blocks to the County-City Building.

Various city agencies and offices have been in the building since then, but all of them moved out in 2018, making way for what city officials hoped would be the sale of the building.

Having plans in place to demolish it is helpful for the bus transfer proposal but doesn’t make it a sure thing.

“That contribution, in the whole scheme of the project, is not a significant portion,” Elliott said. “But if we can get enough of those, it will increase our chances of getting this project off the ground.”

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 Lincoln native, the mom of three high school graduates now navigating college and an education junkie who covers students, teachers and policymakers inside and outside the K-12 classroom.

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