Hundreds gathered on a sunny fall afternoon to celebrate Nebraska’s Centennial Mall as a place that’s beautiful, educational and once again a source of pride for all Nebraskans.
“As we gather today to dedicate this project, I have a prediction – that this location and spots all along the mall will once again become among the most photographed places in our city,” Mayor Chris Beutler proclaimed during the Oct. 9 celebration.
Originally constructed in 1967 to commemorate Nebraska’s statehood centennial, the seven-block mall connects the state Capitol to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Over the past few decades, it had fallen into disrepair, did not meet accessibility standards and needed to be rebuilt. Three of the original fountains were decommissioned by 2003, and the fountain north of K Street was turned off in 2014 prior to beginning construction.
The Lincoln Parks Foundation led a successful $9.6 million fundraising campaign that allowed the revitalization project to begin in 2012. A total of 130 donors from across the state supported the campaign, which included a $1.5 million endowment to maintain the mall. It was the largest campaign ever tackled by the nonprofit organization, founded in 1992 to support Lincoln parks and recreation facilities and programs. Centennial Mall is managed by the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department.
Lincoln Parks Foundation Executive Director Christie Dionisopoulos said that after years of needing work, the effort to revitalize the mall gained momentum in 2009 when the city committed $3 million to the project.
“The initial gift from the City of Lincoln was huge, because it was the first time that funds were available for the renovation,” she said. “It’s what we needed to secure support from others, including Lancaster County and the State of Nebraska, as well as many private donors from across the state. It’s an excellent example of how a public-private partnership can work.”
The driving force behind the Lincoln Parks Foundation campaign was a team of tireless volunteer fundraisers, led by Patty Pansing Brooks (now a state senator), Mary Arth and the late Roger Larson. A $2 million gift from Hebron native Glenn Korff finished the campaign in early 2013.
“The fundraising campaign was a labor of love for each of us, because we all understood that Centennial Mall represents the actual and symbolic connection between our two most important state institutions, the State Capitol and the University of Nebraska,” said Sen. Pansing Brooks. “The opportunity to enhance a beautiful state walkway, while telling stories about our great people and our robust land, drove our commitment to restore this state treasure and preserve it for generations to come.”
In addition to the three main fountain and plaza areas, the revitalized mall includes accessible walkways, historical and educational information, an art alcove and flexible festival space to accommodate a wide variety of activities and uses. Developed by The Clark Enersen Partners, the design celebrates Nebraska’s legacy of stewardship and references imagery found in the Capitol.
“My favorite parts of the mall are the fountains and the appeal that they have for all,” Arth said. “I love the tiles that are placed along the walkways to honor Nebraskans, businesses and organizations. The mall is beautiful and welcoming to all, and I’ll be forever thankful for the endowment fund that will keep it pristine for years to come.”
Nebraska’s Centennial Mall amenities – block by block
K to L Streets – “We the People Theme”
Celebration of democratic process and leaders
• Capitol Fountain and the Great Seal of the State of Nebraska;
• Limestone planters including the native grass Prairie Dropseed;
• Fountain plaza that serves as a gathering and event space;
• Great lawn as an event and gathering space;
• Recognition of Nebraska agriculture;
• Spirit of Nebraska Pathway tiles recognizing tribal and government leaders, including members of the Nebraska Hall of Fame.
L to M Streets – “Our Home Nebraska”
Recognition of natural and social heritage of Nebraska
State of Nebraska map features:
• Colored pavers representing the ecological regions – tall grass prairie on the east, short grass prairie on the west;
• Rivers, county seats, transcontinental railroad and Chief Standing Bear Trail;
• Missouri River fountain along the eastern boundary of the plaza;
• Four inscribed limestone benches representing four original Nebraska Native American tribes (Ponca, Santee Sioux, Winnebago, Omaha);
• Granite tiles depicting the 93 counties in Nebraska;
• Plantings around the plaza including native grasses and wildflowers;
• Seating areas on the west side of the block serving as tributes to the Platte River and Ogallala Aquifer;
• Sculpture “Wind Spirit” by Paul Lindard initially installed in 1981.
M to P Streets: “Community Mosaic”
Honoring communities, organizations, families and individuals
• Rain gardens at intersections;
• Japanese tree lilacs planted in silva-cells to provide healthy rooting areas for long-term sustainability;
• Pervious paver system;
• State of Nebraska Pathway tiles recognizing communities, organizations, families and individuals.
P to Q Streets: Imagination to Innovation/Sparking the Good Life
Celebrating creativity and innovation
• Fountain featuring choreographed “jumping jets” of water, which represent playfulness and creativity;
• Limestone seating blocks representing the building blocks of language – native American symbols and English language letters;
• Native American and corresponding English language words engraved on the limestone planters: deer, buffalo, sun, spirit, rain, wind, star and sky;
• Sculpture alcove – the location of a future portrait sculpture;
• Lighting circle surrounded by native plants recognizing the 27 American tribes that have historic ties to Nebraska;
• Spirit of Nebraska Pathway tiles recognizing innovators, including native leaders Susette LaFlesche Tibbles and Chief Standing Bear.
Q to R Streets: Innovation to Education
Celebrating the role of education in Nebraska
• Sculptures Tem and Ptah by artist Jene Highstein (1942-2013);
• Gathering circle in the lawn to provide space for performances, events and activities;
• Spirit of Nebraska Pathway tiles recognizing educators.
Reflection Plaza at north end of the block:
• Dedication panels for the original Centennial Mall improvements and current renovation project;
• Time capsule placed in 1967;
• Six interpretive panels (not yet in place) regarding the history of the State Capitol, the platting of Lincoln and Centennial Mall.
Other key amenities along Nebraska’s Centennial Mall
• Accessible walkways on both sides of the mall;
• Pedestrian lighting;
• Tree-lined vistas of the State Capitol and the University of Nebraska;
• Design motifs and symbols gathered from the iconic state Capitol, including the thunderbird (society), bison (environment), scales (government), corn (commerce including agriculture) and wheat sheaf (agriculture).
‘Education on Location’ features
Not only is the mall beautiful again, but new amenities and technology celebrate the state’s history in a way that comes alive for its visitors along the Spirit of Nebraska Pathway, which is a series of granite and bronze tiles placed along the twin walkways that frame all seven blocks.
The pathway program is an opportunity to honor or recognize Nebraskans, organizations, businesses and events. All members of the Nebraska Hall of Fame are recognized along the Spirit of Nebraska Pathway. The bronze tiles have interactive Quick Response (QR) codes so stories of individuals, families, leaders and organizations come to life via smart phones or computer tablets, which will evolve as new technology is created. Stories can be viewed at NebraskaEducationOnLocation.org.
“Next year, as we celebrate the state’s 150th, it will be gratifying to see people from across Nebraska gather here – on Nebraska’s Centennial Mall – to celebrate our glorious past and the great future we have in store,” said Beutler.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To find out more about Nebraska’s Centennial Mall or to purchase tiles along the Spirit of Nebraska Pathway, visit LincolnParks.org or call the Lincoln Parks Foundation, 402-441-8258.