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In 2015, the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities published a feasibility analysis for a Regional Food Hub and Support Facilities. Since then, to the present, we have studied the scope, economic viability and availability of grants for value-added production of local consumer foods.

The original study verified three conditions:

* The volume of production from regional farms would need to increase to support a 12-month, year-round market in Lincoln.

* A 12-month market, however, would stimulate growth in local foods produced.

* The vacant Pershing Auditorium would be an ideal facility, if rehabilitated to accommodate a public market and other related mixed uses.

Subsequently, the USDA-sponsored value-added producer grant (VAPG) program has proved that local foods agriculture is a growth industry in southeast Nebraska, supply and employment are increasing rapidly, there is presently sufficient production to support existing farmers’ markets and the beginnings of a 12-month market, local demand is high and pervasive throughout the community and there is a healthy economic public and wholesale demand for local foods.

The University of Nebraska Public Policy Center has surveyed prospective consumers, inquiring whether they would support and use the services and produce from a public market, with a positive return indication of more than 97 percent in favor.

The Lincoln City Council has resolved to initiate a national search for proposals that would convert the redevelopment of the Pershing Auditorium property into “the highest and best use” for public benefit. Any cost-benefit assessment of meeting this goal must begin with an assessment of the economic and public value of the existing building.

Our 2015 feasibility analysis, using sustainability metrics, verifies that the Pershing Center structure is sound, sustainable and historically important to Lincoln’s culture and distinctive civic assets.

The unique architectural condition of the high-bay, large open interior space affords an unusual “construction site under cover” for major rehabilitation without influences of adverse weather conditions. No new parking would be immediately required, either; the building has underground parking space for approximately 200 automobiles.

The building’s location on Centennial Mall, in the heart of Lincoln’s civic district, gives it a unique advantage for public access for pedestrians, bicycles, automobiles, deliveries and public transit. Specifically, the recently proposed autonomous downtown shuttle can connect more than 30,000 people from state government, UNL, downtown employees, downtown residents and visitors to front-door access to the market.

In addition to farmers’ booths on the main arena floor, some of the feasible additional uses could be: artists’ live-work studio housing; a “bicycle condo,” with daytime bike storage, showers, lockers and repair facility; space for at least three local foods restaurants, with indoor and outdoor seating; a “winter garden” glass enclosure for the west facade mural and public entrance to accommodate a ground-level coffee shop (“The Mill on the Mall,” perhaps?); permanent protection for the existing mosaic mural; and a unique indoor produce greenhouse.

Space is available on the market floor for at least one imports market for out-of-season imported produce and grocery supplies, plus an indoor, multi-floor structure for a web-based community information center.

The feasibility study presents a cost estimate of approximately $9 million to reopen the building as a public market, with approximately 60 farmer stalls. An additional four phases, over four to five years of redevelopment for the compatible mixed uses, are estimated at approximately $11 million.

Fully developed, it is estimated that approximately 200 jobs will be added to the Lincoln workforce, plus a similar number of increased farmer and producer employees within the surrounding county and region. The LNK Public Market would stimulate a local food-system network of more than 20 existing, cooperating public, private and commercial organizations.

Twelve-month public markets in other cities have immediately become tourist attractions. Pershing’s central proximity to Lincoln’s most visited sites — the Nebraska State Capitol and UNL — will only add to the attraction for visitors to Centennial Mall and downtown Lincoln.

The LNK Public Market can become the showplace public market and the “place to be” for food, energy, ideas, community information and local arts.

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W. Cecil Steward is founder, president and CEO of the Joslyn Institute for Sustainable Communities and an emeritus dean of the UNL College of Architecture.

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