As Lincoln continues to reinvent the area surrounding the Haymarket, a major proposal south of the Harris Overpass offers to bring something new downtown.
Within the last decade, the compact area once hemmed in by railroad tracks has exploded into a hub where Lincoln can work, live and play. The area is now home to Pinnacle Bank Arena, numerous restaurants and bars and a handful of large employers.
However, plans in recent months have begun to coalesce around the idea of a new park along with a housing development near Seventh and N streets. Such a project will not only bring an attraction and a quality-of-life perk that downtown presently lacks, but it will also continue a run of redevelopment that’s spruced up an area of Lincoln long in need of a facelift.
Downtown Lincoln lacks a true gathering green space, similar to Omaha’s Gene Leahy Mall – which just began a nearly $300 million overhaul – and the adjacent Heartland of America Park.
Tower Square and Iron Horse Park aren’t green, and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, while verdant, isn’t a park. Arguably the closest thing Lincoln has to such an area is the renovated region along the banks of Antelope Creek, on the periphery of the city center at best.
The 6.2-acre park and plaza fill a need to make downtown an even more functional region than it currently is. The city’s plans envision this region as a focal point to link the trails network and provide a playground, outdoor fitness equipment, a dog park, an event lawn and more – all amenities that simply don’t exist in this part of Lincoln.
Of course, such a plan takes money. Current estimates place the cost at $9 million, with a $1 million contribution from the J.A. Woollam Foundation – a longtime neighbor to the proposed green space – marking both commendable generosity and drive to making this project a reality. The total includes $1.5 million for a privately funded maintenance endowment, which ensures any Parks and Recreation Department budget cuts won’t hurt this park’s upkeep.
And the park and plaza are only just one piece of this $47.5 million redevelopment effort, one that city officials say fulfill two goals of Lincoln’s 2008 master plan – the park and affordable housing growth – to spur further rejuvenation south of O Street.
The affordable housing units anticipated to go in the neighboring apartment buildings represent a small but encouraging step forward in combating the city’s dearth of such rentals. This project would more than double the number of such units downtown. Even market-rate rentals, the majority of the complex, remain in high demand in Lincoln’s burgeoning core.
Regardless, the crown jewel of the broader Canopy Park project will be the park Lincoln has so long needed downtown. The plan’s recent momentum is encouraging – and we hope the significant enhancement it will bring the city center soon becomes reality.