Pershing Center, at long last, is back in the news. That’s a good thing.
More than four years after Lincoln’s venerable city auditorium hosted its final event, the structure along Centennial Mall South is literally a skeleton of its old self, with anything of value having been scrapped and auctioned off.
As city officials dawdle, it’s remained a financial burden on the city. Despite being vacant, Pershing costs the city an estimated $120,000 annually to maintain, essentially so that it doesn’t fall in on itself. That’s not a wise use of city funds, particularly given the length of time the building has sat unused.
While it’s long past due for Lincoln to rid itself of the Pershing site, the proper action must be taken as soon as a feasible, affordable and practical plan appears. But forcing the city to sell the building, and limiting the potential buyer to a private entity in hopes of getting the block onto city tax rolls, is too restrictive for a facility the city simply needs to dump when the right offer rolls around.
Councilman Jon Camp deserves kudos for bringing Pershing back into the public forum. Lincoln can’t – and mustn’t – forget this financial albatross still looms blocks from the Nebraska State Capitol. But his well-intended plan could handcuff the city as it seeks buyers.
Worth remembering is that, years ago, two private buyers had plans rejected for the site as bad deals and too expensive for Lincoln. Under one of the proposals, the city would have spent $500,000 more to tear down the old arena than it would have received for the land it occupies.
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Mitigating the asbestos present at the site will only add to the price tag, too, with one estimate placing the cost of demolishing the building and removing the contaminated materials as high as $1.8 million.
Still, forcing a quick sale could be bad business for Lincoln’s taxpayers – and it could also needlessly limit the potential to transform the 61-year-old auditorium into usable space. Perhaps the best buyer is a nonprofit agency or governmental entity. That wouldn’t place the land on the tax rolls, but it would be a positive on the book by ending the city’s continued spending on a space that’s currently useless.
Much of the conversation, for instance, has focused on replacing Pershing with a replacement for Bennett Martin Public Library. But no plan pitching a cost-effective downtown library has yet surfaced.
Other proposals – such as a less stringent resolution introduced by Councilman Carl Eskridge or waiting for the downtown master plan to be finalized, as Mayor Chris Beutler prefers – don’t move Pershing any closer to being sold.
Again, we're glad Camp forced the conversation now. Because, if it's not discussed now, then when? The needle isn’t moving otherwise.
Pershing needs to be sold. However, Lincoln must not needlessly rope itself into a bad deal.