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Everything you ever wanted to know about the arena vote

Everything you ever wanted to know about the arena vote

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Haymarket Park arena
Artist rendering of the proposed Haymarket Park arena. (Courtesy image)

The city of Lincoln votes on the largest public works project in its history on Tuesday.

The city has spent more than five years planning and studying in earnest. Supporters have spent $680,000, and the Journal Star has written enough on this project to fill a book.

Here is one last look at the basics behind the project:

What exactly are we voting on?

Whether to borrow against $25 million in state sales taxes to help finance a $344 million city arena project.

The $25 million general obligation bond would be paid off with state sales taxes collected in the arena and nearby hotels.

Where will the rest of the money come from?

Two more general obligation bonds worth up to $319 million would be issued by a joint public agency.

About half the debt would be paid off through a new 2 percent tax on restaurant and bar tabs and a 4 percent tax on hotel rooms and car rentals. This applies to all Lincoln restaurants and bars.

About a quarter of the debt would be repaid with arena revenue (such as naming rights), parking revenue, a $20 million donation from the private 2015 Vision business group and land payments from private developers.

If this passes, how would my pocketbook be affected?

If you eat at restaurants in Lincoln or go to bars, the impact on you would be an additional 2 percent of your spending at bars and restaurants.

The rest of the new taxes would be on hotel rooms and car rentals, so unless you stay in a Lincoln hotel or rent a car here, you wouldn't be affected by the new 4 percent visitor tax.

Property taxes are not expected to be used.

Why not put the whole $344 million on the ballot?

The mayor's office says it would have had to put two questions to voters - one regarding the $25 million, and another for the remaining $319 million in bonds - and state law prohibits more than one subject in a ballot question for general obligation bonds.

The mayor's office says it would have been confusing to have two questions on the same topic, and it's possible voters would have approved one and not the other, leading to legal problems.

How can $319 million in general obligation bonds be issued without a public vote?

State law requires a public vote on general obligation bonds issued by cities, but not on bonds issued by a joint public agency, which would be issuing this debt.

The city will lend its taxing authority to the JPA.

What is a joint public agency?

A new governmental entity formed by the city and University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

It largely exists on paper and when its board meets. Its sole purpose will be to issue bonds, collect revenue and make bond payments.

The JPA will not have an office or employees; city employees will perform functions such as paying bills.

The JPA's board of directors would be made up of the mayor, a City Council member and a member of the NU Board of Regents.

Lincoln formed a JPA with Lancaster County in 2008 to finance a new county jail.

Will my property taxes go up?

The last line of the ballot language says, "approval of this bond issue will not cause any increase in the property tax levy millage limit of the city."

But that is not a promise not to increase property taxes. It says the "property tax levy millage limit" will not go up.

Two different things.

The millage limit is a state-mandated cap on the amount of property taxes cities can levy without a vote of the people. Lincoln's limit is 50 cents per $100 of property; the city is now levying about half that.

However, the financing plan does not anticipate using property tax revenue - and city officials say they've never had to tap property taxes for similarly financed projects in the past. All of the debt issued by the city and JPA is backed by the city's taxing authority, meaning if revenue doesn't come in as expected, property taxes would be a last resort.

How is UNL involved?

The men's and women's basketball teams would play in the arena.

The Huskers would lease the arena for 30 years, with the right to extend the lease for three seven-year periods.

They would play at least 30 home games (15 men, 15 women) per season.

UNL would give the city its home game dates by the first of August, and the city would schedule other events around that.

The Huskers would have the right to practice in the arena on dates it isn't being used.

It's possible the Husker volleyball team could play in the arena occasionally.

How much will UNL pay in rent?

The Athletic Department would pay $750,000 in annual rent but get credit for sales tax revenue generated from the sale of basketball tickets, the first dollar of city ticket surcharges on basketball tickets and a $300,000 credit for lost concession revenue. Once those credits are applied, UNL's rent is expected to be minimal.

Four of the arena's 36 suites would be designated as UNL suites.

The city would market all loge seating (a sort of middle-class person's suite, a private area for small groups) and the Athletic Department would receive 50 percent of the net revenue from loge seats.

The Athletic Department would market all club seats and front row and courtside seats for games and retain all the revenue. The city would market all club and floor seating for non-university events and keep the revenue.

The city would have the right to sell arena naming rights.

The university would sell the rights to name the basketball court floor and locker rooms.

The city would operate all food and beverage sales and retain all net revenues. It would agree to include "an assortment of affordable foods" during games.

Would alcohol be allowed in the arena?

Alcohol would not be sold during UNL basketball games or other university events.

What's wrong with the Pershing Center?

Pershing opened its doors in 1957 and, at age 53, is showing its age.

It looks like a dusty gray box compared to sleek, modern, expansive arenas - such as Omaha's Qwest or Kansas City's Sprint Center.

Pershing's manager says larger concerts and shows don't come to Pershing due to its low seating capacity (7,700), small main floor, low ceiling, main floor weight restrictions, limited production space and small stage, among other things.

The concourses are too narrow, with water-stained asbestos ceilings and cramped, mostly inaccessible restrooms.

The small concession areas are not conducive to big sales - a critical revenue source.

What would happen to the Pershing Center?

The city hired a consultant to come up with many ideas, such as converting it to a new downtown library, but nothing has been determined. The mayor has said the public would help decide.

Why do they want to build it west of the Haymarket?

Project backers say it should be near bars, restaurants and stores so visitors stop and spend more money in Lincoln, rather than just go to an event and leave town. Also, it's near UNL and other sports venues and opens up more land in the city core for development.

Would the project stimulate the economy and create lots of jobs?

The city hired a consultant to measure the project's economic impact. His report predicts 7,800 job-years (one job held for one year) would be created during construction and 1,200 permanent jobs once it's built.

However, many economists question whether arenas create jobs or jolt the economy, although new entertainment venues might be great for civic pride and improve the quality of life in a city.

Where will people park?

The city plans to build about 4,000 parking spots (two new parking garages and two surface lots).

Another 2,800 parking spots are already available in the area.

How will you get all that traffic in and out?

The primary route to the arena and nearby new development would be via a new road called Arena Drive.

The four-lane undivided road would loop around the new developments to the west and connect with Salt Creek Roadway on the north and N Street on the south.

The Haymarket won't be the entry point for the arena. Most traffic will enter from the north, south and west.

Among other traffic plans, the city would improve Charleston Street north of Haymarket Park to a four-lane undivided section between Sun Valley Boulevard and Haymarket Park.

It would extend east and tie into an existing road that loops around Haymarket Park and would itself be widened to provide three lanes with a center reversible lane.

Why can't the Devaney Sports Center be used for concerts and other events?

Devaney is booked almost every day of the year, with much of that time taken up on the main arena floor for practices for the NU basketball programs. Even when the season ends, there are times for individual instruction, pick-up games and sports camp schedules to deal with.

Second, the arena was designed as a basketball court and not a multi-use venue. Multi-use arenas have concrete floors with basketball courts brought in piece by piece. Devaney's basketball court is permanent and is specially designed to absorb some of the pounding that athletes give it. It is not designed to hold the amount of weight involved in stages for many of today's touring acts.

Also, the entrances to the arena floor are limited in height, and other than the floor bleachers, there is no flexible seating, making it impossible to truck large items into the building. Concerns about the roof prevent suspending significant weight from the ceiling.

How will the Lincoln Stars be affected by the planned construction of a new ice center near the arena?

The junior hockey franchise will continue to play at the Ice Box on the former state fairgrounds.

What about all the contaminants in the rail yard, junk yard and lumber yard that would be purchased?

Currently, the plan is for the city to buy the land and pay for the cleanup, which the city estimates will cost $7.5 million, at most. Opponents are skeptical of those cost estimates, noting that the consultant who came up with the estimates expressed "low confidence" in some of them and did not have data for other areas.

Opponents also say the current property owners should have to pay for the cleanup, as was done in Omaha to make way for the Qwest Center.

When would the arena open?

Fall of 2013 is the goal.

If the vote fails, then what?

UNL walks away and upgrades the Devaney Center to meet its needs. The city loses its anchor tenant.

Mayor Chris Beutler has said there is no Plan B. However, he also has said the city would have to evaluate why the vote failed.

The Journal Star Sports Department contributed to this report.

Reach Deena Winter at 473-2642 or


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