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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

Pershing Center held its last events -- the USA Roller Sports National Championships, a Goo Goo Dolls concert, roller derby -- in August 2014, a year after Pinnacle Bank Arena opened its doors.

Since then the city has been looking for a suitable use -- private or public -- for the 60-year old auditorium, which sits empty in a prime spot along the newly renovated Centennial Mall.

But, so far, no suitable suitors have surfaced. And there are differing visions for how the site should be used.

The Lincoln Independent Business Association has repeatedly said it wants the property sold to a private company or a developer, returning the land to the property tax rolls. The city pays no property taxes.

Downtown experts say Mayor Chris Beutler would love to have a prestigious partner for that prime spot along the newly renovated mall, perhaps a handsome corporate headquarters.


Journal Star news podcast, 2/24/18: Dave Landis, urban development director, talks Lincoln growth

Not that there haven’t been suitors for the two-acre site between M and N streets.

The city library board has had its eyes on the site for a new downtown library, though there are currently no firm proposals.

Five years ago during a formal bid process, two private companies brought plans to build apartments and retail space at the site.

One company suggested combining a public library with offices, retail space and apartments.

Another suggested student housing and retail at the site.

At that time, the library board also formally proposed converting Pershing into a new downtown library. 

Beutler rejected the three proposals because each required too much city funding. 

“All were problematic,” said David Landis of the city's Urban Development Department.

No one has come forward with any specific proposals since, though the city would welcome suggestions, Landis said.

Meanwhile, there has been talk about other ideas.

State government, which is looking at its expansion needs, has talked about the Pershing property as a potential site for another state office building, but discussions to this point have been exploratory only, with no talk about funding, said Landis.

“Their needs and their resources have not coalesced around a clear, direct offer," he said.

Others in the downtown area have suggested perhaps Lincoln Public Schools could use the site for an entrepreneurial high school.

A nonprofit group has suggested converting the building into a modern food market with booths for Nebraska-grown food, restaurant space, a greenhouse and loft apartments for professionals. But that idea has significant funding behind it.  

Funding, too, is an issue for the library, which still lists Pershing among its options for a new downtown location.

The building, though in a prime spot, has its redevelopment issues.

* Demolition: It will cost around $1.8 million to demolish the Pershing Center, based on a 2014 consultant's report. That includes more than a half-million for asbestos removal.

* Height restrictions: A building in that area can be no more than four stories tall, because of special rules in place near the Capitol. So there is less opportunity to get back your investment per square foot, Landis said.

* Limited parking: Because of the height restriction, adding parking in a new building will take away useful space, and adding below-ground parking is expensive.

The city, which is spending about $80,000 a year to keep the building's pipes from freezing, its alarm system working and for basic repairs, has no plans for demolition, Landis said.

As part of the downtown area, anyone can come in with a redevelopment plan that would then require the city to open up a process for others proposals. 

So basically there is a for sale sign in front of Pershing, said Landis. 

But, so far, no one has brought a firm idea.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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