The Lincoln City Council recently approved a new downtown housing project — where apartments made for four will be built on top of a city parking garage.
There was much talk at the council about whether the apartments were too targeted at college students and likely to become party central. The council went ahead and approved the project, but I was intrigued by a belated letter on the matter.
Michelle Waite, representing UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman, wrote a letter saying UNL decided to support the project “after thorough and deliberative discussion on campus despite our concerns about the option of offering additional student housing in close proximity to campus.”
She noted that UNL has invested more than $200 million in the past decade to renovate and build student housing, and said research indicates the longer a student lives on campus, the more likely they’ll succeed as a student.
“On balance, we have decided to support this project although would respectfully respect that the city take into consideration our interest if another private student housing development would arise and carefully deliberate issues that may be indirectly affected by such a development.”
Translation: Next time please consult us first.
She ended the letter with, “The University of Nebraska-Lincoln would likely not be comfortable with additional developments of this nature.”
Hmmmm… in other words, we don’t really like this project, but we’ll go along with it this time. But next time, don’t expect us to be so amenable.
Probably doesn’t hurt that the developers are WRK and Woodbury — 2015 Visioners and UNL’s partners on the Arts & Humanities project in the Haymarket.
At one point, the $340 million arena project proposed to Lincoln voters included new sports fields up north by Haymarket Park, but as the election got closer, arena coordinators took that part out of the proposal.
I thought they’d lose a lot of soccer mom votes doing that, but as it turned out arena supporters still advertised the sports fields as being part of the plan, since they would “eventually” probably get built anyway. I call that false advertising, but we agreed to disagree.
Anyway, now that voters have approved the mammoth arena project, talk has returned to those sports fields. Parks Director Lynn Johnson said the city is looking at building a “tournament sports complex” north of the arena, near Oak Lake, to add to the much-loved concept of a sports triangle (Memorial Stadium, Haymarket Park and the arena).
Johnson says they consider the Mid-America Sports Complex in Shawnee, Kan., to be a good model. That 70-acre, 12-field softball complex hosts softball leagues, baseball leagues, baseball camps and national and regional softball tournaments.
Speaking as a baseball mom, Lincoln could use a few more fields to play on, and the ability to host tournaments would bring people to Lincoln — and presumably, its stores. But there are already a number of such facilities in the region, Johnson said, so to make Lincoln’s a little better, they’ll likely recommend it have all artificial turf to guarantee play.
What would this cost? Johnson says $18 to $20 million — but he thinks it would generate enough revenue to offset the cost. That sounds like a revenue bond to me. He says a proposal for the sports complex “should come forward in the next few years.”
Parks Director Lynn Johnson said proposed ordinance changes loosening up the ban on alcohol in city parks will be proffered to the Lincoln City Council.
The city recently loosened its alcohol-in-parks-ban to allow liquor during fundraisers that benefit park programs in Sunken Gardens, the Hamann Rose Garden, Hazel Abel Park and the Pioneers Park Nature Center. Now, more loosening will be proposed to allow alcohol during some events at Pinewood Bowl, Auld Pavilion (when it’s being rented) and Union Plaza (the city’s Antelope Valley version of Central Park).
Johnson told park board members Mayor Chris Beutler is interested in forwarding the ordinance changes to the City Council early next year.
Loosening up the liquor ban used to be a controversial endeavor in Lincoln, but not so much in recent years. In 1999, a proposal to lift the alcohol ban in parks went down in flames, by unanimous vote.
But the city has loosened up considerably since then, allowing alcohol on golf courses in 2003 and then allowing alcohol to be served at fundraisers at the Children’s Museum the following year.
Often, the amount of interest and controversy over such an issue depends largely on how much play it gets in the local media.
Parks Director Lynn Johnson said Will and Robert Scott’s nonprofit foundation will be making a $250,000 donation for a “nature learning and discovery area” in Union Plaza.
This Children’s Discovery Garden looks like a giant climbing structure, with a slide and stone tables, benches and a “humming stone.” Students from nearby Elliott Elementary School helped come up with ideas for the garden.
This is just one bit of news that came out of a recent park board meeting I attended. Here’s more:
• A request for proposals will go out soon seeking a tenant for 2,100 square feet of retail space in the “active living center” planned at 21st and Q streets in Union Plaza (that park in Antelope Valley). The Community Health Endowment will occupy the second floor. Parks Director Lynn Johnson said the roof was going to be green, but that plan has been scrapped.
• A campaign recently began where people can help sponsor the Pioneers Park Nature Center. People can “adopt an acre” for $100 or buy an inscribed brick for a path to Heritage School for $250 or pay for the care of an animal for one year. A bald eagle can be sponsored for $2,000, deer herd for $3,500 and bison herd for $5,000. The 668-acre nature center has been the subject of city budget talks in recent years, since it costs about $600,000 a year to operate the place, which brings in about $125,000 in revenue.
• Johnson confirmed that the city parks department will get a $400,000 donation – I’d heard reports of a donation as high as $750,000 – to help with the $1.8 million renovation of Sherman Field, which was built in 1947. The city will be upgrading the sports facilities, lighting, plaza, parking and concourse around the grandstand. Johnson still isn’t publicly saying where the money is coming from. A $400,000 endowment will also be established. Since Sherman Field sits about four feet below the 100-year flood stage, the buildings will be “flood proof” – meaning water will flow into them during storms, and them workers will hose down the floors and they’ll be ready to go.
• They’re still working on ideas for the civic plaza that’s long been planned for 13th and P streets (used to be a vacant theater, now a parking lot). Johnson says it should be built by 2012, and a report is being finalized by a New York City consultant brought in to engage the public on the plaza. He said $1.1 million in funding has been identified and private funds will also be raised.
• The inefficient, old balloon-like tennis courts at Woods Tennis Center will need to be replaced soon, Johnson said. A nonprofit may take them over, he said. There are 15 courts at Woods now, Johnson said, but it needs 18 to support most tourneys. “Very good things are happening at Woods,” he said, referring to attendance figures.
A study of redevelopment projects in Lincoln shows most of those that have been undertaken since Mayor Chris Beutler took office are getting done on time. Of the 22 redevelopment projects examined in the report, three are behind schedule. And the developer behind two of those three, WRK, is the same company the city chose to develop private shops and stores near its planned $340 million arena project.
The report indicates several high-profile projects have stalled or are having trouble getting financing nailed down, including the downtown hotel planned for the block south of the Gold’s Building and NeighborWorks’ ambitious condos and headquarters project in Antelope Valley. And interestingly, the company chosen to develop private shops near the city’s future arena is behind two of the projects that are behind schedule — a Haymarket hotel and south Haymarket mixed use project called Block 85.
The same company, WRK, also was late on an older redevelopment project in University Place. Let’s hope they’re not late getting shops near the arena, since they’re being counted on to provide the vast majority of new jobs and economic development touted by city officials when they sold the arena to the public.
In the past three years, 22 projects have been awarded public assistance in the form of tax increment financing or TIF – an urban financing tool that amounts to a convoluted property tax break. Instead of going into local city and school coffers, the additional property tax revenue generated by the project goes back into the project in one form or another – either through public improvements, lease buy-downs or demolition, for example.
Beutler asked his Urban Development Department to review those projects. The department’s resulting report says 10 of them are complete, nine are underway and on time and three are late. However, many of the redevelopment agreements either don’t have deadlines or have deadlines that only kick in once construction begins. So if construction never begins, the deadline can never be missed.
Of the 22 projects, 21 are generating enough property tax (TIF) to cover the debt payments.
“None of the projects are what we would consider to be in default,” Urban Development Director David Landis wrote in a summary to the mayor.
The one project that fell short was the construction of a 32,000-square-foot commercial building at Northwest 32nd Street for Thunderstone, a cast stone manufacturing company that planned to invest $3 million in the facility and add 10 new jobs within the first year. About $200,000 in TIF helped get the project off the ground.
However, according to the TIF report, last year Thunderstone work began to slow down with the recession, and the business has since relocated to its original home and put the new site up for sale. TIF collection will be about $14,000 short this year, which Thunderstone will be responsible for paying.
In addition, since 2008 the city has switched over to a system where the developers purchase the TIF bonds, not the city, so if the project doesn’t generate as much TIF as expected, it’s up to the developer to cover the difference.
Here’s the status of the other redevelopment projects, according to the report:
• Construction of the $18 million Hy-Vee at 48th and O streets, which received about $2 million in TIF and other city funds, was done on time and TIF collections this year should be more than enough to make the debt payment.
• Construction of an $850,000, 26,000-square-foot building for the Inland Truck Company in the 56th and Arbor Road area – nearly $114,000 in TIF was budgeted for sewer, water, storm sewers, paving and site preparation. The project is complete, on time and all requirements were met.
• Verizon’s $35 million call center in northwest Lincoln was built, but the assessed value of the 112,800-square-foot building was lower than expected. Verizon has been reimbursing the city the difference, which this year will amount to about $62,000.
• A $42,000 TIF allocation was used for the $442,000 development of David Wood Construction at 2600 W. M Court in the West O redevelopment area. Project is complete and responsibilities met.
• The $2 million business incubator called Turbine Flats, 2124 Y St., received nearly $72,000 in TIF and was completed on time and with responsibilities met.
• The nearly $3 million Sawmill project on Eighth Street between R and S streets included a $263,000 TIF and was completed and is leased, but the public utility and street improvements to be funded with TIF will be bid with the public improvements on the adjacent Arts and Humanities project when it is done. The 2010 assessed value is below projections by $231,000. The report did not indicate whether the developer, WRK, is making up the difference.
• Although some buildings have been demolished for the Haymarket Arts & Humanities project – a mixed use retail, office, hotel and residential project on the southwest corner of the block bounded by Eighth, Ninth, R and S streets – work has not yet begun on the second phase of this project. The original completion date for this WRK project was September 2010. The $25 million project includes $2.8 million in TIF, but the redevelopment agreement allows for a reduction in the scope of TIF-funded improvements if the project doesn’t meet the projected value. WRK now says construction will begin in the spring of 2011.
• The $2.5 million Washington Square project – 16 affordable housing units in the Near South Neighborhood – received $200,000 in TIF and was built as planned. However, the units are currently occupied by renters, not homeowners, and the redevelopment agreement gives the developer four years to sell the units or the developer must repay $12,500 of the TIF for each unit not sold. However, the developer has more than three years’ time left to sell them.
• Demolition of the Rosewood Hotel in northwest Lincoln, near Interstate 80, and construction of 22,000 square feet of commercial space by B&J Partnership is behind schedule but close to completion. The $2.5 million project includes $300,000 in TIF.
• Perot Systems built a $28.5 million, 150,000-square-foot building in the University of Nebraska Technology Park in northwest Lincoln, with $3.5 million in TIF. The project was done on time. Recent reports indicate the company has shipped 250 jobs to India.
• Block 85 is a $10 million mixed use retail, office and residential redevelopment on the block bounded by Eighth, Ninth, M and L streets. This is another WRK project. The TIF improvements are underway and most of the utility work is complete or in the works, but the streetscape work had not yet been bid when the report was written. The original completion date was September 2010, but the redevelopment agreement allows for a reduction in TIF-funded improvements if the project doesn’t meet the projected value. The developers will be responsible for any shortfall in the projected $932,000 TIF.
• Lincoln Flats/Bank of the West is a $6 million mixed use, commercial and residential project at 13th and O streets. Seven condos are done and three are under construction. The redevelopment agreement allows the developer, Concorde Management, until September 2011 to complete another 14 units and two more commercial spaces. Any shortfalls in the projected $764,000 TIF will be covered by the developer.
• Antelope Creek Village is an $8.2 million housing and commercial project in the Antelope Valley area, where NeighborWorks Lincoln plans to build 12 townhomes and a mixed use office building with eight condos, with $636,000 in TIF budgeted. The project has been delayed and scaled down (eliminating retail and condos above the NeighborWorks office, which may or may not be built here now) but is still in compliance with the redevelopment agreement timeline, which just requires that phases be done within 18 months after construction commences.
• Matt Talbot Kitchen’s $2.4 million move out of the Antelope Valley area to 2121 N. 27th St. was assisted by $430,000 in TIF. However, a TIF loan for another $200,000 is to be repaid with funds raised by the group. The project is complete and on time.
• Creekside Village is an $8.5 million low-income housing development north of the North Bottoms Neighborhood, where 60 apartments and 10 townhomes will be built. About $775,000 in TIF was budgeted, and although utility work is done, construction had not yet begun when the TIF report was written. The redevelopment agreement requires construction to be complete 24 months after commencing.
• Assurity’s new $57 million headquarters in Antelope Valley was helped by $7.2 million in TIF. The project is on schedule to be completed by the April 2012 deadline.
• Shoemaker’s Travel Plaza – which was budgeted to receive $950,000 in TIF – is nearly complete and has met the requirement that employees be paid 105 percent of the county’s average starting wage.
• Block 68 is a mixed use commercial, hotel and residential development just south of the Gold’s Building in downtown Lincoln. At the time the report was written, the project was still in the design phase and financing was not yet secured. The $34 million project was approved to receive $4.4 million in TIF, although the bond ordinance has not yet been approved by the developer and City Council. The project is to be complete in December 2011.
• Little Saigon – a redevelopment along 27th Street approved for up to $90,000 in TIF – is still in the design phase; the projected completion datae is June 2011.
• Haymarket Hotel and Tool House is a $16 million mixed use residential, hotel and retail/office project on the west side of the block bounded by Eighth, Ninth, Q and R streets. It was approved to receive $2 million in TIF, but is still in the design phase with a projected completion date of June 2012.
• 56th and Interstate 80 North Bluff Employment Center by Hartland Homes and Roger and Eldonna Schwisow — $2.2 million in TIF was budgeted for construction of water and sewer lines to north of I-80 and the Northbank Junction housing project. The first phase of sewer is done and a portion of the first phase of water main is done, but city funding was not available to complete the work. The project hasn’t been built due to a decline in development interest and because the generation of TIF didn’t occur as expected when the area was annexed.
The review of TIF projects prompted the Urban Development Department to make some changes in protocol. Now, all projects must include a completion date, an estimated value, a prioritized list of how the TIF will be spent, an estimate of the annual debt payment and a procedure for collecting payments if the TIF is not enough to meet debt payments.
The other day I took a look at the proposals given to city officials by the top two companies vying for the job as construction manager.
That would be Mortenson Construction of Minnesota, which teamed with Hampton Enterprises of Lincoln, and Turner Construction of New York, whose partner was Sampson Construction of Lincoln.
For shorthand, let’s call them Mortenson and Turner.
I had asked to see these proposals months ago when they were first submitted — and was denied access by the city — so when they finally became public documents I figured I’d better check them out.
Most of the proposals are devoted to resume-bragging, but among the interesting nuggets:
• Mortenson anticipates beginning construction in September 2011 and says construction will take two years.
• Mortenson plans to split the fees with Hampton 80-20, versus 50-50 for Turner and Sampson.
• Mortenson wisely pointed out its experience with rail line interfaces, use of the construction-manager at risk method and downtown and brownfield development.
• A big Mortenson selling point was its recent experience building Target Field for the Minnesota Twins — the promenade deck and part of seating was built over a BNSF main line that skirts the west edge of the stadium, carrying up to 14 trains a day. More than 2,650 feet of rail was relocated. And they built the main concourse on the west edge above two rail lines (a BNSF rail line and commuter train). Even more sticky than Lincoln’s plans.
• Jeffrey Applebaum, whose company was a consultant to the Minnesota Twins on the project, wrote a letter saying the Target Field site was “extremely small” and hemmed in on all sides by rail lines, highways and parking ramps. He said the greatest challenge was dealing with BNSF — Mortenson had to honor “elaborate processes and procedures” established in complex agreements with BN.
• Ed Hunter, project manager for the Minnesota Ballpark Authority (the state agency that owns Target Field), wrote a letter saying BN dictated there be no delays in train movements and that a single violation could shut down all construction within the railroad right-of-way.
• Mortenson promised to maximize local participation in business and labor and “right size” bid packages to allow smaller local contractors to get more work.
• A major deciding factor in the mayor’s decision to pick Mortenson was that they proposed a fee of 1.95 percent of the $130 million arena cost and $235,187 a month. Turner proposed a 2.15 percent fee plus $412,000 a month. With lump sum payments, that works out to $8.17 million for Mortenson and $14.45 million for Turner. There were differences, however, in the costs expected to be picked up by subcontractors.
• One thing I learned after looking at the proposals is that the arena will be built one half (roughly) at a time. Mortenson will build about half the arena on the west side of the two Amtrak lines west of the post office, because it will take awhile longer to move those tracks. Then when they are moved, they’ll build the other half. Interesting.
• Turner said the project could be built in 18 months if not for that Amtrak line — but removal of those passenger rail lines won’t be done until September 2012 so that part of the arena can’t be done until then.
Amtrak is also part of a delay in closing on the rest of the BNSF land. Arena coordinator Dan Marvin said there is a dispute over whom Amtrak should lease the new platform from. They now lease from BNSF, which proposed a lease agreement similar to others, for $1 a year. But Amtrak wants to lease from the city. Marvin said he thinks the issue is close to being worked out.
This was the first year Lincoln did not host the Nebraska State Fair — but you wouldn’t know it by looking at amount of sales tax revenue flowing into city coffers.
Despite all those dire predictions that the loss of the State Fair would hurt Lincoln’s economy, the amount of sales tax revenue raked in by the city in August and September — when the State Fair was being held in Grand Island for the first time — actually went up during each of those months. In August, city sales tax revenue was up nearly 6 percent over the prior year, when the State Fair was still in Lincoln. And in September, revenue was up 2.4 percent.
Which makes it appear as though the State Fair doesn’t have nearly the economic impact on a city as some people might think.
In fact, sales tax revenue — and this should be good news for the state, since Lincoln is a big part of the engine driving the state economy — is rolling in quite nicely so far this fiscal year. The money is coming in nearly 4 percent higher than the city predicted — good news for the city budget. Let’s hope the trend continues.
A new store in College View is having a closet sale today and tomorrow, in which their customers bring in “gently worn” name brand clothes and sell them, splitting proceeds with the store.
The sale is going on until 8 p.m. tonight and from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow. Among the brands: Seven, Coach, Ed Hardy, Marc Jacobs, True Religion.
The store — an upscale boutique that opened in May — invited its customers to bring in clothes and got such a response they had to bring all the clothes to a bigger space downstairs.
Rae’n is one of the newer stores in College View — which recently emerged from a city makeover and is open for business again.
The city renovated 48th Street between Pioneers Boulevard and Calvert Street – replacing water pipes, repairing streets and improving storm sewers. The city is adding ornamental lighting and banners, neighborhood signs, benches, planting beds, linear rain gardens, decorative concrete at intersections and a new streetlight at 48th Street and Prescott Avenue. Not all of the work is done yet.
Makeovers tend to be contagious, and I noticed a bible book store has a new awning out front and a new hair salon called Eve has opened up next to rae’n, at 3905 S. 48th St.
Give it a look.
When I was a working mom, I’d often fantasize about quitting my job and becoming a full-time Mom.
That’s Mom, with a capital M. As opposed to the frenzied working mom I was. You know – the type who suspects they aren’t doing their best at either work or home.
That was me.
On a day when my daughter needed to go to the orthodontist and son needed his allergy shots or there was a parent-teacher conference going on at the same time as a City Council meeting, I’d tell my boss, “Who has time for a job?”
But in the words of Tim Gunn, you make it work. And move on to the next day.
If only I didn’t have to work, I’d say to myself, I’d start my day with a workout at the nearest health club, lunch with my unemployed friends, maybe some shopping at Talbot’s, and be home in time to have warm brownies waiting for my kids.
And books! I’d finally have time to read more than my Newsweek, Governing and People magazines. I’d spend an hour or so every day reading a real book.
I’d tackle home renovations – learn how to lay tile and stain concrete.
I got my chance to make these dreams come true (well maybe not Talbot’s, but Target) when I quit my job a couple of months ago. Hello, Five Willows! Goodbye three-hour City Council meetings!
But a funny thing happened: I’d also fantasized about starting my own blog, and almost immediately after I quit, I began working to make that happen.
About two weeks into my unemployment, I realized I was working more hours than when I had a job. I’ve since put a stop to that insanity, but I still find myself driven to work on this blog every day.
I do some freelance writing to support my blogging habit.
I have not yet joined a health club. I jog or walk almost every day – but usually my days are too busy to get in a workout before the kids get home. Same as when I was working.
Shopping? Now that I work from home, where I can wear pajamas all day if I want, I’m not inclined to buy new clothes. In fact, I’ve only been to the mall a couple of times in two months. My son has remarked on my frequent choice of clothing – yoga pants.
Warm brownies? Not once. Really, do we need to put all those calories in their mouths? Care for an apple?
Books? I picked up Fast Food Nation after half-finishing it a decade ago, and I’m starting the Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. But I still read more magazines than books.
Home renovations – I stained the concrete in my basement (it didn’t turn out right) and am knocking down a wall, but spend more time blogging than tiling.
I am home when they get out of school – and I like that. Problem is, they’re teenagers and seem to prefer to spend time with their friends after school.
It has been easier shuttling them around to their doctor appointments and guitar lessons and basketball practices. I sometimes wonder how I did it when I was working.
When I used to complain about how much I wanted to Just be a Mom, my husband would tell me I would go crazy doing that. I’m not going crazy, but he has pointed out that I’m doing much of the same work I used to do, except with more flexibility and NO PAYCHECK. (For now, until my audience grows the point where I can start selling ads.)
He’s perplexed, and so am I.
Life as a Mom is much the same: My to-do list never ends. I still don’t know what we’re having for supper until approximately two minutes before I begin making it, or ordering it. I have not yet taken down the Halloween decorations.
Perhaps if I’d won the lottery, I would be spending all my time lollygagging, shopping and exercising. But I doubt it. Turns out, there’s little difference between being a Mom, and being a “working mom.” Same difference.
Federal transportation officials have warned the city of Lincoln that its transit system, StarTran, has shown a “longstanding pattern of non-compliance and disregard for federal procurement requirements” and if the city doesn’t fix problems with the way it makes purchases, it risks losing federal funds.
In June, the regional administrator of the Federal Transit Administration informed Mayor Chris Beutler that a triennial review of StarTran – a regular review to ensure federal guidelines are followed – found that the city was deficient in six of the 24 areas reviewed. Five of the six areas related to the procurement process.
According to the FTA’s final report on the matter, many of the findings were repeat deficiencies from the last two triennial reviews conducted in 2004 and 2007. Cities with repeat findings are subject to more federal oversight. Both StarTran and the city Purchasing Department share responsibility for ensuring that purchases adhere to federal requirements.
In a letter to the mayor, the FTA said, “The disregard of the federal procurement rules is unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated” and “due to the serious nature of the findings associated with the area of procurement,” the FTA would send representatives to Lincoln for an “in-depth procurement systems review” – which is being done this week.
While the FTA was satisfied with the city’s response to some issues, it sent the team in to probe more deeply three remaining issues: lacking justification for a non-competitive award; lacking independent cost estimates and failing to verify that barred companies are not participating.
A team of three FTA workers were in the city-county purchasing office scouring records on Tuesday, after doing the same in StarTran offices on Monday.
The FTA said failure to meet deadlines for correcting the deficiencies “may put StarTran at risk for receiving future” mass transit grants or being suspended from drawing funds from existing grants. However, in a letter to City Council members on Tuesday, Public Works Director Greg MacLean said the city is not at risk of losing federal funds.
Beginning in mid-June, the city was required to give the regional FTA office a copy of all solicitation packages for any future purchases that use FTA money prior to soliciting bids.
On Monday, StarTran head Larry Worth characterized the FTA review as “typical” and akin to an IRS audit finding issues. However, he also acknowledged that StarTran had never before been subject to an in-depth review (as is being done now) in his 15-year tenure.
Among the areas the city was found to be deficient in the final report:
• The city did not perform an independent cost estimate for any of the five procurements reviewed during an FTA site visit – including the purchase of a bus wash system and digital video equipment.
• The city could not document that it performed an independent cost estimate for the purchase of a bus wash system purchased with federal stimulus funds.
• The city did not perform a cost/price analysis for bids evaluated – a repeat finding from the last review.
• The city didn’t have sufficient documentation for the award of three single bid contracts.
• The city couldn’t provide evidence it ensures excluded (debarred or suspended) companies aren’t participating in federal purchases.
• Recipients of federal grants and contracts worth more than $100,000 did not have language in their contract certifying compliance with lobbying restrictions.
To read the entire report, click on 2010 StarTrans Triennial Review.