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City looking at $20 million sports complex near arena

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.”


Mayor to propose more loosening of alcohol ban in parks

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.


Children’s Discovery Center to be part of Union Plaza

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.

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