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Posts from the ‘Arena news’ Category


Fire at BNSF maintenance shed

A passerby got this shot of a fire in a Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad maintenance shed near the Harris Overpass Thursday night. This is in the area where the city is doing work in preparation for construction of a new arena. Chief Fire Inspector Bill Moody said the building was being demolished, was “half down” before the fire and only contained “old paint.” The cause has not been determined.

The view from the Harris Overpass as a fire burns Thursday night in a BNSF maintenance shed, which is in the area where the city is preparing to build an arena.


BNSF rebuttal sheds light on arena situation

Haymarket arena construction

Construction workers near the site of a diesel spill that's being removed from the area where a new arena will be built west of the Haymarket.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway has been largely silent during the past several years, as Lincoln has embarked on its plan to convert its
dusty downtown railyard into a $340 million arena and shops.

But now, BN has spoken up.

Don’t know if you saw it, but BN spokesman Andy Williams wrote a letter to the paper trying to set the record straight on what is going on with that extra $3.4 million BN wants from the city in order to get relocated as fast as the city wants it to. BN has been taking a beating in the blogosphere for requesting an extra $3.4 million to move out of the city’s way.

Williams laid out all the delays that have occurred — saying the city was eight months behind schedule in executing agreements and acquiring property for excavated material, six months behind schedule in providing environmental reports to BN and buying the Union Pacific property and two months behind schedule in awarding sanitary sewer work. Williams says “these are just some of the examples of delays” that prevented BN from beginning construction in June 2010. He says construction did not actually begin until March 2011. Which is funny, because all along the taxpayers have been assured that everything is on time, and on budget. Doesn’t sound to me like this train is on time at all, my friends.

“That is much later than the dates even specified in the agreements, yet the completion date of September 2012 has not changed,” he wrote.

Again, I think the city ought to explain to taxpayers — you know, those people footing the bill for this project — what has caused the delays. I’ve asked city officials, and they won’t say. I’ve asked Williams, and he won’t say either. But his letter seems to imply that the city is behind the curve, not BN.

Williams did assure me that BN has a good relationship with the city, despite this little delay problem.

“I would characterize our relationship as very good,” he told me.

Let’s hope between the two of them, they can bring this train in on time.


Before the dirt turns, arena project failing on transparency and accountability

Before a shovel of dirt has really been turned to begin construction of Lincoln’s $344 million arena project, the project has already failed to deliver on the mayor’s promise that it would done with the utmost of transparency and accountability.

For many reasons.

But let’s start with the most glaring: Lincoln taxpayers recently learned they will be paying Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad an extra $3.4 million to get out of the way of the project. BNSF told the city that due to delays in getting the project off the ground last fall, they are behind schedule, and it will take 3.4 million dollar bills to get them back on schedule, and the city will pay them up front, on a quarterly basis.

And… if the city doesn’t pay up, it can kiss its promised-to-UNL and promised-to-Lincoln September 2013 opening goodbye.

But that is not the worst of it. The worst of it is the fact that arena program administrator Dan Marvin has not felt compelled to even explain to the public, the guys footing the bill, exactly who is to blame for the project having gotten behind schedule. Journal Star reporter Nancy Hicks asked him who was responsible for the delay, and he responded, “I don’t think it is helpful to point fingers.”

So somebody – either the city or BNSF – held things up to the point where the project is behind schedule and now BNSF is exercising its right (as allowed by the railroad’s agreement with the city) to charge the city for any extra costs, and we the public don’t need to know who’s fault it is? I also asked Marvin who’s fault it was, and he did not respond.

Utmost transparency, huh? Transparency is not just putting your agendas and background materials on a website that few people know where to find or navigate. That is standard procedure at city hall. (Go ahead and try finding the JPA agenda once, I’ll time you. Gene found it fast, but he’s smarter than the average bear.)

Transparency is not just allowing the public into the room for your JPA meetings; that is the law.

And transparency is definitely NOT allowing the prime contractor to handle all of the bidding and bypassing the city’s purchasing system to advertise and take bids. Translation: You, the public, will never be able to actually see all of the bids. You will be allowed to see what companies bid, and how they were scored by the prime contractor, but you will not see the bids. Seeing the bids is a central tenet of accountable government – but Mayor Chris Beutler threw that out the window when he selected Mortenson Construction to do the job.

That is neither transparent, nor accountable. But this JPA allowed it. Not only that, but the contractor did not properly advertise a recent meeting for potential subcontractors, and had to basically re-do the meeting.

But refusing to tell the public who caused the delay that will cost taxpayers $3.4 million? That’s a new low. Even more incredibly, my sources are telling me BNSF is probably most to blame for the delay.

So let me get this straight: BNSF’s contract allows it to charge the city for every dime it incurs above and beyond the $46 million we’re already paying them to move, and even if they cause a delay, they can charge the city for it. And if the city won’t pay, they can say, “Sorry well then we can’t get this done by your opening date.”

It’s like legalized blackmail.

I was always quite surprised by local officials’ promises for the past five years that BNSF was a very cooperative landowner. BNSF’s reputation precedes it, and it is not one of bending over backwards for cities that need a favor. But always, we were told, the railroad was playing ball. What Lincoln officials didn’t seem to get is that BNSF is in a whole different league – their bosses do not particularly care if you put a local 2015 Vision big shot on a plane and send him down to Texas to tell the BN bosses how it’s gonna be. (That actually happened.) They do not care if your local bigwig development attorney tries to tell them how things are going to be done.

Things will be done the way BN wants them done. Clearly.

A local newspaper columnist – who normally covers the Rainbows and Butterflies beat – recently opined that just because BNSF is demanding another $3.4 million, that doesn’t mean the project is over budget. Well, no the whole project isn’t over budget, but some line items are higher than expected. And if you’ve promised the citizenry you will come in “on time and under budget,” you start whacking things out of the budget to make up for the overruns.

Which is why city is now putting aluminum wiring in the arena, not copper, and not doing floor-to-ceiling tile in the restrooms and is scrapping, for now, those electronic signs that were supposed to guide people to the arena.

Yes, those signs were advertised as part of the project, but to make budget, they’re out for now. That’s how it’s done.

So… by my count, we are not getting transparency, we are not getting accountability, and we are cutting corners all over the place to keep this baby in budget. I could go for some rainbows and butterflies right now.


BNSF demands an extra $3.4 million for arena; threatens to throw project off schedule if city doesn’t pay

Arena coordinator Dan Marvin acknowledged today that Burlington Northern Santa Fe wants the city to pay it an extra $3.4 million to account for costs the railroad says it will incur due to a two-month delay in the construction schedule.

That would be in addition to the $44 million the city is already paying BNSF to move its railroad tracks west and sell property to the city for its arena project.

Marvin told Coby Mach of “Drive Time Lincoln” that the city’s agreement with BNSF allows the railroad giant to get more money from the city, if its costs increase.

“This is not what I would consider to be great news,” Marvin said. “I would say it was unexpected that we would get a charge of $3.4 million.”

Marvin said construction was originally supposed to be underway by the end of last summer, but didn’t begin until mid-October – after a closing was delayed because it took longer than expected to get legislation passed by the City Council and Joint Public Agency overseeing the project.

BNSF says that delay “has them scrambling to get men and material” together to meet their deadline of being out by September 2012. They say the cost to catch up is $3.4 million – and they will have to itemize those costs for the city. So far, BNSF has documented $54,000 in real costs due to the delay.

BNSF has threatened that if the city refuses to pay the extra $3.4 million by June 2, BNSF would consider that another delay caused by the city and said there’s no way the project can get done on schedule – and the mayor has long promised to bring the project in “on time and under budget.”

“They’ve said the cost could escalate to a point where we couldn’t even pay an amount to make the deadline,” Marvin said. “I think it does put the project in a certain amount of jeopardy if we don’t do that. We’ve certainly represented that we would like to have the building open by September 2013.”

Wow. In other words: Pay up or you’re not going to open the arena on time.

This puts the city in an interesting position – since it needs BNSF to move, no matter what. As Marvin put it, “We have a relationship we have to maintain with BN to meet a timeline.”

If the Joint Public Agency – a three-member board that oversees construction and financing of the arena – approves the cost increase, the money would go into an escrow account and be drawn upon by BNSF.

Marvin said the city has saved $1.5 million on the cost of issuing debt, and $1.5 million in environmental cleanup north of O Street – so the city could use those savings to cover the unanticipated cost. In addition, the project has a $25 million contingency fund – although it’s a bit early to begin dipping into that. More likely, the JPA will find savings elsewhere to come up with the remaining $400,000.

The JPA meets on June 2.


Downtown post office closure would mean lost jobs — but a better arena view

With the recent news that Lincoln’s downtown post office is being considered for closure — and mail processing moved to Omaha — I have to wonder if arena planners aren’t privately jumping for joy.

Remember when the original arena plan called for the post office to move? That plan was scuttled due to concern that Lincoln would risk losing 200 postal jobs in the process. Given that the arena itself will only create about 60 full-time, permanent jobs, that seemed like a no-brainer.

But now, with the U.S. Postal Service suffering and looking to make cuts everywhere, the prospect of the downtown post office closing is very real (just ask the union members who were picketing at the post office a few weeks ago). The Postal Service is doing a six-week study to see if it would be feasible and cost-effective to move Lincoln mail processing operations to Omaha.

What are the odds that study will say YES! YES! YES!

Often, when city leaders catch wind that a major employer is thinking of moving, the mayor’s office moves, toot sweet, to try to convince them to stay. But in this situation, one has to wonder a) whether you can really convince the feds to do anything and b) whether the mayor’s office will want to make even a feeble attempt to change their minds.

Because face it, that big old post office is very much in the way of the arena development. Frankly, it’s going to look pretty stupid to have a spanking new arena sitting next to a dowdy, huge post office. But 200 well-paying jobs is nothing to sneeze at. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the mayor’s office when this comes up.


Arena contractor to have “pre-submission” meeting Monday

The general contractor building Lincoln’s arena has scheduled a second “pre-submission” meeting Monday — after some complained that the one held Tuesday was not appropriately advertised.

The meeting is to inform potential subcontractors of the qualification process that will be used to select subs for everything from plumbing to electrical work to concrete work in the 460,000-square-foot arena.

Mortenson Construction of Minneapolis is holding a second meeting Monday at the Cornhusker Marriott at 4 p.m. Mortenson says it will select contractors based on their qualifications and proposals.

Interestingly, the Tuesday meeting was not advertised anywhere in advance other than in the sports section of the Journal Star and in an obscure part of the Haymarket Now website. In addition, the qualification documents will be “privately opened,” according to the website where the RFP is listed.

Remember, Mortenson is in charge of soliciting bids — bypassing the city’s usual eBid process, which caused a stir a couple of months ago — so I guess we can expect things won’t go the usual, transparent way we’re accustomed to.

Currently, Mortenson is looking to hire contractors to do:

• Concrete Structure: All cast in place concrete systems including formwork, rebar, pumping, embeds, placement and finishing. Scope also includes all concrete masonry unit construction.
• Structural Precast Concrete Stadia: All precast concrete systems for the bowl seating including erection and caulking.
• Structural Steel: All structural steel detailing, fabrication, and erection.
• Metal Wall Panels: All metal wall panels that form the envelope and exterior features of the building.
• Exterior Glass Curtainwall: All curtainwall and glazing for the building envelope.
• Elevators & Escalators: All vertical transportation systems for the public,service personnel, and freight.
• Plumbing and Mechanical Systems: All plumbing, HVAC, sheetmetal, mechanical equipment, and Building Automation Systems.
• Electrical Systems: All power, lighting, lighting controls, fire alarm, and lightning protection systems. This scope also includes all cable tray, raceways, conduit, and coordination for low voltage systems outside of low voltage/teledata rooms.
• Low Voltage Systems: All cabling, terminations, equipment, programming and commissioning for sound, broadcast, CATV distribution, telephone/data, and surveillance/access control. This scope also includes all conduits, raceways, and cable management inside of low voltage/tele-data rooms.
• Coordinate cable tray and raceway routes outside of low voltage/tele-data rooms with electrical contractor.

Proposals are due by May 20 and can be sent to John Hinshaw, Senior Project Manager, at the office of Hampton Enterprises, 3701 Union Drive, Suite 100, Lincoln, Neb. 68516 and via email to

For more information, check out the “request for qualifications” addendum 1 on the bottom of this web page. Or contact: John Hinshaw at or (502) 377-4194.


Omaha area going arena-crazy

With the city of Ralston voting on whether to build a $32 million ice and events arena and the University of Nebraska at Omaha interested in building a new ice arena just three miles away, the World-Herald wonders how many arenas is too many for their metro area.

They report that Council Bluffs’ 9-year-old Mid America Center is posting annual losses of about $1 million.

I found this paragraph most interesting:

Ralston, which brought in consultants to study the arena’s feasibility and its finances, projects that the facility will generate a profit from year one. Groesser also predicts the arena will perform so well that Ralston’s property taxes will drop and that it will boost commercial development in a community hungry for economic activity.

Sound familiar? It’s easy to hire consultants who will tell you the arena is feasible and will generate a profit. (Sometimes those same consultants even get a piece of arena work later, as happened in Lincoln with Convention, Sports & Leisure, despite the conflict of interest) Consider this graf about the Mid America Center:

Outside the Mid-America Center, for instance, the largely-empty retail shops — originally intended to enliven the arena area — went into foreclosure and were sold at auction in February. Aside from a Famous Dave’s restaurant, the only tenants are a chiropractor, a Social Security office and a military recruiting center.

As the mayor of Council Bluffs is says in the story, ““When we started, we had the same projections as everybody else — life was going to be rosy.”

Now they’re looking at using the arena for other uses.

Good reporting by the World-Herald. I know how difficult it can be to try to present a fair picture of pros and cons and what’s at stake, when all the city’s bigwigs seem to be behind a project.


Now, back to the arena project…

OK the election’s over, now we can get back to keeping tabs on that pile of dirt west of the Haymarket, which will eventually transform into a big, shiny Arena!

Interesting stuff on the horizon: During the Joint Public Agency’s meeting Thursday, the three-member arena overseers will:

• Authorize closing on the city’s $44 million purchase of Burlington Northern Santa Fe land and relocation of the railroad tracks to make way for the arena.

• Authorize a $5.6 million contract with Judds Construction to prepare the site for construction of the arena.

• Amend its engineering contract with Olsson Associates, adding $1.8 million for additional work, including work on the 10th Street and Salt Creek Roadway improvement project; design work on M and N streets, final design for those “dynamic message signs” that will point drivers toward the arena; preliminary design for a parking garage; and traffic analysis and conceptual design work to make improvements to the intersections of First and Cornhusker streets and Sun Valley and West O Street. Those last two are the street projects I recently wrote about with regard to rumors that the project is going over budget. More on that later.

• Establish a budget so the JPA can begin essentially paying the city public works department’s engineering department for performing work. How much will the city be reimbursed for their work? $1.25 million.

• Consider a $14,500 change order to TCW Construction for the 10th Street and Salt Creek Road project, bumping the total price tag to about $2.8 million.

If you’re interested in attending, the meeting is at 3:30 p.m. in city hall, 555 S. 10th St.


Some GOP arena supporters irked by Beutler email appeal

Last week, a Republican arena supporter (there were many of them) forwarded me an email he received from a supporter of Mayor Chris Beutler’s urging him to donate to Beutler’s campaign and vote for Beutler tomorrow.

What was curious to him was that the author apparently tapped the old pro-arena database to send out this mass e-mail, which said, in part:

Mayor Beutler’s leadership and determination were critical in getting the Arena passed. Now, he is less than a week away from his own re-election campaign and he is being attacked for his support of the Haymarket Arena by the same nay-sayers who’ve always opposed the Arena.

Although Arena construction has begun, there is still a tremendous amount of work left to be done. Lincoln needs Mayor Beutler’s steady hand and leadership to ensure that the project is completed on time, on budget, and to ensure it’s full potential is realized.

The email was sent by Phil Montag, who was part of the “Citizens for Jobs and the Lincoln Haymarket Arena” or YES group (who’s against jobs? I always wondered). The recipient of the email was bothered by it, because he said during the arena campaign, many Republicans signed on to the YES campaign even though it was being run by the usual band of Democratic PR pros. They were assured the database wouldn’t be used for political purposes down the road, he said.

Of course, it was. In that case, an in-kind contribution should be recorded somewhere in campaign finance reports. We’ll see if it shows up.


Arena head says project is on budget; hundreds turn out looking for piece of arena work

The program manager for Lincoln’s West Haymarket arena project says the project is still on budget — disputing recent rumblings that the $340 million project is over budget.

During an open house for subcontractors Wednesday night, Mortenson Construction Vice President and General Manager of the Sports Group, Derek Cunz, said at this point it’s typical for a lot of “wish list things” to creep into a project, but he said the project is tracking on budget so far.

Jim Martin, program manager for the arena project, acknowledged that two street projects the city expected the state to do have been delayed. Those are improvements to the intersections of First Street and Cornhusker Highway and Sun Valley Boulevard and O Street. Improvements to those intersections are important to help traffic flow smoothly in and out of the newly developed area west of the Haymarket.

Martin said the city is looking at funding a “modest engineering study” to see if there are “interim solutions” to improve traffic flow at the intersections until the state can do the projects. His firm is reviewing the cost of the study, which he said would probably be less than $50,000. The Joint Public Agency which oversees arena financing and construction would have to approve the expenditure, too.

But he said the project is still on budget.

Mortenson Construction, the Minnesota-based general contractor who will be building the $168 million arena portion of the project, held an open house Wednesday night at the Cornhusker Marriott for subcontractors looking to get a piece of the arena action. Pickups with logos filled nearby streets and an adjacent parking garage, and probably 300 people filled an overheated ballroom to hear about the project. It was standing room only.

Some nuggets of news:

• Construction is scheduled to begin Sept. 16.

• Mortenson wants to begin accepting resumes (so to speak) next week for mechanical, plumbing, structural steel, structural precast, electrical and other work and award bids in June. That may be a bit too optimistic, however.

• Mortenson will open an office in the Haymarket next month. Anybody want to wager any bets on who they’ll rent from?

• Cunz said the company has never failed to finish a project on time and on budget.

• Cunz said sports projects are notorious for hitting time crunches and having long punch list items — but Mortenson’s goal is to have no punch list items by the first Husker basketball game.

• Senior Superintendent Dave Mansell said the city tried to wedge the arena between two rail lines — since they won’t be able to be moved until September 2012 — but there wasn’t enough room, so construction will go on between two active rail lines.