New Buildings: Lincoln Voters Approve New Arena Project.

21 May

Rendering of the new Haymarket Arena, Lincoln, Neb.

After a slow 12-month period, a new major collegiate arena has been announced, the first of its kind for this year.

On May 6, voters overwhelmingly approved a $25-million bond measure to help finance a $344-million arena in downtown Lincoln, Neb. The University of Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball teams will be the primary tenants for the 16,000-seat arena, paying annual rents of $750,000 plus expenses, while sharing in a number of ancillary revenues to give the Cornhuskers a modern arena.

The facility will essentially replace the SMG-managed Pershing Center, said GM Tom Lorenz, who was instrumental in working to pass the referendum.

“We’re still not sure what we’re going to do with the old facility,” he said. “The city is looking at several proposals, and we have contracts through early 2014, which is good because we’re not expecting the new arena to be completed until late 2013.”

SMG must bid for the management contract for the new facility, which could break ground as early as this summer, but more likely won’t start until mid-2011. The architect for the facility is national firm DLR, which designed the Qwest Center in Omaha.

“The plan is to host more concerts at the facility and we’re confident we’ll be able to route shows, based on the success of the Qwest Center, which is about 60 miles from here,” he said. “We’re expecting to get concerts that come through on their second leg of a tour, or perhaps they’ll play here first and hit Omaha when they come back through.”

On Tuesday, voter’s approved an initiative to divert 70 percent of a local sales tax to raise $25 million in bonds for the project. Most of the $344 million project will be paid by a new two percent tax on restaurants and four percent tax on hotels and rental cars near the Haymarket Center, where the facility is to be built.

“It’s actually quite a developed area already, surrounded by bars and restaurants,” said Lorenz. Once a bustling warehouse district, site for the trading of commodities like wheat and hay, the downtown area has been transformed in recent years into a highly trafficked retail district known as the Haymarket Center.

The new arena will have 32 suites, a first for the men’s and women’s basketball teams, and the university and the city are currently finalizing a memorandum of understanding to split money from the suites, naming rights, concessions and merchandise. They’ll also be able to tap into some sales tax monies to help pay the rent. The university will be responsible for picking up expenses resulting from game day operations. — Dave Brooks

Interviewed for this article: Tom Lorenz, (402) 441-8744

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