Latest Blog Posts

Lincoln’s Aliens

March 21, 2006 at 3:24pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Few people even know they have a basketball team, but the Hamilton College Aliens are headed to the Division II junior college championships in Danville, Illinois. Congratulations, guys!

Snow Pool

March 19, 2006 at 1:22pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

How much snow are we going to top out with, folks? Toss in your guesses! I’m going to go with 11 inches.

Pop Culture

March 17, 2006 at 11:34pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The current trend in pop culture—that’s the culture of pop (soda), of course—is that bigger is better. Why drink a 12oz can when you can drink a 20oz bottle? Heck, why not go for an entire liter or more? So it is fascinating to me that Yia Yia’s has so far resisted the urge to enlarge their drinks. They continue to serve pop in big glass mugs that probably hold about 16 fluid ounces, a good chunk of which is taken up by ice.

That doesn’t sound like a big deal. You can just get a refill, right? Wrong. Yia Yia’s charges $.25 for drink refills, a practice that is practically unheard of these days.

It’s tempting to ask why Yia Yia’s continues to engage in such a practice. Surely the modern American consumer (and especially the fatter-than-the-average-American Nebraskan) would revolt, right? Wrong. Obviously the method used by Yia Yia’s is sustainable. If it weren’t, they would have changed. Their customers haven’t forced them to change, so they haven’t bothered. Their small servings and extra fees for refills still work.

I wonder: why do Yia Yia’s customers put up with this? Is it because it is seen as “quaint”, and therefore acceptable? Is it because the other things that make Yia Yia’s such a great restaurant are so overpowering that the pop issue doesn’t matter? Is it because most everybody drinks from Yia Yia’s large beer selection, rather than going for boring ol’ pop?

From my perspective, I think it’s kind of neat that Yia Yia’s does their drinks that way. I’ve found that I can nurse a pop for an hour or more through an entire meal and post-meal conversation. In the end I drink significantly less than I would if the glasses were larger and refills were available, and yet I don’t leave Yia Yia’s feeling any thirstier or less satisfied than I would had I had a super-sized drink instead. I’m not anti-pop by any means, but I try to keep my empty calories and caffeine consumption to a minimum.

I wonder how often customers complain about Yia Yia’s practice. Or does anybody really even notice how unusual Yia Yia’s is in this respect?

Jeff Korbelik Does Doughboyz

March 17, 2006 at 1:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Jeff Korbelik has finally discussed Doughboyz (Korbelik’s articles aren’t really reviews) in today’s Ground Zero. His conclusion: their pizzas are tied with those at Yia Yia’s for best in town. Compare and contrast with my review of Doughboyz and then head on over and check it out for yourself.

Power to the People

March 16, 2006 at 1:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

More good news: LES will benefit from the new 790 megawatt coal-fired power plant being built just across the Missouri River in Iowa. Coal technology is getting much cleaner, and it’s one of the cheapest and most reliable forms of energy available. (Not as clean, cheap, or reliable as nuclear power, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish!)

The Journal Star article describing the plant was written by Algis J. Laukaitis. I think he must have been hurting for filler, because I had to laugh out loud at the sheer awfulness of his opening paragraph:

Coal plants are like dragons: They breathe fire. But instead of burning things to a cinder, they generate electricity.

Fortunately the rest of the article reads much more easily.

Good Development News

March 16, 2006 at 1:22pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I’ve focused a fair bit on bad economic development news lately, so here’s some good news: the Planning Commission has approved nine potential West O projects. The projects may or may not happen, but it’s good to see some action happening along the huge stretch of land declared blighted last year.

In other news, I heard that children living in a new development around 84th and Highway 2 will go to Calvert Elementary—at 45th and Calvert, over four miles away. So much for neighborhood schools.

Facelift at 10th and Van Dorn

March 14, 2006 at 1:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The land north of Van Dorn between 9th and 10th Streets is about to get a facelift. I’ve been waiting for the empty lot that currently fills a portion of that block to fill in; I had no idea plans were in the works to redo the entire block. The block is much better suited for commercial use than residential. Hopefully the developers give the building(s) a nice look that fits into the neighborhood’s low-key character.

“Lincoln is a difficult place to do business”

March 14, 2006 at 1:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

It’s hard to disagree with John Camp’s assertion that “Lincoln is a difficult place to do business” after the City Council voted 4-3 to go with Mayor Seng’s 175,000 square foot restriction on big box retail at the Prairie Village North development. The developers followed the rules and even offered up extras (like covering $5 million in upfront infrastructure costs). The City, in return, changed the rules half-way through the game and sent the developer back to the drawing board.

Mayor Seng’s latest rationale for her preferred size restriction is many anchor stores in Lincoln’s “neighborhood centers” occupy 52 to 72 percent of the total retail square footage. A 175,000-square-foot store would fall within that range in Prairie Village North. There is not, of course, any actual such restriction in City ordinance, the Comprehensive Plan, or elsewhere. Mayor Seng is imposing a false requirement on developers constructed on a whim in reaction to a development she doesn’t care for. If Colleen Seng wants to enact some sort of “maximum ratio” for anchor stores, so be it. But she needs to have the integrity to write it down where developers can see it before spending hundreds of thousands of dollars following false leads and being strung along by the City. And for that matter, Seng’s Magic Ratio needs to be vetted in the appropriate manner, before the public, the City Council, the Planning Commission, and others.

It doesn’t matter what you think about Wal-Mart. It doesn’t matter what you think about a 230,000 square foot development at 84th and Adams. And it doesn’t matter if you like Mayor Colleen Seng or not. This situation is a perfect illustration of the unreasonable hurdles we ask investors to clear before we allow them the “privilege” of doing business in Lincoln. The City of Lincoln continually changes or muddies the existing rules in the middle of the process, or enforces odd and unreasonable rules, leaving investors scratching their heads. Such behavior is self-destructive and it needs to stop.

It is not too much to ask for a community to clearly outline its expectations of investors, and when those expectations are met, to welcome those investors—whether they be Wal-Mart, a restaurateur, or a homeowner—with open arms. Instead, we stand guarding the front door with our arms crossed, asking of each investor, “What makes you think you’re good enough for the likes of me?” Is it any wonder they bristle at our attitude?

City Workers Smile Big on Pay Day

March 13, 2006 at 6:44pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

As a thought-provoker, Sunday’s Lincoln Journal Star article on city personnel wages and benefits was very welcome. I currently know very little about how governments determine personnel wages and benefits. Hopefully the thoughts the article generated in me will spur me to learn more.

It would be easy to freak out after reading an article like this, and I fully expect the predictable rants to show up in the Journal Star’s letters to the editor throughout the next week or so. I don’t think a freak-out is in order. There are way too many complex variables involved for a single day’s newspaper coverage to justify any sort of conclusion.

That being said, you know there’s a serious problem when there exists a widespread belief in two simple truisms about government employment: 1) the pay and benefits are beyond excellent (for most occupations) for the work required; and 2) you practically have to murder somebody to get fired (and even then you might score a nice severance package). Now, if Wal-Mart had that sort of a reputation, fine. But my government? Those aren’t the stereotypes I want my tax dollars to support. I grant that relying on stereotypes and generalizations is tricky, but, as I so often say, stereotypes almost always originate in reality. It is extraordinarily unlikely that this is one of the stereotypes that deviates from the usual pattern.

Are the city’s wages actually “high”, and therefore a problem? I think they are. I don’t believe that Lincolnites get the bang they deserve from the bucks they pay toward personnel costs. I don’t think the separation between what we pay and what we ought to pay is great—I’m not talking 25% or anything like that—but it is definitely nonzero. What’s my justification for that assertion? I don’t have one. It is based on nothing more than a “gut feeling” analysis of the situation. Therefore, I am completely open to changing my mind. I would love to hear reasoned arguments to the contrary.

At this point I don’t have a proposed solution. I think it would be unwise of me to offer specific solutions to a “problem” that may not, in fact, be a problem. I need more numbers, more comparative data, and so forth. I can, however, offer some general ideas that I’m sure others have already considered, and which ought to always be on the table. One is to decrease the rate at which wages are increasing. Over the past decade Lincoln has rushed to get its wages to “catch up”. We’ve caught up, so we can ease up on the accelerator. Second, we can make pay raises rarer and more difficult.

I’m going to ask friends and family members what they think about Lincoln’s wages. I’ll post back here if they have anything exciting to say. You folks always have exciting things to say, so I look forward to reading your comments.

A&R Skate Center to Reopen

March 10, 2006 at 1:27pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I knew it.

Back when Hy-Vee closed up shop at 40th and Old Cheney Road and moved across the street to Williamsburg I just knew the space would make either a great bowling alley, indoor miniature golf center, or skating rink. It took many years and several failed businesses, but the inevitable has finally happened: A&R Skate Center will reopen in the old Hy-Vee on March 17. A&R had previously been at 710 Hill St. until they lost their lease.

New at Lincolnite: Doughboyz Bistro Review

March 10, 2006 at 2:15am By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I’ve posted my review of Doughboyz Bistro. Lincoln’s new “fun Italian food” restaurant is worth a visit.

NSAA, NCA, Hall of Fame Geting New Digs

March 9, 2006 at 11:30pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Nebraska School Activities Association (NSAA), Nebraska Coaches Association (NCA), and Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame are getting a new home north of Haymarket Park. The $3.5 - $4 million project will be funded in part by raising entrance fees to NSAA-sponsored championship events by $1.00.

The new NSAA and NCA offices don’t interest me all that much, but I think giving the Nebraska High School Sports Hall of Fame a permanent home so close to Memorial Stadium and Haymarket Park is wonderful. Plus, the project’s location near I-180 on what is now an empty field will make for a more welcoming entrance to Downtown.

Lincoln easily could have lost this facility to other cities. It’s great to hear that not only are these groups staying in Lincoln, they’re making a substantial investment into the community, too.

[Disclosure: I officiate soccer for the NSAA and NSAA-affiliated schools.]

Chamber fires Carlson

March 7, 2006 at 11:15pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Lincoln Chamber of Commerce has fired president J. Matt Carlson after only six months on the job. The Chamber cited a “management style ... not consistent with the goals and objectives of the organization.” There’s no way to know whether that translates to “the guy was a jerk”, “the guy was lazy”, “the guy was a pushover”, or something else. But whatever it means, it’s never good to be canned after a scant six months on the job. Nor is Carlson’s firing good news for Lincoln. Although the Chamber will insist that this little bit of instability within the organization won’t hinder Lincoln’s broader economic development efforts, any bump in the road has the potential to cause problems for a community like Lincoln. Here’s hoping the Chamber is able to get back on track quickly.

Theater Policy Upheld…For Now

March 7, 2006 at 1:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

The Lincoln City Council voted to stick with the current theater policy for now. The move is laudable in that it makes the Council’s intentions clear (something they typically do a pretty poor job of), but it’s unfortunate in that it prevents some pretty decent economic development opportunities. The Council’s support for the policy is rooted in a misguided—but understandable—desire to “save” Downtown. How is building resentment toward Downtown a viable and sustainable redevelopment engine? That hasn’t been made clear. The Council’s pro-policy stance also helps the Council save face. If they drop the policy, The Grand will be exposed for what it is: the wrong theater in the wrong place built at the wrong time. Lincoln’s theatergoers know it; the Douglas Theater Company knows it; just about everybody knows it, save for a handful of people, such as Polly McMullen of the Downtown Lincoln Association.

I love Downtown, and I’m all in favor of supporting a few screens Downtown. But artificially propping up an inappropriate suburban-style theater with economic development-stifling policies does more harm than good.

Spring is Arriving in Lincoln

March 6, 2006 at 11:44pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Looks like it’s supposed to rain over the next couple days. I know it’s way too early to get my hopes up, but wouldn’t it be great if we could make it through spring and into summer with a nice, solid foundation of moisture in the soil and in area lakes and ponds?

And have you all noticed how we went from virtually zero morning bird noise to a springtime morning symphony in the span of just about three days?

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