Off to the Races with LB500

April 7, 2006 at 12:20pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

Will LB500 (PDF) send Lincoln off to the races to plan and construct a new arena and convention center in the Haymarket?

That’s the question raised in a Journal Star article today. LB500 gives communities two years after the bill’s passage to take advantage of the bill’s provisions, and three years after that to build and open the facility. 2011 sounds like it’s still a long ways off, and it is, but if Lincoln wants to hit that deadline, it’ll need to get moving.

I like that LB500 may push Lincoln to make some decisions about a Pershing Center replacement. At some point we need to stop fantasizing and start doing. But that’s where my enthusiasm for LB500 ends. First and foremost LB500 encourages Lincoln to assume that an arena and convention center is the best way to address Lincoln’s needs. That’s an assumption that many Lincolnites have been making for years, and I think it’s a bad assumption to hold. There are alternatives to building a carbon copy of Qwest Center Omaha, but those alternatives have been absent from public discussion. It is easy to think that Qwest2 is Lincoln’s best bet when it is presented as our only option.

That single-mindedness is supported by LB500’s tight timelines. The bill’s 2+3 year schedule doesn’t allow enough time to think about all of the other ways Lincoln could support local economic development and attract investment and visitors. Nor does it allow for sufficient time for the community to have other serious and necessary conversations, on questions like: Should this be a public, public/private, or private project? and What taxes are the best for funding this sort of project, or should taxes be used at all? and How much are we, as a community, willing to pay for this thing over the years?

Lincoln came through pretty well on the Haymarket Park deal, so there is reason to think that the City can make this project work. On the other hand, the Antelope Valley Project, although moving along, has been marred by hiccups and funding woes (and ballooning cost estimates), and the city-supported project that ultimately became The Grand was mostly a pipe dream.

Whatever happens, my main concern is that Lincolnites participate in the upcoming discussions, both formally (at public meetings) and informally (at the water cooler). The scope of the discussion so far seems to have been “Pershing sucks. A new place sure would be cool. But taxes suck.” It hasn’t been an especially broad or deep conversation, in other words. Surely we can do better on such an important topic.

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