Civic Plaza is a Lesson in Civics

By: Mr. Wilson on July 2, 2013
I don't know about you, but I'm getting tired of the nifty Civic Plaza coming to 13th and P and the durn thing isn't even built yet. It has been associated with miscommunication, misinformation, missed deadlines, and missed opportunities. And now there's a new chapter to add to the saga. The City wants to include a sidewalk cafe along the east edge of the plaza, along the wall of the building that currently houses Bison Witches. That sounds like a great idea until you consider that it involves $100,000 in City money paying for improvements to a private business. Plenty of folks are fired up over the proposal. The $100,000 would come from City keno funds and it would go toward construction of the outdoor seating area and for fixing up the ugly wall on the Plaza's east side. The keno funds are designated for "special" projects. Given the importance the City has placed on this plaza, there's no doubt it fits the bill. The trouble, of course, is that the money is almost literally going into private pockets. Granted, the City does benefit. The more active the plaza is, the better. And tidying up that horribly ugly wall can only be a good thing. Yet there are oodles of spots around town that would benefit from public monies paying for private improvements. What makes this spot so special that it deserves $100,000? Deena Winter wondered out loud if Monte Froehlich's bailout of the City a few years ago has anything to do with it. Froehlich owns the ugly wall and the building it's a part of. Frankly, considering how much of a disaster that situation was, scratching Froehlich's back wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. That doesn't make it right, but public dollars have been used for worse purposes. I'm less worried about the $100,000 than I am about the precedent this continues. This proposal is a last-minute extension to a project that the public had already assumed it had signed off on. We thought we were good to go, yet now the City says "Hold on! For a few more dollars we can do even better." Can you think of another situation where that has happened lately? How about those two extra parking garages down in the Haymarket? This trend should concern all of us. We're being sold on projects at one level, only to have additional pieces tacked on later. That's not to say the "extras" are bad. More parking in the Haymarket is a good thing, as is a more attractive Civic Plaza environment. But after a while you have to start to wonder. It's possible, for example, that the City is deliberately leaving these things out of early discussions in order to help sell the projects. It's also possible that the City is lousy at planning and these add-ons reflect things that should have been part of the original proposal. Take the ugly wall. Did nobody consider that having that ghastly backdrop might be a liability to the Plaza? At this point I'm just ready to get the Plaza done. It should be something we're excited about -- and it was, at one point -- but at this stage it's becoming a punchline. Worse, this latest proposal means it may become a symbol of politically-motivated handouts (even if that's not what's really going on). I would love to hear what you folks think about it.


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Just Thinkin'
July 2, 2013 at 3:09PM

I think Jon Camp is raising a legitimate issue about how we are using TIF. I’m a fan of TIF when it is used for public improvements to encourage private development (building roads, repairing sidewalks, improving water or sewer systems, etc). Where I get concerned is when the money is channeled into the hands of developers or property owners to pay for projects. I was not happy about the apartment project WRK built at 13th and Q street because TIF was used to pay for parking used by the apartment tenants. I also did not think the city needed to be building student housing. Don’t taxpayers pay for student dorms on campus? We need to let our government know that public tax dollars are only to spent on public projects. Unless the project has “Property of City of Lincoln Taxpayers” stamped on it, then it is not eligible for TIF funding.

July 2, 2013 at 7:12PM

I don’t disagree, but this is not TIF funds. This is keno funds. Which could be viewed as worse than using TIF funds.

Just Thinkin'
July 3, 2013 at 4:31PM

I should have made myself clearer. The City is using TIF for the Plaza and now wants to apply Keno funds for some of the improvements to the private property adjacent to the TIF project. I think Mr. Camp’s objections to TIF use are relevant to how the City wants to spend Keno funds on this project. The private property owner and tenants adjacent to the Plaza will benefit from their location next door to the Plaza. I don’t see why taxpayers should also give them a pocket of cash. I understand why other bar owners are angry.

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