Mr. T and I attended last night's 2015 Vision community meeting at Lincoln East High School. I didn't count, but I bet attendance was in the 200-250 range. I have all sorts of reactions, but let me begin with the most important one: I am incredibly glad I went and I strongly encourage you to go to one of the remaining meetings:
The meetings are structured like so:
- Tonight: Lincoln North Star High School, 5801 N. 33rd St.
- Wednesday, February 7: Scott Middle School, 2200 Pine Lake Road.
Valentino's pizza and water are available. Big eaters (like me) might want to bring along an additional snack.
I was afraid last night's big turnout would consist primarily of complainers. It didn't. Most of the people were there to learn, to ask questions, and to discuss. It was great. Sure, there were a few people who only know how to complain for complaining's sake. But they didn't run the show.
The opening presentation by Kent Seacrest was informative and hopeful. It nicely set the tone for the rest of the evening, both answering and generating questions. It was highly visual, giving the attendees a good mental picture of how the pieces fit together. Seacrest really tried to sell the idea that the Vision Group honestly cares about Lincolnites' opinions about what should be a priority, and what can sit on the back burner. As the night went on, it became obvious that Lincolnites are very skeptical of that claim. I think the Vision Group will find that the public's inability to vote on the Antelope Valley Project has left a little bitterness and skepticism behind, and the Group will have to overcome that resentment.
We broke into small groups for relatively open-ended discussions. I was in group #11. We represented a mix of ages (infant to high school to retired), incomes, and interests. We had: Quiet Lady; Talkative Skeptical Guy; Small Business Owner Guy; the Media Duo; and others. Curiously, our group never once discussed the financial aspect of the Vision. At the end, our moderator told us that pretty much every group the previous night had focused primarily on money. Frankly, I'm glad we avoided the topic. It helped us focus on what Lincoln can do, rather than what we can't.
We discussed a few topics in our hour together. One gentleman was annoyed at the Vision's Downtown emphasis. He argued that Lincoln is much bigger than Downtown's one square mile. Other group members pointed out that a strong core makes for a more robust city overall, but he was unsold. He has a point; even if one agrees that a strong Downtown helps make a city great, the almost singular focus is probably a mistake.
Most of our group's members were OK with moving State Fair Park out to 84th Street, but there was a strong desire to explore a transition plan during which UNL shares facilities (new, old, or renovated) with the Fair. The perception that the plan to move the Fair is "all or nothing" didn't go over well.
The proposed "research corridor" along UNL's eastern edge (and along the Antelope Valley) was very popular. No, it was extremely popular. Several of our group's members would go out with shovels right now if it would help get the process started. No ifs, ands, or buts: our group wants UNL and the city to aggressively pursue public and private research opportunities in the corridor. Now. Sure, the Antelope Valley Project isn't finished. But plans should be ready to kick into gear the day the land is available.
Lastly, our group was unanimous that trying to build an arena to compete directly with Omaha's Qwest Center is wrong. We do not want to butt heads with Omaha, and Kansas City, and Council Bluffs, and Des Moines, and Wichita. (Funny story with a good lesson attached: one of our group's members told about how he had recently been in Wichita. He was in a high-rise, when the man he was with said "Look over there. See those railroad tracks? That's where we're going to put our arena. Well, where we hope to anyway. And next to it we hope to find somebody to build a convention center and hotel. You see, there's this vision...")
Our group agreed that Pershing is a piece of junk and should be replaced, rather than remodeled. We were fine with the proposed location of the arena, and we were fine with many of the ideas about how it should fit into Lincoln and the Haymarket. But nobody wanted an 18,000 seat arena. Everybody wanted a smaller, kick-ass, 12,000 seat arena. We were fine with not getting the biggest events; our group wanted to dominate the mid-sized events.
The final panel Q&A wasn't especially helpful or informative, mainly because the questions asked generally were not short and to the point. Still, it was nice to hear the panel's take on several issues. On the topic of money, the panel was non-committal. It's obvious they are afraid to quote a figure that will end in the word "billion" for fear of freaking out Lincolnites. But the alternative is freaking out Lincolnites by not giving them a number they can hold onto like a security blanket. The Vision Group can't win on the topic of money.
The panel was also nice in that it "humanized" the members of the Vision Group. They are just regular ol' (rich and powerful) Lincolnites who want to get things done rather than sitting and waiting for government to do everything. Good for them. Unfortunately, since they are human, they probably don't have superpowers. Superpowers sure would come in handy for these projects.
A couple notes to the event organizers, if any happen to be reading this. First, teach panelists how to properly use a microphone. I was in the second row and I could barely hear a couple of the responses. Second, make the question-askers ask a question (rather than editorializing) and sit down. I would love to hear more Lincolnites' opinions, but not in the middle of the Q&A. Third, you aren't going to learn anything useful from your questionnaire. Mr. T and I, for example, interpreted the instructions in different ways. I think you'll find that you end up with a whole bunch of numbers that don't mean anything. If you want to find out, for example, how Lincolnites prioritize the ten pillars and why they prioritize them that way, your current method will fall flat. I have some suggestions, or contact methodology pros at the University for assistance.
I will say it one last time: the event as a whole was incredibly valuable. If you have questions (or answers) about the Vision Group's proposals, get to one of the meetings. You will be glad you did.
- 5:00-5:30 -- Registration and mingling among images of the proposals
- 5:30-6:00 -- Introduction and presentation
- 6:15-7:15 -- Small group discussions
- 7:30-8:30 -- Panel Q&A