LINCOLN — Backhoes and front-end loaders are on the job renovating a portion of Centennial Mall as fundraisers continue to hunt for dollars to complete the project.
The project remains $3 million short of its $9.6 million price tag, said Susan Larson Rodenburg, fundraising campaign organizer. The hope is to complete the project in time to serve as the launch site for Nebraska's 150th anniversary celebration in 2017.
Built in 1967, Nebraska's centennial year, the promenade linking the State Capitol with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's downtown campus was part of architect Bertram Goodhue's original vision for the Capitol's setting. But it has fallen into considerable disrepair. Most of its fountains have been filled in with dirt, and its concrete steps and sidewalks are cracked and crumbling.
Arguing that the project represents the entire state, assistance is being sought from Omaha foundations, corporations and philanthropists, Rodenburg said. Though a major donor from Omaha has yet to step forward, proposals have been submitted to several potential contributors. The mall's campaign cabinet remains hopeful that one or more will agree to help.
“It's important to have every part of the state represented in the mall,” Rodenburg said. “It's a statewide project, even though it's in Lincoln.”
The committee recently rolled out a Spirit of Nebraska marketing campaign, seeking contributions of $1,000 to $25,000 to install engraved granite tiles along a walkway commemorating people, businesses and organizations that have been part of Nebraska.
Letters have been sent to officials in each of Nebraska's 93 counties asking them to contribute up to $25,000 for tiles describing their counties' contributions to the state.
More than 100 notable Nebraskans, living and dead, have been selected to be honored on the tiles. The list includes Beatrice homesteader Daniel Freeman, Omaha businessman Peter Kiewit, World War II fighter pilot Ben Kuroki, Oglala Lakota Chief Red Cloud, Medal of Honor recipient Edward Gomez, and African-American rights advocate Malcolm X, among others.
Rodenburg said donors can sponsor names on the list or nominate their own honorees.
In conjunction with a previously planned city street improvement project, construction began this summer on the center three blocks of the mall, which are open to car traffic.
Rodenburg said it is hoped that work can commence in 2013 on at least two of the remaining four blocks. Still remaining will be the two blocks immediately north of the State Capitol and the two plaza blocks located immediately to the south of the UNL campus.
Funds raised thus far include $800,000 appropriated by the Nebraska Legislature this spring. The state dollars will be used for improvements along the portion of the mall that abuts state-owned buildings, including the State Office Building and a parking garage.
The remainder raised thus far is a mix of funds from the City of Lincoln, private donors and others.
The University of Nebraska Foundation also is seeking funds on behalf of the project.
The fundraising goal includes establishing a $1.5 million endowment so the plaza does not again fall into disrepair.
Still to be obtained are sponsorships for a plaza and fountain framing the Capitol; a large state map — complete with fountains tracing the path of the Missouri River — to be embedded in the plaza in front of the State Office Building; and sprayground-style fountains to be installed on the plaza near the university, which also is adjacent to the Lincoln Children's Museum.
“We still need money — that's the bottom line,” Rodenburg said.
For more information, go to the Revitalizing Nebraska's Centennial Mall website.
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