LINCOLN — Dozens of women competing in a national regional roller derby tournament this weekend at Lincoln's Pershing Center sport nicknames as colorful as their helmets, tank tops and skates.
Ivanna PoundHer, Fairy Destructive, Princess La-Ya Flat were just a few examples.
While variants on heavy equipment might make a logical handle for a derby girl, most local rollers want to keep the wrecking balls and bulldozers far from the 55-year-old Pershing Center.
When informed Friday that two of three recent redevelopment proposals call for razing the city-owned auditorium, Nichele “Luna Bomber” Wall winced as if she'd been slammed by her baddest rival.
“It's really sad,” she said. “I would like to keep Pershing.”
With the $179 million Pinnacle Bank Arena scheduled to open in about a year, others argue it's time to bring down the curtain on a venue that's seen performers running the gamut from George Burns to Beyoncé.
Close the tax-subsidized auditorium, let a private developer transform the block it sits on and put the whole project on the tax rolls, they say.
“We think the community would be disappointed if we continued to fund Pershing after the arena opens,” said Coby Mach, director of the Lincoln Independent Business Association.
A decade after CenturyLink Center opened, Omaha leaders continue to grapple with what to do with a declining Civic Auditorium. In Lincoln, meanwhile, a decision on the future of Pershing might come before November.
A special committee composed of urban development staff members, business leaders and others with a stake in downtown will soon decide which of the three proposals to recommend to Mayor Chris Beutler. The mayor will make the final decision.
Last week, the city announced that it had received two proposals from private developers that would tear down Pershing and replace it with projects that mix commercial and residential space. Both proposed anchoring their commercial space with a full-service grocery store, something long-coveted by the several thousand people who live downtown.
A third pitch was made by the Lincoln Library Board of Trustees. The proposal estimated that razing Pershing and building a new 50,000-square-foot library from the ground up would cost about $43 million, or about $3 million more than remodeling the auditorium building.
None of the proposals suggested keeping Pershing as an event center.
The mayor declined to comment on the three projects last week. But when he announced the request for proposals a year ago, he rejected the idea of simply putting the property up for private sale. He said he wanted more possibilities.
“Some of those possibilities may be more lucrative to the community in the long run or represent a better use of a prime property,” he said.
Pershing Center does indeed occupy a prime city block along Centennial Mall on the east end of downtown. It is bracketed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to the north and the State Capitol to the south.
One of the private proposals from a development team called Centennial Partners would build a total of 90,000 square feet, including a grocery store, 108 apartments and a parking garage. The team has already arranged private funding for the $24 million project, said Darl Naumann of Ayars & Ayars, a general contractor with offices in Lincoln and Omaha.
The second private proposal is led by BVH Architects in Lincoln and features 54 apartments, commercial space for a grocery and up to 110,000 square feet of space for a new library. Although financing details would have to be worked out, the developer would likely buy the property, construct the buildings and lease the library space to the city.
Either private project would likely involve tax increment financing, said Dallas McGee, assistant director of Lincoln's Urban Development Department. TIF, as it is called, temporarily diverts tax revenues from a redevelopment project to pay for infrastructure improvements such as utilities and streets.
No decision has yet been made on whether Pershing should stand or fall, McGee said. Committee members plan to interview the project leaders over the next two weeks.
“I think reuse of the Pershing site is certainly a key piece of overall downtown development,” he said.
Those who want to see the site involve privately owned development are already speaking out against the library proposal. Mach, the business association leader, said he constantly hears from downtown residents and business owners who want to see a grocery.
Mach also predicted a bond issue for a new library would be an uphill battle with voters.
True enough, a full-service grocery store tops the list of needs when the Downtown Lincoln Association conducts surveys of downtown residents, said Todd Ogdon, the association's marketing director. About 3,500 people live downtown, he added.
Pat Leach, the Lincoln library director, said the current main library downtown needs replacement. While library board members believe their proposal is best, they aren't closed off to the private proposal that includes library space as a major component.
“We want a good, solid, well-running library for Lincoln,” she said.
Meanwhile Tom Lorenz and his staff of 10 full-time employees continued to provide contract management of Pershing Center even as speculation intensifies about its future.
In recent years, Pershing has hosted about 100 events a year and received a city subsidy of about $600,000 a year. For now, Pershing is scheduling events through August 2014, Lorenz said.
The 7,500-seat center not only provides a venue for roller derby, it hosts circus shows, rodeos, popular music concerts, comedians and kid-themed performances by characters such as Big Bird and Phineas and Ferb.
“Where's Elmo going to go?” said Tiffany Krolikowski of Lincoln, who also was participating in the roller derby tournament.
Her husband, Kevin Krolikowski, said Pershing offers Lincolnites smaller and medium-sized shows, which are more affordable than the events likely to be showcased at the 15,000-seat Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Lorenz, whose company SMG also will manage the new arena, said some Pershing events will go to Pinnacle and some will probably go to the Lancaster Event Center in northwest Lincoln.
Although one of the most-mentioned shows ever hosted by Pershing was a 1977 performance by Elvis — his fifth to last time on stage — it didn't sell out. Not even a packed house saw Elvis leave the building that night.
Now the building just might be leaving Lincoln's cityscape.
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