LINCOLN — Supporters of Centennial Mall celebrated Statehood Day on Friday by announcing several major donations to the plan to renovate the badly deteriorating walkway that links the State Capitol with the University of Nebraska campus in downtown Lincoln.
They also announced new plans to make the renovated mall high-tech. Its plazas will feature Wi-Fi access and fiber-optic systems that will allow easy broadcasting of events staged on the mall. An interactive information system will allow students and tourists to learn about Nebraska's history with the click of a smartphone or tablet.
While they were at it, they announced that planning had begun for the celebration of Nebraska's sesquicentennial — 150th anniversary — in 2017.
The celebration included fourth- and fifth-graders from Lincoln's Meadow Lane Elementary School singing “Beautiful Nebraska.” Sheridan Elementary fourth-grader Ainsley Frederick demonstrated how to access a test version of the interactive information system using QR codes and a smartphone.
So far, $7.7 million has been raised toward the project's $9.6 million goal, said Patty Pansing Brooks, a Lincoln lawyer who is helping lead the campaign to raise more than $8 million for construction and an additional $1.5 million endowment for maintenance. Brooks said $2 million has been raised over the past year.
“We are certain we're going to reach the finish line this year,” she said in an interview before Friday's event.
If fundraising is completed as scheduled, the major phase of construction would occur in 2014, with landscape plantings to be completed in 2015, said Lynn Johnson, director of Lincoln's Parks and Recreation Department. That will allow the new trees and shrubbery to be well-established by the sesquicentennial.
Among the gifts announced Friday was a $500,000 contribution from Union Pacific Railroad, headquartered in Omaha. Donna Kush, vice president of public affairs for the northern region, and Brenda Mainwaring, director of public affairs for Nebraska and Iowa, presented the fundraisers with a check during Friday's event.
“The story of Nebraska is also the story of the Union Pacific — the settlers who arrived by train, the farmers and ranchers who bought their first piece of land from Union Pacific, and the thousands who have worked as railroaders,” Mainwaring said. “This is a good way for Union Pacific to help Nebraska school kids, residents and tourists learn about the history of the state.”
The Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and two agriculture groups, the Nebraska Corn Board and the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation, were announced as partners in the final phase of fundraising. The plans for the interactive information system will give those groups the opportunity to provide a detailed account of their role in Nebraska history.
“It makes it an easy sell to farm organizations and all the pioneer farm families across the state,” said Don Hutchens of the Nebraska Corn Board. “They want to be very active participants in this process.”
Centennial Mall is the seven-block connection between the Capitol and UNL's downtown campus. Its center three blocks are open to vehicular traffic, while two blocks on both the north and south ends are devoted to pedestrian plazas. Many key buildings in Lincoln face the mall, including the Nebraska Historical Society museum, the Lincoln Children's Museum, Andersen Hall housing UNL's journalism college, the Denney Federal Building, Pershing Center and the State Office Building.
The mall was part of architect Bertram Goodhue's vision for the State Capitol, built in the 1930s. But it wasn't established until Nebraska's centennial in 1967. Its plazas once featured a series of fountains, but most have been shut down, their basins filled because of age and deterioration. Many of the mall's stairs, walkways and planters are cracked and crumbling.
The renovation plans, developed by the Clark Enersen Partners, BVH, Olsson Associates and UNL architecture professor Tom Laging, call for plazas highlighting the state's history, geography and scientific innovation.
“The Spirit of Nebraska Pathway,” linking the north and south plazas, will feature plaques highlighting the state's historic figures and entities. Many will be tributes sponsored by Nebraska residents and their families. The plaques will include QR (quick response) codes embedded on Italian porcelain tiles that will allow viewers to use their electronic gadgets to learn more via a “Nebraska Education on Location” website.
Roger Ludeman, a campaign volunteer and consultant from Lincoln, helped develop the technology plan, which will add about $400,000 to the project's cost. He said he wanted to “energize” the mall, instead of leaving it a placid experience of rows of tribute plaques.
Johnson said some preliminary work on the mall already has been completed as part of a major street resurfacing project in downtown Lincoln. The project included conduits that will be used to install fiber-optic cable to serve the mall, he said.
Major donors thus far include the City of Lincoln, $3 million; the State of Nebraska, $800,000; Windstream, $550,000; Lincoln Community Foundation, through the Sheila Dickinson Dinsmore Graf Fund, $500,000; and the Lancaster County Visitor Improvement Fund, $500,000. Other donors include the Nebraska Environmental Trust, BNSF Railway Co., Ameritas, First National Bank, State Farm and the Cope Foundation of Kearney.
Brooks and campaign organizer Susan Larson Rodenburg said that while the Lincoln community has provided a significant amount of support, the project represents the entire state.
“We have an obligation to reach out across the state,” Brooks said. “We need to prove opportunities to tell all those stories.”
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