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City Council Heading City Letter Head

COMMENTS BY TERRY WERNER

OLD FEDERAL BUILDING

SELLING THE OLD FEDERAL BUILDING IS JUST PLAIN WRONG!
BUT INEVITABLE?

It is wrong, wrong, wrong! The Old Federal Building is one of the few government buildings owned by the City that has tremendous historical significance. They simply do not build government buildings to last like they used to. Compare the workmanship and quality of this building to the ‘new’ City-County building. I must admit that LPS has perhaps realized the significance of quality and complement them on their vision. These buildings were made to be used for generations to come.

Jonathan Cook has bravely led the charge to save this building. Anyone who questions his intent does not know Councilperson Cook. I would venture to say that he is the most knowledgeable about the details of city business than any other Councilperson. Jonathan’s unrelenting concern to do what is best for all of Lincoln cannot be questioned. In fact, it has put him at odds with many very powerful political forces. I have said it many times in the past year, but our democracy is much better served because of people like Jonathan Cook taking a stand.

In my mind there are three aspects to this issue. For me the number one concern is to preserve this treasure. The other two concerns that I favor are Downtown revitalization and public ownership of significant buildings.

Does this project provide an injection of momentum to the Downtown area? I believe it does. The housing project proposed is a good one. It calls for housing in our Downtown area that is unique to Lincoln. It also begins to provide a much needed link from the Haymarket to the ‘P’ Street Marketplace. The project puts the property on the tax roles and the City, County and Schools will eventually benefit from these taxes. The project will stimulate some jobs and taxes, which will have a positive ‘multiplier’ effect to all of Lincoln.

Is there a cost to the taxpayers? Absolutely. There is a significant cost. All of the funds received will go back into the project for the first 14 years. The city will have to spend additional dollars to relocate staff and build out the third floor of the City-County building. If we keep the building the taxpayers must commit to spending the money (two to seven million dollars) over time to properly preserve this building. There is no doubt a significant short-term dollar expense either way and a long-term loss of a precious, historic building. Is accepting the proposal an investment to preserving the larger Downtown area, and for the greater good? Or is it an expense to the city?

The next issue in my mind is preservation. This building is a treasure and needs to be saved. To some, including me, the proposal provides preservation. Nu-style will invest approximately seven million dollars and the city will have easements over key historic areas. To others, the proposal is inappropriate and does in fact do more harm than good. They feel that the need to cut the building up to provide for plumbing and other features will destroy the building. Additionally, some of the historic hallways will be used as a portion of the apartments. On the other hand, the city has allowed the building to deteriorate over the last 30 years with no real commitment to any preservation. The question is to me, will the city be willing to invest in the preservation of this building and stop the patchwork approach to utilization? Or is it better to have a willing investor put seven million dollars into it today and settle for the historic easements?

The final issue is public ownership. I believe it makes sense for the public to own its buildings. Government (much to many people’s discouragement) will continue to be here. This building will never be repurchased by Lincoln. We need the space and this is reasonably priced space in the right location. The City could pay market rates to itself and have money to pay off bonds for restoration. Is this the people’s building? Or does it do the people more good in private hands?

My conclusion is that the community is better served by keeping the Old Federal Building, but only if someone can guarantee me that the dollars to properly restore the building over the next 14 years will be there. I believe this amount needs to be equivalent to the Nu-style proposal, seven million dollars. I will even support a delay if my colleagues are willing to pursue this avenue in order to find the funds. However, with past, current and seemingly future public officials that are committed to roads, new infrastructure and other things that the ‘status quo’ feel are priorities, I don’t believe it will ever happen. Therefore, if we cannot find four votes for the delay, I will support what I see as a viable and realistic proposal that provides half of what I believe to be important, Downtown revitalization and a degree of historic preservation.

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