Mayor Chris Beutler announced today that Occupy Lincoln will peacefully vacate Centennial Mall by May 1. The group's governing structure, the General Assembly, voted Sunday to accept the City's proposal to voluntarily leave the Mall by May 1. Occupy Lincoln has been protesting on Centennial Mall since October 2011 against what its members see as corporate excess.
In a letter sent from City Attorney Rod Confer, the City of Lincoln had set a March 1 deadline for the movement to leave the Mall to make way for a planned renovation. Mayor Beutler said the City set the initial date so contractors could be assured during the bidding process that the area would be available for storing materials and equipment. Occupy Lincoln's commitment to leave the Mall by May 1 provides bidders with the assurance that construction can begin in early May.
"We believed we could find compromise if we had a date certain for clearing the Mall. That's why we proposed May 1, "Beutler said. "That date allows us to proceed without delaying the construction schedule."
Confer said the compromise avoids a potential legal battle over the use of the Mall. "First Amendment cases are complex and in some cases, take years to resolve," he said. "A joint agreement allows us to avoid expensive litigation at taxpayer expense and make progress on an important State project."
Beutler said the renovation project has been needed for years. "Centennial Mall has tremendous symbolic importance to the people of Nebraska," he said. "It serves as a point of unity for the diverse people of the State, a place where we can celebrate our pioneer heritage, educate our youth about our State's rich history, and laud the accomplishments of great Nebraskans.
"We are now taking the steps to re-create a Mall worthy of the reverence afforded it by all Nebraskans," he said. "Occupy Lincoln shares in that belief of the importance of Centennial Mall. They have agreed to peacefully vacate the Mall without condition to make way for renovation, a positive outcome for everyone involved."
Beutler said the compromise prevents the kind of confrontations between civic officials and protesters that have taken place at other Occupy sites across the nation.
"Here in Lincoln, we have demonstrated to the country that it is possible to have a civil discussion and find the compromise needed to protect the protestors' First Amendment rights while still meeting the needs of the community," Beutler said. "I commend the Occupy Lincoln movement for its willingness to cooperate and its continuing commitment to abide by City law. They have demonstrated to the nation that passion for a political cause can be conducted with civility and respect, a great lesson for us all."