Mayor Chris Beutler today urged the Council to pass the ordinance to vacate a section of N. 17th Street and sell it to the University of Nebraska—Lincoln. He said that is "the best course of action for the University, the City, and the partnership that is driving the economic development of our community."
The section is from 300 feet north of "R" Street up to (but not including) Vine Street. In February, the City Council delayed the decision after questions were raised about the selling price of $80,000 or $1 per square foot. In a letter to the Council, the Mayor said UNL faces "significant limitations on the land that prohibits its development." Access for emergency vehicles must be maintained on the street. Multiple easements must also be maintained to ensure access to critical infrastructure under the street.
"If this were a transaction involving the private sector, market value would not exceed $1 per square foot for a property that cannot be developed and has to remain an access road," Beutler wrote. "In some instances, easement and access issues of this nature could actually lead to the property being valued at LESS than $1 per square foot.
"I always strive to protect the City's interests by ensuring fair and reasonable terms on agreements with the University and will continue to do so," the letter continued. "However, I do not consider demands for payment that are unwarranted to be reasonable."
Beutler said a major reason he opposed charging UNL more than the established fair value was the State Legislature's proposal to cut as much as $34 million in funding cuts for the University.
"At a time when UNL may face major tuition hikes and cuts in the classroom that will have a negative impact on their ability to attract and keep young talent in Lincoln, I cannot demand more money and make their grave fiscal situation even worse," he wrote. "The University is a critical economic development engine, generating an economic output that is estimated to be 10 percent of Lincoln's GDP. UNL's growth plays a critical role in the fiscal well-being of our city."
Beutler said Lincoln's growth has been accelerated by UNL's partnership in major projects, including Nebraska Innovation Campus, the Pinnacle Bank Arena, Haymarket Park and the Breslow Ice Center.
UNL was also a partner in the Antelope Valley Project, and one of that project's goals was to improve safety on campus by moving vehicle traffic east to Antelope Valley Parkway. In 2015, the City Public Works and Utilities (PWU) Department partnered with UNL to study the impact of closing 17th Street from "R" to Vine streets and converting 16th Street to two-way traffic flow.
"It made little sense for PWU to pay $230,000 to rehabilitate the University's section of 17th Street and $40,000 per year in operations and maintenance costs for the segment, with Antelope Valley Parkway as an alternative for traffic," Beutler wrote.