Begun as a small cluster of shops and homes before turning into a warehouse district in the 1870s and ’80s, Haymarket was essentially the economic birthplace of Lincoln, Nebraska, and the historic community in the heart of the state capital is now in the midst of its own rebirth. It’s one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, and developer WRK Real Estate, LLC; Chief Industries, Inc.; and PC Sports, an owner’s representation firm specializing in sports facilities, have partnered with the city of Lincoln, the West Haymarket Joint Public Agency, and the University of Nebraska to bring the area back to its earlier prominence.
Although the site is already a popular destination for shopping, antiques, art galleries, dining, and coffee houses, the $500 million West Haymarket Redevelopment will expand the district by 400 acres, and the first phase is set to open in September. It will be anchored by the new Pinnacle Bank Arena, a new Amtrak station, and an accompanying array of restaurants, bars, entertainment venues, mixed-use retail and residential spaces, offices, and parking facilities that will ensure local growth and a strong community for years to come.
Paula Yancey, president of PC Sports, and Will and Robert Scott, principals of WRK, took time to discuss the ambitious project and how it’s reenergizing interest in downtown Lincoln.
What was the primary driver for this project?
Paula Yancey: It began with the arena component and building something that not only would work for the university but could also be more civic-minded to draw bigger events and more people into Lincoln.
Will Scott: Lincoln is Nebraska’s city, and our facility for public events, Pershing Center, was built in the late ’50s or early ’60s. It is currently small and antiquated. In its time, it was state-of-the-art, but unfortunately we are bypassed by a lot of the cultural and sporting events that citizens of Lincoln and surrounding areas really want. Lincoln maximized every inch it could from the existing facility, and it was time for the city to explore a new one that will hopefully be functional for the next 50 years.
Key Features of the West Haymarket Redevelopment
Pinnacle Bank Arena
The 16,000-seat, 400,000-square-foot arena will host University of Nebraska athletic events as well as touring concerts, shows, tradeshows, and other special events.
Retail and Residential Space
A six-story, mixed-used building covering half of one block will include 120,000 square feet of shopping outlets and restaurants, and residential units above will include room for 200 beds.
There will be 100,000 square feet of office space in various buildings.
A 900-space garage will serve both the arena and other district facilities.
A replacement station is still under construction, and it will serve all the region’s passenger railroad traffic when completed.
The developers hope that the rehabilitation of the thoroughfare’s 1,200-foot-long historic railroad canopy will become a focal point of the district.
The seven-story hotel will contain retail spaces on the ground floor and three levels of salable, high-end residential condos.
John Breslow Ice Facility
The space will feature not one but two NHL-size ice sheets for competitive hockey and ice skating.
District Energy Plant
The new power source will handle the heating and cooling needs of the arena and other new facilities.
So the city stepped up first to address the need?
WS: City officials knew Lincoln needed something larger and more functional. A group of community leaders contributed funds to conduct a study to explore the viability of a new arena. Questions like “How big should the arena be?” and “Where would the best location be to serve all of Lincoln’s citizens and visitors?” were addressed, and the studies showed that for a community of our size—300,000 or so—a larger arena would definitely meet the demand. We are a highly educated per capita community; there’s a real demand for entertainment and cultural events, and there are rabid sports fans here, too.
This will be a shared-use facility?
PY: The main tenant will be the University of Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball teams. But there’ll be concerts, other sporting events, ice shows, and rodeos. The building that we currently have contains about 7,500 seats, and the new building seats about 16,000. So that right there puts Lincoln on a different level of shows that they can attract and go after. Right now, while under construction, we have three shows booked, so we’re estimating about 120 events per year in the building.
What other redevelopment is happening around the new arena?
WS: On the private side, our first phase covers a full block and a half, which is now under construction. This equates to over $60 million in total development in phase one, significantly surpassing our original projections. We’re creating an entertainment district with restaurants and bars to bring 24-hour vitality to the district. We have over 200 beds going into a six-story, mixed-use project where we’re hoping to attract students and young urbanites. On that same block we have a new hotel, Hyatt Place, that’s going to be a seven-story, mixed-use building with three stories of high-end luxury condos for sale and retail on the first level.
PY: We’re also building a 900-car parking garage. And, we’ve [included] a new Amtrak station and a district energy plant to provide heating and cooling for the majority of buildings in the district.
How do you know there’s a market for these mixed-use spaces?
WS: While our national economy continues to struggle, Lincoln’s unemployment rate is the second or third lowest in the country. There are so many positive things going on. The private-sector component will hopefully meet part of the pent-up demand. With the arena as the catalyst, we want to create an engine that enhances our wonderful historic district, university, central business district, and all of Lincoln.
Robert Scott: I think the entire project leverages the public investment in the arena.
PY: We’re also seeing other development in the old historic district. We’ve got two hotels going up, we’ve got new restaurants coming in, spaces being remodeled and refurbished, so it’s not only a catalyst for what’s happening within the West Haymarket Redevelopment but also within the Haymarket district as a whole.
WS: That’s been exciting. It’s not speculation and tire kicking anymore. It’s reality. There are really no vacant storefronts.
How do you balance historical preservation with new construction in a project like this?
PY: We have a historic-preservation committee as well as an urban-design group that joined forces early on and set the design parameters and some basic themes for that area. We’re on an old railroad site, so the trains and the railroad became one of those themes. Nebraska values, the prairie, immigration—they tried to take in all of that, not in a literal form but in design cues to pay homage to the historic Haymarket.
WS: As the developer of record on the private side, we have been very deliberate to enhance and not detract from the architectural palette that was already in place. We want the historic Haymarket to stand alone, but we also want to pull elements of it—along with the warehouse district—into our project. All the private development that’s currently under way has design guidelines and height restrictions. The arena was tough to tie in because it’s such a massive structure. This provided an opportunity to create a new beacon.
Are any special features of the district being preserved?
PY: This is an old rail yard, so there wasn’t much to keep except for a historic canopy that ran along the old passenger mains. One of the big decisions was that the canopy should be replaced in its original location, so we have taken that down and we’re rehabbing it. It will be reinstalled as part of Canopy Street, which could become an iconic street in the district like Beale Street in Memphis [in Tennessee] or Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
Were there any unexpected environmental issues to address and overcome?
WS: The railroad worked with us and the city to get all the inspections done in a timely manner. Going in, you wonder if you’re going to dig up Jimmy Hoffa or the white elephant. Fortunately, it was cleaner than even the reports might have suggested. We had wetlands that were close, too.
PY: Our environmental concerns weren’t as bad as what were originally anticipated, and we’ve been able to manage that quite well within the regulatory agency requirements.
Were there any other site issues going into the project?
WS: There was some concern that their might be some Indian burial grounds or an old Indian village and all of those kinds of rumors and concerns. Having the university so close, we had some of the archaeology professors wanting to come out and dig, but I don’t believe anything significant was found to warrant a halt of the project.
How have you kept the public informed of progress?
PY: We do a lot of monthly progress updates. We have a website where the public can log on and look at contracts and overall progress and pictures. We do a lot of talks with the media to keep everybody informed because it’s not just the Husker basketball fan that is interested but also community groups that are making sure we are good stewards of the community’s dollars.
RS: The team that’s been assembled has been very accessible for professionals, the public, and schoolchildren alike. That’s contributed very much to the popularity of the project.
WS: Everybody’s been on the same side of the field working together, knowing that it is the city’s project and it’s the state’s project; we all know Lincoln has one shot to do this right. On the private side, our pride and commitment to the project is evident in the details. Our development team and investors have ties to Nebraska; we graduated from the university, we chose to live in the great state of Nebraska, and we are excited to share Canopy Street with the citizens of Nebraska. ABQ