Convention center getting support the idea deserves

Almost all of the state senators representing Lancaster County agree that Nebraska should establish a capital city convention center fund — a category occupied only by Lincoln — and allocate about $60 million to that fund to support the construction of a to support the new convention center.

This bipartisan agreement—only Elmwood Sen. Ron Clements didn’t sign the bill—is a testament to widespread community support for a convention center, as does its support from the Lincoln Independent Business Association along with the Downtown Lincoln Association. Visit Lincoln and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce.

It is encouraging to hear from Senator Anna Wishart, one of LB709’s major sponsors, that after some initial discussions with Omaha and “outside” senators, she sees a significant amount of legislative support for the proposal, which will take its funding from the existing budget would excess.

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From a federal perspective, funding to build the proposed two-story, nearly 130,000-square-foot convention center, estimated at $111-120 million, would be an investment in economic development.

In particular, studies have estimated that a new Lincoln convention center would host more than 200 events per year, generate more than 112,600 attendance days and 25,800 hotel room nights.

That would generate an estimated $18.5 million in economic activity, support 230 jobs, and collect nearly $1.3 million in hotel and restaurant taxes annually.

The case for government funding, to paraphrase Wishart, is simple. Much of the budget surplus will be allocated to economic development projects across the state, and honestly, Lincoln should get his share of the nearly $2 billion pot.

The studies have identified five potential locations – all in qualifying census tracts where at least 50% of the population is considered low-income. Four of the five possible locations are downtown, including the post office next to the Pinnacle Bank Arena. The fifth is the Telegraph District, east of downtown.

Though the decision is months away, the Journal Star editorial board, which includes members who work in the Telegraph District, would suggest that the location for the convention center be chosen from four choices, which include downtown hotels, restaurants and entertainment venues lie closest.

However, the choice of location for a convention center must be made after funding for the project has been secured. Hopefully that will start with the $60 million government investment. Then, as Mayor Leirion Gaylor Baird has suggested, a public-private partnership must be formed to secure the other half of the funds.

This is the only way a congress center can continue to develop. And it should be remembered that not only will the center take a while to set up and build, it will likely take several years to reach its event hosting potential. That makes it imperative that the project begin now, spurred on by the $60 million from the state.

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