Downtown Lincoln undergoes transformation

A crane lifts up workers at the Block 38 project, 13th and Q streets, part of a new construction frenzy going on in downtown Lincoln.

Story, photos and video by Rosemary Vestal, NewsNetNebraska

Nearly everywhere people look in downtown Lincoln these days, it seems the blue Nebraska sky has been overtaken by detour signs, men in hard hats and construction cranes.

But by next year, downtown will be transformed — from top to bottom.

“2013 is going to be crazy,” said Devon Seacrest, project manager at WRK Real Estate, LLC, one of the companies involved in downtown development.

In the Haymarket, the new arena will be finished, along with a new night life spot called “Canopy Street,” which will include more residential space and additional parking.

To the east, Block 38 on 13th and Q streets will feature a 10-story building with 17,000 square feet of first-floor retail, six floors of parking and three floors of residential units.

Nearby, the new Farmer’s Mutual headquarters on 12th and K Street is scheduled to be complete.

And the finishing touch: brand new streets and light poles.

“It’ll look completely different,” said Todd Ogden, marketing director of the  Downtown Lincoln Association.

The DLA’s focus for the changes is “live, work, play.” The idea is that people can do all three in their own backyard.

By 2014, there will be 1.3 million more square feet in new developments, not including Innovation Campus, Ogden said. That’s the same as about 22 and a half football fields.

“The coolest thing is that there’ll be extra entertainment, downtown will be open longer and not just the bars,” Ogden said. “Lincoln will have a night life.”

The DLA is looking forward to welcoming new retailers, something that will continue a trend downtown. Since 2007, 25 new retailers have come into the area, Ogden said.

Construction signs will be decorating downtown Lincoln for the next year.

The development trend is something WRK has been involved in downtown since 2001. Within the past five years, WRK has worked with Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Qdoba Mexican Grill, Panera Bread and Assurity Life Insurance Company on K Street.

In 2008, the city of Lincoln chose WRK to take on the West Haymarket project.

The project includes the 16,000-seat Pinnacle Arena, more than 6,000 new parking stalls, a new hotel, more retail and more housing options.

“The arena will be up in September and the Yard in November, another hotel in October or November,”  Seacrest said.

All the private components of the project, like the Yard, which is a courtyard, are bundled into something WRK has named “Canopy Street.” It will take up eight blocks and be encompassed by the arena.

Video: In the midst of all the changes happening in the Haymarket, the Beatrice Creamery building remains an historic icon.

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Some small business owners in the Haymarket aren’t sure what the new stores and development will bring.

“I have mixed emotions,” said Jenn Bassen, owner of Paint Yourself Silly in the Creamery Building. “When I opened up, there wasn’t a whole lot down here, it was more of a specialty area.”

Bassen said she hopes the city of Lincoln maintains the integrity of the space with historic restoration.

“But I’m excited too,” Bassen said. “I can start to see the big picture of what the city is trying to do.”

Aja Martin, general manager at Indigo Bridge Books and Café, has been through this kind of construction before.

“When they fixed the overpass to the Haymarket, there wasn’t a lot of space for foot traffic, people went out of business,” Martin said. “As long as customers as willing to bear with us during the construction, we should be fine.”

The streets of Lincoln may be full of detours for a while, but it should pay off in the end.

“People will forget about all the construction once everything starts opening up,” Seacrest said. “There’ll be so much to do.”