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20-year plan to develop Capitol campus calls for new office construction

November 10, 2018

A 20-year state government plan for the area around the Capitol recommends several new office buildings, including a Justice Center to house the Supreme Court and supporting agencies.

The vision for the development of a Capitol campus, in the works since 2016, was led by architectural, real estate and engineering consultants with the Department of Administrative Services and the city of Lincoln. It was completed in May, but only recently released.

The aim of the plan is to consolidate space, bring agencies and employees that are now somewhat spread out closer to the Capitol and provide a more attractive workplace to help in recruiting new staff to take the places of retiring state employees.

“For the state to compete with private-sector jobs, amenities such as a fitness center with shower facilities, dining options, day care and wellness areas are all complementary additions to office space ...,” the consultants said.

They recommend other office buildings or additions to house a Department of Health and Human Services consumer office, a Revenue and Economic Development Center, and a location for the Department of Motor Vehicles, state treasurer, child support and unclaimed property department and other high-traffic public agencies.

The plan would be done in phases. Short-term projects would include a new office building and parking at 17th and K streets, where the state’s new geothermal well field is going in, and a new addition to the offices at 15th and K streets. Medium-term projects would include the Justice Center south of the Capitol and offices at 16th and H streets.

Potential long-term projects would include renovation or new construction on the block of Pershing Center, which is available for new uses.

Architecture and planning companies DLR Group and WRT, along with Berggren Architects, NAI/FMA Realty and Olsson Associates, drew up the facilities plan in consultation with a state advisory committee.

They said construction of new buildings was the most cost-effective approach in the long term because of increasing lease rates and demand for premium office space in downtown Lincoln.

Benefits of the 20-year plan would be a cost savings of about $11 million, or $550,000 annually, which would come from a reduction in average office space per employee and decreases in future space and leased space needs.

The release of the plan comes just before a hearing before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee on Thursday afternoon on the parking shortage in the Capitol environs. Capitol neighbors are expected to testify to the parking woes they’ve experienced because of the need for parking by state employees.

“The neighborhood is on high alert about this because of the fact that they really are having troubles. We are not good neighbors,” said Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks, who is leading an interim study on parking issues around the Capitol.

Some older people living in the area are especially in need of relief, she said. They sometimes have to carry groceries for blocks to their apartments.

“It’s really difficult for a lot of people to get to their homes,” she said.

The Capitol campus plan places an emphasis on reducing the parking need and better management of parking, consultants said. It recommends a parking garage be developed with the new 17th and K streets office building, providing an additional 400-700 new spaces, and consideration of underground parking garages, if needed, as new office space is constructed or renovated.

At the same time, some new construction would be planned for several surface parking lots, one of them the parking lot directly south of the Capitol that has about 260 spaces. The Justice Center recommendation for that lot suggests three levels of secured underground parking.

Wayne Mixdorf, parking manager for the city of Lincoln, said building underground parking is expensive, estimating that it costs about $33,000 per parking space to create. If indeed the state intends to put 750 parking spaces in the building, that would be more than $24.7 million just for parking.

Mixdorf will testify at the hearing, letting the committee know he has some disagreements with the facilities plan, even as well done as the planning document is, he said.

It doesn’t address how the state is going to manage the existing parking dilemma and the issues that will be created by construction as the plan is implemented. He also questions whether the number of parking spaces estimated in new garages are based in reality.

“Have they addressed the issue of the impact to the surrounding neighborhoods?” he said. “That really needs to be addressed in a parking strategy document.”

In 2009, a state plan specifically aimed at parking was developed by a consultant. Of the study’s five recommendations, one was implemented: The need to modernize the parking and revenue-control equipment in parking garages and surface lots. Now the study needs to be updated, Mixdorf said.

If the number of employees grows over the 20 years of the new plan, the parking problems will only be magnified, he said. A supplemental parking study needs to address that, and how the state would deal with construction projects that would displace parking spaces on existing surface lots.

“And they offer no suggestions on how, other than saying it would be a positive thing, the city and the state might be able to cooperate in helping to alleviate some of this,” Mixdorf said.

The city parking system is self-sustaining, and in good years generates a surplus to pay for whatever projects are needed, he said. But the state has held parking rates artificially low for many years. It’s time for state parking to become self-sustaining as well, for proper maintenance and future work, he added.

One recommendation of the Capitol facilities plan is to increase user fees and oversell parking permits, to educate employees on commuting options, and to provide amenities for bicycle riders.

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