Going big time: Board of Regents approves planning for campus arena
Published: Monday, October 29, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012 11:10
Whatever Trev Alberts said to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents must have been just right. After UNO presented the idea for an on-campus arena at committee meetings in the morning, the proposal was unanimously approved later that afternoon.
Vice Chairman Timothy Clare opened the floor for discussion, the board voted and just like that, the planning for the arena was put in motion. The entire process during the meeting took about two minutes.
“It’s a great project, I’m not surprised,” Chancellor John Christensen said about the ease with which the proposal was approved.
Christensen felt the transparency of the morning's discussions aided the process. He said UNO’s team provided the right details and the board liked what they heard.
“There were no particular issues or concerns stated,” Christensen said. “We simply indicated if given permission here, we’re going to put together the entire package.”
The entire package is essentially what was approved on Friday. The vote by the board doesn’t exactly make the arena a reality, but it’s pretty close.
By approving the proposal, UNO may now enter into a letter of intent with developers for construction of the arena. The university can now get into what Christensen called the “nitty gritty” of making the arena happen.
“I do think it’s monumental. I think it’s transformational,” Alberts said. “It’s a necessary first step. Of course we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but if this doesn’t happen today…this is really the catalyst that allows us now to go.”
The idea presented at the morning budget affairs meeting included slides of the proposed site, the look and shape of the arena and the costs involved. The site is just southwest of 67th and Center streets. The dome is white and surrounded by parking lots. Visitors to the arena will enter at the top level main concourse with the entire arena below them.
As has been circulating in the media, UNO is proposing two sheets of ice and 7,500 seats. Hockey, basketball and volleyball will find homes at the arena.
Among the many events planned for the facility are commencements, graduations and intramural sports.
“This is a necessary first step,” Alberts said. “We’ll have to eventually go back in front of the board once everything is concrete in uses and sources and funds and that’s laid out very specifically. But we couldn’t get to that point until we had approval from [University of Nebraska President J.B. Milliken] to engage in an agreement with S2W, which is the private law firm which actually makes this thing happen.”
S2W operates under the name Scott Woodbury Wiegert, LLC.
The Scott part is David Scott, an Omaha businessman whose family has been influential in the Omaha business, construction and real estate community for over 40 years.
Woodbury is Jeff Woodbury of Woodbury Corp., a commercial real estate firm out of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Zach Wiegert is a former teammate of Alberts for three seasons on the Nebraska football team. Wiegert, the former Outland Trophy award winner played 12 seasons in the NFL and is working with Scott and Woodbury on Nebraska’s Innovation Campus.
S2W’s building of the new arena is expected to cost $76.3 million.
The number breaks down into $47.7 million for construction, $8.2 million for the extra sheet of ice, $5.7 million in other construction costs and $14.7 million for non-construction costs.
Christensen and Alberts have said that UNO can raise the money on its own. The city of Omaha is expected to step in and take care of some infrastructure costs.
“The city of Omaha generally participates in large projects like this,” Christensen said. “What we’re anticipating is they’ll be interested particularly when there’s a community benefit for…kind of the standard support that they provide.”
In the presentation, UNO indicated that $35 million of funding would come through private donations, $31.3 million from developer financing and $10 million from the city and other sources. The plan is for the financial operations of the arena to pay back developer financing costs.
“Bringing something of that magnitude back to the campus is certainly gonna help with the development, with the recruitment of students and student-athletes,” Regent Bob Whitehouse said.
Whitehouse represents District 4, the district in which UNO’s campus is located.
“You look at it financially, the impact that we’re looking at is that hockey in essence has brought in and continues to be about 92 percent of everything that they [UNO] do,” Whitehouse said. “Consequently all of it together makes pretty good sense.”
Clare said prior to Friday’s meeting, he and Alberts met for two hours on the proposal. After that talk and UNO’s presentation, Clare said he felt that the arena has great potential for the community and the university, it can be a great recruiting tool and makes financial sense.
“We vet the thing in business affairs, we talk about it and discuss it and make sure it meets what we believe is an important component,” Clare said. “We are stewards of the taxpayers’ money. We’re representing the university.”
Clare also said he was intricately involved in planning of the new arena in downtown Lincoln. Having been involved in something like that before allows Clare, and the board, the opportunity to pass on what they’ve learned in similar situations.