City uncertain about future of skywalks

LINCOLN, Neb. - The future of half a dozen skywalks is now up in the air, and the city of Lincoln said it can't be the one to decide their fate. The contracts for maintenance and permits to operate the skywalks are between the businesses the skywalks connect and not with the city, and now, those contracts have expired.

"We're having some discussions with the Downtown Lincoln Association who is working with some of the property owners how best to proceed," said Dallas McGee, assistant director of Urban Development. "It's solely up to these businesses whether the skywalks stay open."

The businesses that are connected by the skywalk system do have a few options.

"Right now, they can begin renegotiating the agreements, extending the permits, or if there's not support to keep the skywalks open, the possibilities of closing those skywalks would be discussed as well," McGee said.

Originally, the city built the skywalks 30 years ago to encourage retail in downtown Lincoln. But McGee said the city quickly realized that created a new problem.

"Nationwide, skywalks are not being built like they used to be," McGee said. "What cities found out is that took away pedestrian activity from the street level and street level businesses weren't getting the activity they used to. So we aren't going to do that anymore."

Because the city does not have control over the fate of the skywalks, businesses do not have a deadline on when they must make a decision. However, McGee said the city is pushing for a decision as soon as possible.

McGee said the skywalks will remain open and operate as normal until the property owners make a decision. And even if the current skywalks stay open, McGee said the city will not be building any new ones or expand the current skywalk system.