The Pershing Center's future raises questions about necessity, affordability

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LINCOLN, Neb.-- The Pershing Center has been closed since 2014 and yet the property's future is still unclear.

One possible solution includes building a new downtown library on the property to replace the aging Bennett Martin Library near 14th and N St.

However, the Lincoln Independent Business Association is concerned that the project is too costly and will burden taxpayers.

"We have to start asking ourselves how much can the homeowner's afford on their property taxes," Coby Mach, LIBA's President and CEO, said.

LIBA questions the new Lincoln Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for fiscal years 2016-2022. They said it shows a growing cost for a proposal to construct a new downtown library and has city officials seeking $42 million in bonds, essentially double what Mach said was the initial proposed project cost - $21 million general obligation bonds.

"Lets put something on that site that is going to generate income for the city," Mach said, "as opposed to take revenue and income from the city."

The Lincoln City Libraries responded and said the project has been in the CIP since 2006-2007 and was listed as a $47.4 million bond project. They also said the cost of a new main library has not doubled as LIBA suggested.

The city said all that has changed in 2016 is the analysis of a realistic fundraising goal. Pat Leach, the City Libraries Director, said leaders hoped to raise more private donations to fund the project, but they determined that $8 million in fundraising is a more appropriate number.

"The change in the CIP reflects the updating that we've been doing," Leach said, "and is consistent with the information that we've been providing to a variety of community groups, including LIBA last summer."

Following an interview with 10/11 News, LIBA saw the library director's response and issued another statement.

LIBA said "the press release this afternoon from Director Leach admits they decided that they could not raise $21 million from "private donations." So now the CIP is showing another $21 million going to the bond issue (tax dollars). Our facts and dollar figures are correct."

LIBA continued that the official plans from the city are now asking taxpayers to fund 84% of the project.

Leach said it's important to remember why this is even a discussion right now. Leach said Bennett Martin was built 50 years ago, is in need of extensive repair and is no longer efficient to operate.

The bond proposal won't be voted on anytime soon. Leach said they would want to have a firm sense of where the building would go and the exact price tag before they approached voters.

"People should be informed," Leach said, "and so taking a look at the CIP and seeing what's there, and making some informed decisions about that, is certainly what we would encourage for our whole community."

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To view the most recent CIP, you can visit the city's website at lincoln.ne.gov and search for the keyword: cip.