LINCOLN — You could say Hiro Sushi is on a roll.
The restaurant with two Omaha locations will soon open its first Lincoln eatery across from the nearly completed Pinnacle Bank Arena. And this week, owners of the new Hiro 88 learned they will be part of Nebraska's first official entertainment district, which will allow customers to openly carry alcoholic beverages within a roughly 1½-block area.
“I think the entire complex is really bringing something unique to Nebraska,” said Charlie Yin, a partner in the sushi enterprise. “We don't have something like this in Omaha.”
The Lincoln district could open as soon as September, about a month after the $370 million arena is expected to be finished.
Don't look for Omaha to join the party right away.
Developers are exploring possible entertainment districts in the metro area, but no formal proposals have been pitched, said Omaha City Attorney Paul Kratz. He was aware of one current possibility in Omaha, for a 2½-block redevelopment project at the intersection of Capitol Avenue and 10th Street.
But Kratz stressed that the city's legal department has not yet drawn up a procedure for creating such districts. Enabling state legislation for the districts just went on the books last year.
Earlier this year, Sarpy County officials contributed $10,000 toward a study of a proposed 22-acre entertainment district at Southport West, near Interstate 80 and Harrison Street.
In the meantime, Lincoln has become the first city to give an entertainment district a test run.
The Lincoln City Council voted 7-0 Monday to approve the district for a commercial development just south of the new arena. The concept, described as a collection of sidewalk cafes that share common space, is patterned after the Power and Light District in Kansas City.
The Lincoln district, informally called the “railyard,” centers on a $55 million development at the intersection of R and North Seventh Streets. The development features a hotel, loft apartments, retail space and between 10 and 12 restaurants, all serving alcohol.
Some would prefer that entertainment districts remain few and far between. Count among them Nicole Carritt, director of Project Extra Mile, which combats underage drinking in Nebraska.
Carritt expressed concern that the Lincoln district will be difficult to secure and will make it easier for minors to get alcohol. And she pointed out that national studies have ranked Nebraska as high as second when it comes to binge drinking.
“The culture of excessive alcohol consumption that we have in Nebraska, this certainly adds to that,” she said.
Lincoln officials said they put safeguards in place to help prevent the entertainment district from turning into a drunken free-for-all, especially on autumn Saturdays when the Husker football team is in town.
For example, a 3-foot-high fence will surround the district and signs will mark the boundaries. Also, people won't be allowed to carry cups of beer or glasses of Chardonnay across the newly created Canopy Street, which runs down the middle of the district.
The district can obtain a special permit to close Canopy Street, but such permits must be tied to special events. A City Council committee has yet to recommend whether the street can be closed on Husker game days, said Tonya Peters, legal adviser for the Lincoln Police Department.
The entertainment district permit, which cost $2,500 for two years, is held by a promotional association created by the project developer. Each liquor license holder also will pay $500 on top of their state liquor licenses to be a part of the district, Peters said.
The promotional association will provide security personnel to check identification and enforce the rules of the district during high traffic times.
“It really will come down to the association and all of the tenants working together,” Peters said. “If it becomes a nuisance, the council has the authority to revoke it.”
The current plan is to require wrist bands for adults who want to purchase alcohol, said Brett West, director of development for WRK Real Estate, the project developer. The concept calls for creating a fun and relaxed dining atmosphere that will be different from the bar scene on the east end of downtown Lincoln.
“Our goal is to support our tenants and make sure our tenants are successful,” West said. “They cannot have liquor law violations.”
Hallie Salem of Lincoln's Urban Development Department said some other businesses have inquired about creating their own entertainment districts, but she declined to name them. She also said she's heard concerns that the newly created district might make the playing field in Lincoln a little less equal for food and drink establishments.
Salem said everyone wants the new developments in the Haymarket to enhance the entire downtown, to help make it more of a dining and entertainment destination.
And she called the new railyard district a “work in progress.”
“This is the first one in the state, and we may need to come back to tweak this,” she said.
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