Proposed budget cuts by the City of Omaha aren't likely to alter a commitment to help the University of Nebraska at Omaha build a new $76 million arena.
Mayor Jean Stothert said she supports a plan to contribute about $6 million in improvements around the site near 64th Avenue and Center Street that was backed by her predecessor, former Mayor Jim Suttle.
As the City Council gears up to vote Tuesday on a preliminary plan for the 68-acre site, council members said they're glad to see that the project still has the backing of the Mayor's Office — even if it's still unclear where the money will come from.
“The city should participate as a partner in the streets and public infrastructure needed to help make it happen,” said Council President Pete Festersen. “The council is seeking guidance from the administration as to how and when that can best be accomplished.”
Tuesday's vote is an early step for the project, providing the OK to divide the land into eight lots to be used for the arena, parking and other commercial development. Formal decisions about the city's financial commitment will come later.
UNO will cover most of the cost of the 7,000- to 7,500-seat arena, with private donors covering $35 million and the city providing new and improved infrastructure.
In a statement, Stothert said the city's help with the project will have a far-reaching effect. She added that she plans to sort out a way to provide the money without raising taxes.
“We have met with the UNO arena committee,” she said. “This project will have a big economic impact on the city of Omaha. It will benefit not only UNO but the entire community.”
In addition to finding $6 million in the budget, the city will need to tackle other challenges as the arena plans move forward.
Already, parking has emerged as a concern for some neighboring businesses.
About a dozen owners of businesses in the Aksarben Place Shopping Center at 63rd and Center Streets have submitted a letter to the council, urging council members to increase the number of parking spaces planned for the project. The business owners said they worry that an influx of thousands of visitors on Friday and Saturday nights could clog up parking lots and streets during peak business times.
Councilman Chris Jerram, whose district includes the Aksarben area, has heard the concerns. He said the city is exploring several options, including designing streets that allow for better bike and pedestrian access — which would mean less vehicle traffic — and building a facility that would allow people to park in a lot and then get a ride to the arena.
Like Stothert and Festersen, Jerram said he thinks it is important to contribute to the project, even with a tight budget.
“When it comes to these large-scale civic economic development projects, Omaha stands out,” he said. “I think it's for the ability to partner, to work together to find ways to make things happen. And this is another example of one of these, and we have to find a way to get it done.”