The two future anchor tenants for the new Lincoln Haymarket Arena Project that won 56 percent public approval Tuesday in a citywide vote are excited about more than playing basketball in a facility that should be built by fall in 2013.
Turnout was high for a primary election that focused on the $344 million Haymarket development project with 36,823 voting for a $25 million general obligation bond issue and 28,494 voting against.
"I look at this vote as a much more significant matter than something that will just benefit our basketball programs," Nebraska Men's Head Basketball Coach Doc Sadler said Tuesday. "Yes, it will benefit the University of Nebraska, but it will also benefit the city of Lincoln and the people who enjoy other activities besides basketball. Plus, it will put people to work, so they can get everything built."
Nebraska Women's Head Basketball Coach Connie Yori said Tuesday she hopes a new Haymarket Arena will change the complexion of downtown Lincoln just as dramatically as the Qwest Center changed downtown Omaha.
"We think it's going to make our downtown more progressive and provide a great venue to spend an evening - not just for young people, but for everyone," Yori said. "It will completely change the landscape of downtown Lincoln and bring not just a better basketball experience to fans, but all kinds of other entertainment that we haven't had here in a long time."
Yori remembers when she was a college student living in Omaha and made the trek to Lincoln to see Bruce Springsteen for one concert and Elton John for another. "That was back in the early to mid-1980s, and I haven't been back to a concert since at the Devaney," said Yori, the 2010 National College Women's Basketball Coach of the Year.
Marc Boehm, Nebraska's Executive Associate Athletic Director who oversees both of Nebraska's basketball programs, agrees with Sadler and Yori that Tuesday's outcome was a vote for Lincoln's future as much as anything else.
"If you look around the country and especially if you look in the Big 12 Conference and the arenas we have to compete against, this vote puts us into a category that will enhance our basketball program and help us compete at a high level," Boehm said.
"But the Haymarket vote is much more than just an arena that will help our basketball program," Boehm said. "It's also something that will be significant for the city and for the state. As a father of three boys, I can tell you that it will be great for our young family to attend ice shows, concerts and all the other arena events that can produce lifetime memories."
The Haymarket Arena was the linchpin of Tuesday's vote. The new 16,000-seat arena will be built in the city's West Haymarket Area. The project also includes an ice center, a 200-room hotel, 100,000 square feet of retail space, another 100,000 square feet of office space and 100 residential units.
In addition, 2,340 parking stalls will be added, increasing the total to 7,100 parking stalls within walking distance of an arena intended to become the city's primary public gathering place.
"I think the city stepped forward today in a very positive fashion," Boehm said. "You will see opportunity now for Lincoln that you've never seen before. There will be significant economic growth and the creation of an estimated 1,200 permanent jobs. It's going to be exciting for everyone that lives in this city, surrounding region and the entire state to see new retail shops and hotels go up in the area."
When Yori looks at where downtown Omaha was just 10 years ago and compares it to where it is now, "it's completely different," she said. "That created some exciting times for Omaha, and we hope the arena can do the same thing for us."
Sadler agrees. "With the way people came out and voted, I think they're excited, and that creates excitement for the whole city," he said. "It will have a tremendous effect for members of this community over the next 15 or 20 years."
While indicating that basketball was a small part of the overall project, "The new arena can put us at the top of the Big 12, and along with our new practice facility, it's going to put us in elite company throughout the country," Sadler said.
"No one is going to be able to say that people don't really care about basketball at Nebraska," Sadler said. "The people of Lincoln care, and the administration at the University of Nebraska has definitely shown a strong commitment to a competitive facility and a competitive team."
Yori said the new facility will attract higher quality entertainment and help young people revitalize the community. She said watching a fly-through of a proposed new facility takes on new meaning because it shows something you're going to get rather than something you'd like to have.
"Whether it be good or bad, young people today want the new, the up-to-date facility and whatever the newest, latest thing is," Yori said. "Naturally, it's going to play into the recruiting process. We expect prospective student-athletes will be excited about playing in a new arena and want to come here.
"But it's much more than just a recruiting tool," Yori added. "When you combine a new facility with our great fans, it's a great opportunity for men's and women's basketball to continue to grow because everything can be better - from the parking to the atmosphere to the overall fan experience. This was a vote for the future of Lincoln, and I think we all appreciate the confidence a vote like this creates."