Nebraska Athletic Director Tom Osborne and NU Chancellor Harvey Perlman met the press Wednesday.
Photo by Scott Bruhn/Nebraska Communications

Lincoln Voters Create a Watershed Event and Chart a New Course for the Future

By NU Athletic Communications

Randy York's N-Sider

To "Respond to Randy" click on the link below and choose "Randy York's N-Sider" under "Area of Interest" on the new screen. Please include your name and city/town/state and share your thoughts on the Haymarket Arena vote, Nebraska basketball or Lincoln's overall vision.

For a university chancellor and an athletic director, Tuesday's primary vote in Lincoln wasn't so much about basketball, an arena or recruiting as it was about a city, a vision and a commitment to the future.

Tom Osborne, a man who always begins with the end in mind, admitted Wednesday that he was surprised by the 56-to-44 percent margin of difference between a yes and a no vote.

Nebraska's athletic director, Hall-of-Fame football coach and three-term Congressman was envisioning a competitive race that would be decided by a percentage point or two, one way or the other.

Osborne quipped that he thought he "might kill" the vote when he was asked to do a public service announcement. He pointed out that his last video ad experience in his bid to become governor "didn't turn out in a favorable result, so I was very nervous about this one," Osborne said. "I thought it would be a real nail-biter."

You know Osborne would have thrown a short pass and gone for two to win, but there was no need for that this time. So he opted to toss an important word into his post-election analysis.

"I thought this vote was really going to be somewhat of a watershed event in terms of what direction the city of Lincoln was going to go," he said. "It showed that there's a pretty good sense of vision and purpose among enough of our citizens to carry it forward."

Perlman Sees Parallel to Innovation Campus

Harvey Perlman, Nebraska's chancellor, change agent and one of college football's most prominent Bowl Championship Series football leaders, said the university was "extraordinarily excited" that Lincoln voters favored the arena by a substantially larger margin than most leaders envisioned in their endless series of strategic huddles.

"This project is consistent with Innovation Campus, and there is a combination of things that will advance Lincoln's economy and the ability to keep young people in the state of Nebraska," Perlman said.

"As one of the city's largest employers, I'm excited because I think it (the vote) will help us recruit students and faculty to the university," Perlman added. "Inevitably, the university's success is tied to the success of the community, and this is an action on the part of the people of Lincoln to make this a vibrant, energetic, progressive community, and I couldn't be more happy with the result."

Osborne made sure he congratulated Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler, the mayor's office, the Vision 2015 team and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce for their collective ability to plan a $344 million Lincoln Haymarket development project and then communicate that vision - and all of its built-in complexities - to the general public.

That's no easy task for anyone, especially during tough economic times.

Osborne Rolled Up His Sleeves and Dug In

Osborne knows the sacrificies everyone was willing to make to ensure a sound strategic plan that could be explained and embraced and is now ready to be executed, thanks, in part, to some productive feedback that also came from its detractors.

Nebraska's AD didn't just ask his chief financial officer and his executive associate athletic director to do the heavy lifting in meeting after meeting, week after week, month after month. Osborne rolled up his own sleeves and immersed himself in meaningful debate, self-appointed scrutiny and action-oriented compromise that made sense for everyone who wanted to move a joint proposal forward.

When a Lincoln reporter asked Osborne and Perlman Wednesday how many other Big 12 cities have built arenas for a university, Osborne answered first.

"I hope they're building the arena for the city, although we will certainly be a beneficiary," Osborne said before naming arenas in Virginia, Ohio and Kansas as benchmarks for Lincoln.

Perlman also weighed in on the question. Planning and building a new arena "is consistent with what has benefited Lincoln in other areas," he said. "We wouldn't have Haymarket Park if it hadn't been for a partnership between the university, a private sector and the city of Lincoln. This is a carrying-on of that. In communities this size and states this size, if you don't partner, you don't get things done."

More Anecdotal Evidence of a Winning Vote

Osborne, who confessed to being "very worried" about the vote, also experienced some positive anecdotal, pre-election moments.

"Yesterday, I had a major hotel developer (that he'd known for a long time) call me," Osborne said. "He said if this thing passes, he'd like to build a hotel in Lincoln."

Osborne also heard from the father of a young man who moved away from Lincoln a few years ago. "He said if this passes, 'my son and three of his friends are going to come back (to Lincoln) and start a business,'" Osborne related.

"Those are anecdotal types of evidence, but something that will be replicated over and over," Osborne predicted. "Certainly, this vote is somewhat about basketball, but it is probably more about the city."

In the video imbedded in this column, you will hear Osborne explain the ticket arrangements at the new arena, his expectation levels for both basketball programs, the expected new policy on priority seating for boosters, a detailed explanation of the athletic department's financial obligations and how naming rights will be handled for the new arena.

Osborne also talked about the Huskers' new practice facility and other renovations at the Devaney Center, blackout dates for arena practices the day before basketball games, the possibility of more NU volleyball games at the Devaney Center, how Nebraska or the city might bid for NCAA championship events, how state high school events will benefit from a new arena, the impact the facility might have on big-name opponents, why the Huskers likely would not play games at the Qwest Center in Omaha and what the potential is for men's basketball to be a money-making sport.

What Does Vote Mean for Husker Basketball?

Basketball, of course, was a big piece of this historically important vote, and we're interested to see what you think the biggest benefit for Nebraska men's and women's basketball might be. Is it, for instance, having a new centerpiece for recruiting? Having an asset that will help the Huskers compete at a higher level?  Or is having an arena that will enhance the overall game experience?

We're also interested to know if you share Osborne's and Perlman's view that this vote was a watershed moment for the city more than it was a step forward for Husker basketball.

Let us know if Lincoln voters impressed you as much as they impressed Nebraska's chancellor and athletic director.

Respond to Randy

Voices from Husker Nation

I was initially going to vote NO on the arena project (mainly because of the financial concerns about the cost of cleaning up the train yards) until I started to look at the big picture - namely the Innovation Campus and how this project could influence the university as a whole in addition to what it would mean for Nebraska basketball. I think the vote margin might have been wider if there had been a greater emphasis placed on how the $344 million worked (many, if not most people assumed that was the cost of the arena, not the cost of all planned development). I'm a Doc Sadler fan, have gone to plenty of games and practices, and can only believe that this will be a strong recruiting tool. My expectations for Husker hoops have increased, and I'm sure Doc is eager to recruit for the future. All in all, this is a big step forward for Lincoln as a growing city, and for Husker athletics as a whole. I'm glad to see all of this happening at such an important point in time. Kent Wendel, Lincoln, Nebraska

I think the vote is great for the City of Lincoln, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and the State of Nebraska. Now, of course, if the Regents open the door for our sports teams in other ways, it will be WIN-WIN-WIN for the City of Lincoln, the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and the State of Nebraska. Go Big Red. Rory L. Butler, NU Alumn, PA-C, Torrance, California

Thanks for the column and the video from the entire press conference. Even though I don't live where I could have voted on the arena issue, I thought both Tom Osborne and Harvey Perlman were very informative about every aspect of this important vote, and I think it's interesting for everyone who lives in Nebraska and enjoys traveling to Lincoln. As I watched our AD and chancellor explain how all of this was planned, I can't help but think if they had sat down on a couple of occasions and done some pre-vote press conferences, the yes votes would have outnumbered the no votes by a much bigger margin. Steve Brown, Kearney, Nebraska

I've always told people, with a certain amount of pride, that I would go to Lincoln and watch a football game at Memorial Stadium every Saturday if I had season tickets. Unfortunately, I have to settle for one game a year, sometimes two if you throw in an average non-conference opponent. I've told those same friends that I've never had any desire to drive to Lincoln for a basketball game. I was just being honest. Now, after Lincoln voters showed their vision of the city and their support for basketball, I'm actually looking forward to making the three-hour drive on I-29 to have dinner and watch a basketball game in the Haymarket. We may just spend the night, so we can say we helped donate to the cause. Three years from now, if the experience is what I think it will be with Tom Osborne guiding Doc Sadler like he's mentored Bo Pelini, I think my time and money will be well spent. Kent Miller, Lee's Summit, Missouri

I enjoyed reading the N-Sider and then watching the press conference on video. Thought it was interesting that Chancellor Perlman went to bed confident the night before the primary because he'd heard that sons and daughters of senior citizens were advising their parents to vote yes. I smiled on that one because it was so true in our family and in a couple of other families that we know of. I think the real beauty of this vote is knowing that so many of our senior citizens want the city's younger people to experience the best of Lincoln just like they have. Young or old, we all seem to understand that any city that sits still gets stagnant. Tuesday's vote showed everyone that Lincoln is not one of those cities and, hopefully, never will be. Stephanie Harris, Lincoln, Nebraska

Do I think a yes vote on a $344 million development project is a watershed moment for a city of less than 300,000? Absolutely, but it didn't surprise me with the combined leadership of Osborne and Perlman. The chancellor has to love the academic focus his AD brings to the table, and the AD has to appreciate his chancellor's vision for athletics. Their knowledge, experience and ability to get things done make loyal fans like me wish I lived closer to Lincoln. Congratulations, Nebraska, on another milestone that I'm sure will lead to many more. Bruce Chamberlain, Seattle, Washington  


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