An Olympic-type sports village is sprouting about a mile from Memorial Stadium.
On any given day, you’ll find Nebraska men’s and women’s basketball players practicing at Devaney Sports Center, with gymnasts, women volleyballers, swimmers, indoor track athletes, and members of the wrestling team shuffling in and out of the complex. Add in the coaches, trainers and managers.
A year from now, the 155 male and female outdoor track and field team -- about a quarter of all Nebraska’s student-athletes -- will be part of the mix when their new $16.5 million outdoor stadium opens. Groundbreaking is set for this spring.
It’s also not out of the realm to imagine that Nebraska’s golf team, which needs a new home, might wind up with practice facilities in the same neighborhood. A new Olympic-size pool has also been talked about to replace the undersized pool in the Devaney Center that’s considered one of the worst swim facilities among the major conferences.
Athletic director Bill Moos has said that a new pool could possibly be co-supported by the university’s recreation department as a way to split the cost. He has yet to pinpoint exact locations for the golf facility and pool.
All this sports-related activity at the Devaney Center and nearby is being watched closely and favorably by a neighbor -- the Nebraska Innovation Campus, which features 132 developable acres of university owned land on the grounds of the old Nebraska State Fair.
While the new track and field stadium will offer Nebraska the opportunity to host conference and national championship events, here’s the kicker: The stadium could serve as a catalyst for future economic development in the neighborhood in and around the Innovation Campus.
A new $35 million Marriott-affiliated hotel -- featuring a full-service restaurant and rooftop bar -- is already set to open in July 2021. Though there’s nothing specific, all the sports and research activity could spur more retail, housing, and other commercial development as the campus completes its build-out.
The nearly ten-year-old Innovation Campus was conceived to nurture research and economic development partnerships between the University of Nebraska and private businesses. The development is home to about 759 employees, including student interns and university faculty. They work at an array of more than 50 tenants in five buildings -- start-ups, small and large companies and university operations that include the likes of SpreeTail, AgBuild Studios, Mutual of Omaha, The Mill coffee shop and Nebraska Rural Radio station KRVN.
Dan Duncan, executive director of the Nebraska Innovation Campus Development Corp., which manages the campus, envisions a day when researchers and engineers on the campus are using technology to solve athletic performance, safety and nutritional issues.
Indeed, the many athletes at the front door of the campus could create “some synergy” with the scientists, engineers, and researchers, he said. For example, scientists at the Food Innovation Center -- located on the campus -- could create high quality food that could enhance athletic performance.
Broader vision for track stadium
Think Big Ten conference track and field championships being hosted by Nebraska. The same with NCAA regional meets, and other major track events.
That’s what the athletic department has in mind with the new track and field stadium, and that partly explains why the price tag for the new track and field stadium just increased by $5 million.
Earlier this month, the Board of Regents approved an expanded project that will now cost $16.5 million, up from $11.5 million when unveiled last fall.
The athletic department cited three reasons for the increase:
*$1.73 million for site-related work, including additional land acquisition costs, additional site preparation costs caused by poor soil conditions, and rebuilding a south parking area due to moving the track stadium south to avoid the Salt Creek levee system.
*$1.65 million for state-of-the-art improvements to the outdoor throwing event areas, which were already planned for in the athletic department’s fiscal year 2020 budget before the new track facility was approved.
*$1.65 million for “amenities” to enable the athletic department to host track and field championships. This includes visiting team dressing rooms, track meet management spaces, and an extra practice area on the south end of the track.
The most recent conference track championships hosted by Nebraska were the 2016 Big Ten Championship, and the 2007 Big 12 Championship. Nebraska hosted NCAA outdoor track regionals in 2003 and 2008, and the 2010 Special Olympics track competition.
Ed Weir Stadium has about 3,000 seats. The new stadium is designed for about 2,500 permanent seats, with the ability to add up to 1,500 “flex seats” for large events, the athletic department said.
The university and the city of Lincoln “have a great track record as hosts for major athletic events,” said athletic department spokesman Keith Mann. “Recent development and building projects on and around campus and the downtown area have only enhanced the ability to attract major events.”
The original footprint for the new track facility was 8,300 square feet. It is now 15,187 square, based on the design submitted by Clark Enersen Partners. The construction company has not yet been publicly announced.
The new outdoor track will be constructed north of the Devaney Sports Center on land that will be carved out of the Innovation Campus acreage, Duncan said.
Technically, the new track stadium now sits on the Innovation Campus. However, a 99-year master lease agreement gives the university the option to pull land out of the development for other purposes, which is what likely will happen with the track stadium.
But as construction on the new track ramps up, there could be parking issues for fans attending events at the Devaney Center, particularly for volleyball matches.
Chancellor Ronnie Green addressed this issue at the February Board of Regents meeting. He said the university is working on plans to shift parting directly to the east of the Devaney Center, on what is now a vacant lot on the Innovation Campus.
Green told the Lincoln Journal Star that parking on the site could become permanent. “We think there is a high probability that it would be converted to garage parking,” Green said.
At one time, development plans for the campus included multiple cover parking structures, but surface parking is the only option now available.
The Ed Weir Stadium, tucked into the southeast side of Memorial Stadium and home to Nebraska’s track teams since 1975, sits on the site for the soon-to-be $155 million athletics training complex.
Weir Stadium will be flattened and scrapped once outdoor track season ends this spring to make room for construction of the new athletic training complex.
Both the track stadium and the massive athletics training and locker room complex next to Memorial Stadium will be funded by a combination of donor gifts, foundation funds, and athletic department cash. No long-term borrowing is anticipated.
As for fundraising for both projects, Mann said the athletic department has had “good response from potential donors...We continue to look for individuals who are interested in contributing to these building projects.”
The track stadium is not the only project that will break ground this spring and be completed about a year from now.
The six-story Marriott-brand hotel, which will be owned by Omaha-based Tetrad Property Group, will have about 155 rooms. It will also have a full-service restaurant, a roof-top bar, a coffee shop, and an expansive fitness facility (with memberships open to campus employees).
Groundbreaking is set for March 19, and the name of the hotel and a marketing and branding plan will be revealed at the ceremony, said Ashley Solt, director of acquisitions for Goldenrod Capital Partners, a sister company of Tetrad, the development partner for Innovation Campus. One of Tetrad’s partners is Zach Wiegert, the Nebraska offensive line great from the early 1990s and former professional football player.
The hotel will serve as a training ground for students pursuing majors in the university’s hospitality, tourism, and restaurant management program, which is expanding. The building will include 10,000 square feet of classroom space on the first floor, enough to accommodate about 500 students a day going in and out of classes there, Solt said.
Tetrad is working with Lincoln-based Archrival on the branding and marketing campaign that will especially appeal to Innovation Campus visitors from all over the world, football Saturday fans, and weekend visitors to Lincoln, Solt said.
The expectation is that teams and fans would likely stay there when playing Nebraska, especially at events at the Devaney Center and the track stadium. The hotel grounds could also be easily turned into a big Nebraska alumni party center on football game days.
“We anticipate the hotel will bring a lot of other activity to the campus,” Duncan said.
The hotel will be built near the intersection of 21st Street and Transformation Drive, adjacent to the Rise Building that opened last year on Innovation Campus and across the street from the Mill Coffee & Tea bistro on the campus. The Mill is the only retail tenant currently on the campus.
Duncan said adding a hotel is part of a longer term plan to make the neighborhood a “live-work” friendly environment. He foresees other amenities, including a child care facility, and even apartments and other living options.
Some call it the campus that Big Ten money built. But not Duncan.
He disputes that notion partly because planning for the campus began before Nebraska moved from the Big 12 to the Big Ten in 2011. Still, he said, it is hard to measure the impact the move to the Big Ten has had on the development of the research campus.
“The Big Ten is as much an academic coalition as it is an athletic coalition,” Duncan said.
Some conference schools have robust research and development parks, including Purdue and Illinois.
If Big Ten membership has done anything, it’s that it has “even challenged us to think bigger,” Duncan said.
As an outgrowth of that, Nebraska has invested more in its engineering college, which is in the midst of a $160 million building and facilities upgrade.
“More engineers means more inventions and more start-ups,” Duncan said.
Activity at the Innovation Campus has taken off in recent years. Here’s a look at the latest numbers from 2019:
*20 percent of the 132 developable acres have already been developed.
*There are currently five buildings on the campus: the Rise office building; the Food Innovation Center, the largest facility on the campus that includes classrooms and a wet lab incubator; Innovation Commons South, which includes a conference center; the Innovation Commons North office building; and the Greenhouse Innovation Center.
*The campus will have about 2.2 million square feet when fully built out over 25 years.
*More than 39,000 people attended programs at the campuses’ conference center last year.
* The campus generated about 1,629 jobs in Lincoln and state-wide, along with contributing about $324 million in state-wide economic impact.
Research and development is rarely a linear process, with fits and starts and ups and downs along the way. That’s why Duncan considers the campus to still be in its initial phase.
As Duncan talked about the progress on the campus, he emphasized development to this point “has met, if not exceeded, expectations...Things have been moving forward in a very positive phase.”
Steve Rosen writes about the business of sports for HuskerOnline. Questions, comments, story ideas? Reach Steve at email@example.com.