2/24/2005

Lincoln Considers Using Eminent Domain For Hotel Project: KETV7 (Omaha NE), 2/23/05

Some Business Owners See David-And-Goliath Situation

The Capital City [of Lincoln NE] is embroiled in a battle over property owners who may be forced to relocate for a new hotel.

In December, John Q. Hammons unveiled plans to build a $16 million Residence Inn by Marriott. Lincoln plans to use it's eminent domain powers to get the land. The city said the new hotel is part of the Antelope Valley Project — a waterway that will run through Lincoln for flood control and to promote economic growth.

Samurai Sam's, a teriyaki restaurant in downtown Lincoln, has become a fixture for patrons in its current location. It would be among businesses moved if Lincoln uses eminent domain.

"They are displacing business owners so they can put in a wealthier business owner," said owner Sean Wieting. "That's completely un-American. The figures I saw won't even cover one-tenth the costs to relocate. So this is a make or break deal for us."

The proposed hotel property is two to three blocks from where the creek will run. The city said it's part of the project because it will revitalize an area declared blighted.

"It's not a David and Goliath situation, it's a balance of community needs," said Dallas McGee, Lincoln's assistant director of downtown redevelopment.

Officials said they don't want to use eminent domain and will try to compensate the businesses.

"We do want Sam's to continue. We want them in the downtown area if possible," McGee said.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor John Hibbing said cities must be careful how they use their powers.

"What we're getting into in this case is the extent to which the whole Antelope Valley project is one unified government endeavor, or is this just one guy trying to buy land under the guise of eminent domain," Hibbing said.

That's what has this business owner concerned.

"I'd be able to sleep a little bit better if they were going to put a school here or widen a road or something like that. But they are trying to put in a hotel," Wieting said.

Lincoln hasn't released specific dollar figures, but hopes to compensate businesses that have to move in such a way that they do not suffer a major financial loss.

The businesses have hired an attorney and will testify before the City Council Monday.

U.S. Supreme Court justices seem to be wary of second-guessing a law that lets local governments seize private property.

At issue in a case before the court Tuesday were efforts by the government of New London, Conn., to seize property for a riverfront development meant to spur economic growth.

In court, an attorney for some city residents said it's wrong for the government to take private property from one owner and give it to another just to boost city's finances.

But Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg mentioned New London's run-down condition, and said more than tax revenue was at stake. Justice Sandra Day O'Connor questioned whether the homeowners were asking the court to "second-guess" the power of eminent domain.

Attorneys for the city said the city's steady decline was an "undisputed" fact. The city plan includes a hotel, health club and museum designed to draw tourists to the riverfront.


KETV7: www.theomahachannel.com