Hotel developer puts in bid for city block: Daily Nebraskan (Univ of Nebraska, Lincoln), 4/12/05

By Joel Gehringer

Just south of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, a single city block’s future sits in limbo.

Hotel developer John Q. Hammons, who owns 44 hotels nationwide, wants to build a new hotel on the corner of 17th and Q streets as part of Lincoln’s Antelope Valley Project.

But the business owners on that block, including those who run Samurai Sam’s Teriyaki Grill and Miracle Mile Motors, don’t want to give it up, and other developers might give him a run for his money.

Hammons announced his wish to build a hotel in December 2004. The four-story, 150-room hotel would serve researchers and visitors to UNL with suites designed for extended stays.

“This is a great fit into the Antelope Valley Project,” said Roger Larson, a member of the Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Commission. “It’s the perfect example of how public investment fits in perfectly with private investment.”

But not everyone was sold.

The commission’s decision to recommend seizure of the land made current business owners uneasy.

The commission suggested the city take the land through eminent domain – the city’s ability to force the sale of private land if the sale is deemed necessary for city development.

Businesses owners, including those who run Samurai Sam’s Teriyaki Grill and Miracle Mile Motors, were unavailable for comment Monday.

The businesses feared the City Council would approve the use of eminent domain to justify buying and demolishing their property.

However, when the Lincoln City Council approved plans for building the hotel in February, Mayor Coleen Seng offered an amendment.

The amendment allowed landowners in the area to negotiate sale of their land with Hammons, but said that if an agreement could not be reached, another proposal would come before the council asking for the enforcement of eminent domain.

The council adopted the amendment and handed landowners a temporary victory.

Currently, the city waits while Hammons and the business owners try to come to agreement.

But Larson said the amendment would be enforced if necessary.

“Most of the owners are civic-minded enough that they are willing to be worked with,” Larson said. “But if an agreement isn’t reached, we will take it to the City Council again, and they will then be able to invoke eminent domain.”

City Councilman Ken Svoboda said the hotel is important to the growth of Lincoln and the future of the Antelope Valley Project. He said he wants to see the hotel built, but also wants a deal that would be fair to all parties.

“The city has a huge role in that we can tell Mr. Hammons, ‘If you really want to stay here, you need to work something out,’ ” Svoboda said. “Between the (City Council, the landowners and Hammons), I think we can work something out.”

Hammons has expressed interest in the redevelopment of Lincoln, Larson said.

“He’s a very public-minded person,” Larson said. “He likes Lincoln and he wants to expand his investments here.”

Hammons even has expressed interest in building another, larger hotel and contributing financially if Lincoln plans to build a new arena and convention center in the Haymarket area, Larson said.

“I know he has alluded to the fact that (another hotel and arena) is important to him, and he has seriously considered being involved.”

But recently, a fourth party entered the battle for the block. Marriott, which owns the Cornhusker Hotel, plans to bid for building rights to the hotel.

Larson said he fears Hammons would reconsider investing in the city if he could not secure the property himself.

“If he was denied the 17th and Q property, he would probably lose some of his interest in Lincoln,” Larson said.

But Svoboda doesn’t think losing the land to landowners or other bidding hotel owners would deter Hammons.

“He knows competition, and that’ll make him work that much harder,” Svoboda said.

Daily Nebraskan: www.dailynebraskan.com