Pinnacle Bank Arena

Cody Johnson and fans at Pinnacle Bank Arena

by Julie Nichols 

Now a fixture in the eclectic architecture of the Haymarket District, Pinnacle Bank Arena has come into its own in just a decade. Although conceived for versatility, building a 15,500 seat venue was a huge gamble for a small Midwestern city, especially with an established arena in nearby Omaha. But Lincoln residents voted to fund the arena through a food and drink tax, and the $179 million project was included the West Haymarket Redevelopment Project’s plan.

Ten years later, the bet paid off. Not only does the arena book high-profile stars, its roster of entertainment runs from rodeo dust to rhinestones—Sir Elton John’s, that is. Honoring its intentions to entertain all of Lincoln, spectacle comes to PBA too, and it’s a crazy quilt: Cirque du Soleil, PRCA Rodeo, Harlem Globetrotters, WWE, Monster Truck Jam, Disney on Ice, Professional Bull Riding, Paw Patrol and Sesame Street Live! and Nebraska’s own Larry the Cable Guy.  

Part of the attraction for performers is stage adaptability, with 20 setups to accommodate multiple configurations, as well as tech to support the complex needs of sound and visuals in contemporary shows. Multiple bays accommodate faster load-ins for big shows with sophisticated rigging, visual and audio equipment. Meeting the needs of entertainers makes Pinnacle a destination for some of the biggest stars in the world: Sir Paul McCartney, Cher, Bob Dylan, Garth Brooks, James Taylor, Pink, Jay Z, Katy Perry, Blake Shelton, TOOL, Shania Twain, Miranda Lambert, Pearl Jam, Cardi B, Neil Young, Disturbed, Maroon 5, Snoop Dogg, Ghost, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sir Elton John liked it so well he returned for his farewell tour last year.

The arena’s distinct silver oval was designed by a Lincoln architecture firm with interiors by an Omaha group. A public plaza on Canopy Street flows into a spectacular multi-story glass lobby featuring Candy Box, a massive sculptural installation by Philadelphia artist Donald Lipski. Glass walls on every level afford views of Memorial Stadium and Saltdog Stadium. A spacious open-air roof deck provides a panorama of downtown and the Nebraska State Capitol. Multiple entrances, restrooms, and concessions on each floor minimize waiting for guests.

With premium box seating, viewers get close to entertainment and enjoy a pre-order upscale menu and drinks with service and wet bar, enclosed furnished suite, flat screen tv, adjacent parking and private restrooms. Loge seating, also on first level, provides four luxury chairs, buffet, refrigerator, tv, adjacent parking and restrooms. Reserved and general admission tickets are available for seating or floor in the arena.

PBA built in high-efficiency systems and environmentally responsible materials, saving Lincoln taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs per year. In line with Lincoln’s initiative to minimize environmental impacts, PBA is Energy Star rated, delivering a 35 percent reduction in energy use. A recycling grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust established a comprehensive recycling/composting program within the arena including adding compactors with the goal of reducing landfill waste by 75 percent.

The undeniable economic ripple of arena events to continued growth of the Haymarket and downtown areas also extends to the community at large. This interface was sharply underscored during the pandemic. Shut down, with artists cancelled and sporting events halted, in February 2021 Pinnacle opened its doors as a vaccination site for Lincoln’s elderly and vulnerable citizens. In partnership with Lancaster County Health Department, nearly 8,000 Lincolnites received vaccines during the first event, then followed with others to encourage recommended booster shots.

The arena serves Nebraska’s educational institutions each year. University of Nebraska commencements take place at PBA and many of Lincoln’s high schools hold graduations there. UNMC Dental and Nursing Colleges and Southeast Community College graduates also receive diplomas at the arena. State high school sports tournaments—volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball and wrestling championships—are now held at the arena, drawing fans from across the state.

Project Connect Lincoln, an annual one-day, one-stop event, fills the arena with volunteer professionals to empower houseless or at risk-individuals and families. Project Connect concentrates legal resources, assistance with employment and housing applications, personal and dental care, pet care, health care resources, substance abuse treatment options and mental health care for those currently homeless or at risk of losing housing. The arena has also hosted Starry Nights Christmas Tree Festival, People’s City Mission’s largest fundraiser, the Mayor’s Arts Awards, Women’s Leadership Awards, job fairs, community galas and fundraisers like Haymarket in White and Chocolate Lovers’ Fantasy. The arena also offers local non-profit organizations fundraising opportunities in concessions through ASM Global, its managing organization. School groups and civic organizations collectively earned nearly $100,000 in 2021.

Now PBA’s sister venue, an intimate outdoor space with a newly-renovated stage and expanded seating and concession area, Pinewood Bowl is located a short distance west of Lincoln in Pioneers’ Park. Pinewood now draws acts worthy of Red Rocks. Jack White, Steely Dan, Bonnie Raitt, ZZ Top, Styx and Earth, Wind and Fire have recently graced this stage under the stars. Balmy nights in the natural amphitheater’s intimate setting make Pinewood ever memorable. Pinewood still serves its original role of offering community theatre, youth programs and touring performances during its season from spring to fall.

Not only does it take skill to manage an organization with so many moving parts, it takes good instincts and vision. Development of such a lauded roster takes drive and unshakeable optimism. The force behind it from inception was Tom Lorenz, PBA’s General Manager. Tom’s enthusiasm for music, faith in his city and unflagging desire to offer Lincoln the best never waned. He not only succeeded in getting the arena up and running, he expanded its reach and secured its future. With his unanticipated death last year, Lincoln lost a community visionary and a keen observer of what keeps a city vibrant and unified. Lorenz was a diehard sports fan and beloved by the teams who shared the arena. His previous long tenure at Pershing Auditorium made him savvy to the fact that not every show sells out—but you keep an eye on filling the house. Lorenz particularly cultivated bookings at Pinewood Bowl, a venue he loved. The relationships Tom made are evident in the returns—Pinnacle Bank Arena is one of the most highly-rated in the nation for its programming. The artists return. Lincoln can hope that Tom’s legacy will continue to radiate prosperity, cohesion—-and joy—in our growing city.

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