by Charlyne Berens

Ride your bike to the Haymarket on N Street’s protected bike lane. Eat your lunch while enjoying a noontime concert at Tower Square at 13th and P streets. Go all out and join your fellow Lincolnites to cheer your favorite three-on-three soccer team during the Rumble in the Railyard on Canopy Street, or watch a classic movie on the Railyard’s big screen.

The Railyard, Nebraska’s first entertainment district, is located in the newly expanded Haymarket, which anchors the west end of a vibrant downtown that extends east to Antelope Valley and offers Lincoln residents and visitors alike plenty to eat, drink and do.

Tessa Warner, sales and business manager for Railyard Entertainment, said the district’s goal is to offer a variety of events so that everyone in Lincoln will have reason to come to the Railyard and surrounding Haymarket at least once a year. Located just south of the Pinnacle Bank Arena, the district is a private development that is dedicated to helping people feel connected to their community, Warner said.

Less than five years ago, railroad tracks ran through the area that now includes 20 businesses, 14 of which offer food and beverages. When the people of Lincoln voted to approve the public-private partnership that built the arena, they also approved a plan to move the tracks farther west.

Today, the businesses that make up the Railyard surround a courtyard bounded on the west by one of the wrought iron canopies that originally protected passengers as they boarded the train. Sometimes, the Railyard sponsors events that close Canopy Street on the north and south ends of the block, expanding the space for things like the special soccer tournament, a pole-vaulting “street meet” and extra seating for concerts and movie nights.

The huge outdoor screen that showcases the movies also broadcasts special events like Husker games and the World Cup soccer finals. But most of the time, the screen features art exhibits. “That helps to make the Railyard a cultural center, too,” Warner said.

From early December through February, the courtyard becomes a skating rink, open from late afternoon until 10 p.m. on weekdays and most of the day on the weekends. “Outdoor ice skating is a unique experience,” Warner said. And when you add events like holiday movie nights and Storytime with Mrs. Claus, “it’s kind of magical.”

Just south down Canopy Street from the Railyard is more evidence of Lincoln’s vibrant economy. Hudl, the sports video editing software company, is in the process of constructing a new building to serve as its headquarters. The company, which has grown from a three-person start-up in less than a decade, plans to move what will likely be more than 500 employees to the new building in 2017.

Hudl’s new building will take its place next to the headquarters of Olsson Associates, an engineering firm that moved into a new three-story building on Canopy Street in 2014.

At the other end of Lincoln’s growing downtown, in the Antelope Valley area, private developers are remaking the area at 21st and N streets into a mixture of commercial developments and residential spaces. Employees in that area will have easy access to the Billy Wolff Trail and the new N Street bikeway.

All of Lincoln will have access to regular events at Union Plaza, a $4.75 million urban park built as part of the Antelope Valley project with substantial support from Union Bank. The park includes an amphitheater, a water plaza, play areas, and sculptures. Family events are among the festivities scheduled at Union Plaza during the summer months.

Following the bike trail that parallels Antelope Creek, people will be able to ride quickly and safely into downtown from the south and east and then all the way to the Haymarket, Railyard and Pinnacle Bank arena, following the new N Street bikeway with its protected lane for cyclists.

Todd Ogden, deputy director of the Downtown Lincoln Association, said Lincoln’s already strong bike culture continues to grow stronger. Lots of young, talented people are moving to town, he said, and they expect to be able to use their bikes to get around.

Or they could rent a bike through the new “bike share” program, Ogden said. The city, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the DLA worked together to obtain a federal grant and raise a private match to fund a program offering 100 bikes for rent at 15 individual bike stations throughout downtown and the UNL campus. See page 45 for more information.

People riding the N Street bike path will cross a newly renovated Centennial Mall, the seven blocks that connect the State Capitol on the south with the UNL campus and the Nebraska Historical Society headquarters on the north.

Built in 1967 to honor the state’s centennial, the mall has been refurbished to be totally accessible and sustainable, using drought-resistant plants and efficient water features. The civic space will feature plaques telling the story of Nebraska’s history with special emphasis on the contributions of the 24 Native American tribes that once lived here.

Other new attractions and improvements in downtown Lincoln include:

  • two rubber-tire trolleys to transport people from the Haymarket to the P Street corridor and elsewhere in downtown
  • concerts and other events at Tower Square, a civic plaza at 13th and P streets that is highlighted by a five-story multicolored glass tower by Jun Kaneko
  • regular family events during the summer months at Union Plaza, the three-block urban park at 21st and O street
  •  three new apartment complexes within blocks of downtown and the UNL campus, designed to serve college students.  

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