Lincoln Telegraph District

Telegraph District work to begin in January with Nelnet offices


Telegraph District work to begin in January with Nelnet offices

More than 600 Nelnet employees likely will be working out of a renovated telephone company office building by late 2016, as Speedway Properties and Nelnet begin creating the Telegraph District east of downtown.

At the same time, the two companies will be transforming the vacant Fisher Foods buildings, 220 S. 20th St., into traditional and loft apartments, said Clay Smith, of Speedway Properties, during a presentation to Leadership Lincoln this week.

The two companies have created the East Downtown Development Corp., or EaDo, to redevelop the area around 21st and N streets, as a “great place to work, shop, live, and play,” and branding the area as the Telegraph District, Smith said.

The name was carefully chosen, said Smith, to honor the Woods family and their vision in starting Lincoln Telephone and Telegraph Co. Over the years the company has been purchased or renamed several times -- LT&T, Aliant, Alltel, Windstream.

EaDo hopes to start renovating the brick, windowless old LT&T office building, 401 S. 21st St., in January, transforming it into an open building, with many windows. That building, also known as the 401 Building, will be used by employees of Nelnet’s processing department and call center for student loans, said Mike Dunlap, Nelnet's executive chairman of the board.

Dunlap said he’d heard several stories about why the office building, built in the early 1970s, has no windows.

One was the phone company's CEO at the time was tight and didn’t want to spend the money.

But the version Dunlap believes is most accurate is that the building was to house information technology and company leaders, who were afraid someone might want to shoot out the windows.

The adjacent Antelope Valley project, a controversial and expensive project that included flood control, a new street system, parks and a trail, was important to creating the Telegraph District, said the three men who spoke about plans.

The Antelope Valley project improved the physical appearance of the area and removed flood plain constraints for renovating existing buildings and for new construction, said Ed Zimmer, city historian.

Inside the old telephone warehouse, 330 S. 21st St., is a line on the brick wall, about 4 feet off the floor, that shows the calculated 100-year flood line, Zimmer said.

The flood control project allows the developers to have basement parking, said Zimmer. Without flood control, the developer could not put housing on the first floor of the Fisher Foods buildings, Smith said.

That project set the table, so “we could put new buildings on this site,” including creating amenities like parks and a bike trail, that make the area more attractive, Smith said.

“People really underestimate the amenities of the N Street bike path,” he said. Currently, when bikers get to the edge of downtown it gets “dicey.” With the new, two-way bike path through downtown, people will be able to go all the way to the Haymarket, he said.

The Telegraph District rates 99 for bikeability and 94 for walkability, Smith said. There are very few places in the world that are rated 99 percent for bikeability, he added.

The two companies own about 21 acres of the 60-acre area they are calling the Telegraph District.

EaDo has plans to renovate 20 existing buildings and build 13 new buildings, expecting that work will encourage further redevelopment in the area.

The entire area, including new construction, will have unifying design elements and an industrial look with brick facades. The older buildings will have elements like steel I-beams, exposed rivets and concrete columns.

The 60-acre Telegraph District is twice the size of the recent West Haymarket development, but uses existing streets and sewer system and the new parks and trail system that were part of the Antelope Valley project, Smith said.

Residents will have access to “lightning-fast Internet connectivity,” Smith said.

Apartments will be leased at market rates, likely $700 to $1,000 for one bedroom and slightly more for larger apartments, Smith said.

The redevelopers are hoping that the historic Muni bathhouse will become a day care facility.

But so far there are no plans for a grocery store.

“That has been the Achilles' heel of downtown." So far grocers don’t see enough demand for a grocery in a downtown location, Smith said.

Article Credit: Lincoln Journal Star

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