UNL’s Innovation Campus celebrates initial construction phase

Story by Emily Younger, NewsNetNebraska

Former State Fair Park after UNL’s Innovation Campus’ demolitions.

After more than a century, shredded wood, metal and debris are all that’s left at the former Nebraska State Fair Park.  It’s a sight 4-H participant, Tayler Goertz, said she knows too well.  Goertz had shown cattle and dogs at the fair since 2001.

“It just means all of that tradition, all of those memories are gone,” said Goertz, a sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Former 4-H participant Tayler Goertz kisses her calf while showing animals at the Nebraska State Fair in 2006.

Those memories are what construction equipment has been clawing away at for nearly a year.  It’s making way for UNL’s Innovation Campus, an $80 million private/public sector research and technology development center.  Hopeful the Nebraska State Fair will return to Lincoln after moving to Grand Island in 2010, Goertz said the last standing horse barn was her last hope.

“I always thought that it would still come back, you know?” she said.

The lone State Fair horse barn is expected to be demolished by the early December; a sign Innovation Campus is moving in.  Innovation Campus is celebrating the completion of its initial construction phase.  It includes final demolition work on the former State Fair grounds and beginning construction of four new or renovated Innovation Campus buildings.  Goertz said she’s not impressed that Innovation Campus is replacing a Lincoln tradition.

“I was actually disappointed and am still disappointed,” Goertz said.

Moving Forward

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Executive Director of the Nebraska State Fair, Joseph McDermott understands Goertz’s concern.

“It was tough.  In all honesty, having worked for the organization since 1988 the state fairgrounds in Lincoln kind of became our home, McDermott said.”  McDermott has worked for the Nebraska State Fair for 24 years watching young people like Goertz make the state fair a tradition.

“With the fair being there for 109 years, a lot of memories were created by fair goers, but that’s come and gone,” said McDermott.

Innovation Campus Executive Director Dan Duncan said by celebrating the completion of the Innovation Campus’s initial construction phase he hopes Lincoln residents will realize the opportunities the site will have to offer.

“I think when we’re able to bring in and create a lot of really good jobs and really good opportunities for students and generate more research income for the University, I think people will really see the benefit of that and say while I still have that sentimental tie to the old state fair grounds I really see that this was a good thing,” Duncan said.

However, will Goertz ever get over her disappointment?  She says for now she’s just happy she was able to experience the state fair in Lincoln and hopes her and her family can make new memories in Grand Island.

“There’s not much you can do.  It’s just something we have to learn to work around,” said Goertz.

Innovation Campus’ impact on businesses and students?

Innovation Campus Executive Director Dan Duncan told NewsNetNebraska the research park will be around 280,000 square feet.  He expects it to do three things: create 5,000 new jobs by the year 2035, offer internships and real world experience for UNL students, and help the state’s economic development.

“It (Innovation Campus) really is everything, office space, a conference facility, wet lab space, greenhouse space, prototyping space…really a lot of very different and versatile type space uses that Nebraska can utilize,” Duncan said.  He said the spaces will drive research companies to the University.

“When you look at what brings companies to research parts there’s really two things, one is access to faculty and the other is access to students, and Innovation Campus will have that,” he said.

Duncan said students will have the opportunity to work closely with research businesses like ConAgra, a consumer food manufacturer who is also the first private tenant for Innovation Campus.   He says partnerships with businesses like ConAgra can be used as a UNL recruitment tool.

“It can be a magnet to bring students to the University because they will have opportunities that they might now have other places,” he said.

Lincoln businessman, Jeff Freeman, has a daughter at UNL and agrees with Duncan.

“It has everything to do with research and everything to do with a greater and a bigger education,” said Freeman.   As a local chiropractor, Freeman said the research park will directly affect his business.

“I think my office will stay located downtown just because I think there are a lot of big jobs coming to that area and I think I can benefit as a business professional,” he told NewsNetNebraska.

Like many businesses, Freeman’s office is near the university and Innovation Campus.

“I look at a lot of people in Lincoln and a lot of people from around the state to be on Innovation Campus at some point,” Duncan said.

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