Pinnacle Bank Arena sparks Lincoln Rail Yard business boom
Story, video and photos by Alex Lantz for NewsNetNebraska
From the time the doors opened for the first time on Sept. 13, 2013 for Michael Buble to the announcement of the upcoming Paul McCartney concert last week, the first eight months of Pinnacle Bank Arena have been a smashing success by most accounts.
Big-name concerts, big-time basketball crowds and just plain big trucks. There’s no doubting that the sparkling new $179 million arena has attracted the kinds of acts it was originally built to support. What was somewhat unexpected, though, is what’s popped up around Pinnacle Bank Arena.
Mellow Mushroom, Hiro 88, Buffalo Wings & Rings and Gate 25 are just a few of the businesses cashing in on the prime location in the Rail Yard, a public hub similar to the Power and Light District in Kansas City, right across the street from the 15,000-seat arena.
“I think most people were confident that it would be a popular place, but I don’t think anybody thought it would be like this,” said Hallie Salem, who is a downtown planner with the Lincoln Urban Development Department. “I expected it to be more event related in terms of business, but underestimated what it would be on days when there wasn’t something happening at the arena. In that sense, it’s exceeded our expectations by a mile.”
Business owners can attest to that. Whether it be the final men’s basketball home game of the season, when a record 15,998 people squeezed into Pinnacle Bank Arena to see Nebraska take on Wisconsin, or just a nice Thursday evening, the Rail Yard is almost always packed during dinner-time hours.
“In comparison to most new restaurants just getting their feet under them, we’ve been very successful,” said Brandon Akert, the owner of Gate 25 Bar and Grill.
Akert said most restaurants don’t see an actual profit until three years after they open, but that Gate 25 is ahead of schedule in that regard.
“It’s all because of this location,” he said. “The Rail Yard is just a great hub for everyone to come before and after that big show or game, and it’s really paid off for us to be here.”
It’s been great for businesses like Akert’s because customers are happy with the way the Rail Yard operates and the vibe the area gives off.
“It’s a really good place to kind of get away from the normal downtown scene,” Nebraska Wesleyan student Aaron Lorraine said of the Rail Yard. “And I also really like the fact that theres some places to hang out outside and some places inside, so it’s a great place to be on a weekend night regardless of the weather.”
Places to stay
And it’s not just bars and restaurants seeing success. With the arena bringing events unlike anything Lincoln has seen before, it’s also had a big impact on the hotel industry.
Roland Morgan, the general manager of the Hilton Garden Inn located at the corner of 8th and R streets, said business has exceeded expectations since the hotel opened last August. He said it’s been sold out for several of the big-name concerts, the boys and girls high school state championship tournaments, as well as the NCAA women’s basketball regional last month.
“It’s been phenomenal,” he said. “We knew we were going to get some traffic with all of the events going on, we just didn’t know how much. It’s been better than what we originally thought and we think it will continue to be a popular place. There’s a lot of different things that create traffic down here.”
And it’s not just the arena that’s attracted a large number of visitors. The Hilton Garden Inn also sold out rooms for each of Nebraska’s eight home football games.
More to come
Even though what’s been built in the area around Pinnacle Bank Arena has given Lincoln a central hub that had been lacking in the original downtown area, much of the West Haymarket still remains a work in progress.
Two more city-run parking garages, the District Energy Cooperation building, the Olsen and Associates building, a train station and a LumberWorks parking garage are all still under construction or yet to be started. There’s also about another month worth of work to be done to the Hyatt Place Hotel before it is fully finished.
If there’s been one problem with the new developments in the West Haymarket, it’s been a lack of parking spaces available for the large crowds that fill the arena. Wayne Mixdorf, the city parking director, said he hopes to have both city-run garages, deck two and deck three along Pinnacle Bank Arena Drive, completed by sometime early next fall. Deck three, which is an identical design to the already completed deck one – 950 spaces – is scheduled to open in early July, while deck two – 750 spaces – will likely open by August or September.
“I think the completion of these two garages will alleviate most of the problems we’ve had with congestion,” Mixdorf said. “There’s still going to be some challenges with traffic because everyone is trying to get to just one or two places, but with all the streets and parking garages open, it should be drastically better in terms of congestion.”
He added that the parking situation has steadily improved over the past eight months as more and more people have become aware of the 1,400-space surface lot located just north of the arena. And as people adjusted to the congestion by arriving earlier, most of the parking issues were resolved within the first few months. The new garages will only help make the process run more smoothly.