Put Nebraska Agriculture's Footprint On Centennial Mall

Nebraska Notebook

Major facelift of this seven-block gateway to the Capitol hopefully will include significant ag features, if enough funds are raised.

Published on: March 15, 2013

The Nebraska Capitol Building never fails to impress me, not only in its design and features, but also in the story of its planning and construction. Samuel R. McKelvie, a long-time publisher and editor of Nebraska Farmer, was governor in 1919 when he signed a bill to approve the structure. It was his prodding that it be built, in part to honor veterans of World War I.

Nebraskans are rightly proud of their Capitol. Architect Bertrum Goodhue of New York won a competition to design it. He desired to make it an outward sign of the character of its people.

It was built over 10 years, from 1922 to 1932. The state paid for the Capitol as it was built, never incurring debt in the process. Nebraskans are fiscal conservatives and, I imagine, appreciate this aspect of the Capitol construction.

CLEAR VIEW: An artists view of the finished Centennial Mall, looking north from the UNL campus to the Capitol Building. There will be five green spaces within the seven-block area. Note the walkways and the "Nebraska Agriculture Feeds the World" inscription at the bottom of the illustration.
CLEAR VIEW: An artist's view of the finished Centennial Mall, looking north from the UNL campus to the Capitol Building. There will be five green spaces within the seven-block area. Note the walkways and the "Nebraska Agriculture Feeds the World" inscription at the bottom of the illustration.

The Sower atop the Dome represents Nebraska's pioneering settlers, hard work and vision, as he draws seed from the bag and scatters it to the west.

Goodhue's contribution to Nebraska and the Capitol are significant. But one of his visions—a seven-block avenue to create a formal approach to the north side of the building was never realized until 1967. That's when, during Nebraska's centennial year, the Centennial Mall was built to connect the Capitol with the University of Nebraska.

Sadly, Centennial Mall and its fountains have fallen into disrepair, almost to the point of embarrassment.

That will be rectified by 2015 when the Nebraska Centennial Mall Revitalization will be completed. Many Nebraska individuals, institutions, organizations and companies have donated to this important project, which features green spaces, trees, tributes to noted Nebraskans and events, and an impressive new information technology system in which visitors can access more information through smartphones and computer tablets.

Agriculture's part
Agriculture, the backbone of this state, needs to have a major footprint in the "new" Centennial Mall. And hopefully it will, thanks to Don Hutchens, executive director of the Nebraska Corn Board. He realized late in the planning process that agriculture needed to have a bigger presence.

It will take some additional funding from agriculture interests to make sure everything now planned for Nebraska's largest industry is implemented. The overall Centennial Mall fundraising goal is $9.6 million and all but $1.9 million has been raised. Hutchens believes agricultural interests, including companies, commodity boards, organizations and individual farmers and ranchers, need to come up with at least $500,000. "Ag interests ought to be good for at least that amount," he says.

The Nebraska Farm Bureau also is encouraging contributions to the project and, according to Rob Robertson, the organization's chief administrator, will provide an as yet undetermined donation to the cause.

It would be a shame if the importance of agriculture is excluded in this great project. Goodhue's goal of making the Capitol an outward sign of the character of Nebraskans was accomplished in that magnificent structure. Nebraska's Centennial Mall needs to be that outward sign as well.  

Find out more about the Centennial Mall project at NECentennialMall.org.

For more information, call the Lincoln Parks Foundation at 402-441-8258, or contact Susan Larson Rodenburg at 402-440-3227 or email her at susan@slrcommunications.com.