Administration Moves Forward on Saunders Acquisition

Renee Ballenger

Just a few days ago, the first hearing was held to begin negotiations toward the University’s acquisition of the Saunders Estate property at the east end of campus—the area in which Follett’s bookstore resides.

The hearing was the “Next Step” following the UN Board of Regents’ passing of a Resolution, dated September 5, 2008, authorizing UNK to proceed with actions in accordance to Neb. Rev. Stat. 25-2501 thru 25-2506 (uniform procedure for acquiring private property for public use).

UNK wants to purchase and own this particular area so that it can complete an infrastructure plan designed to relieve traffic congestion and improve traffic flow for motor vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. At this time, all of these groups are in precarious conflict with one another as they try to navigate this Kearney version of a big-city-like “spaghetti bowl,” extending north-andsouth from 26th Street to the entrance to Highway 30.

“We want to work with the City of Kearney, as well as the community’s law enforcement and safety agencies,” Barbara Johnson, Vice Chancellor of Business and Finance, says, “in our shared concern with the needs and safety issues of this traffic intersection area.”

UNK and the City are partners in a recommendation to redesign the eastern main entrance area of campus to include a right-of-way relocation, a pedestrian buffer, other safety-and convenience-enhancing structures and amenities, and landscaping. “We also will be looking at this space and considering how we might utilize it to expand the campus’s parking, too,” Johnson adds.

In this same timeframe, but due entirely to separate circumstances, has been the closing of business of Follett’s bookstore, located within the Saunders building.

Johnson explains, that historically, Follett’s has enjoyed answering the needs of about 60 percent of the college bookstore market in Kearney, while UNK met the needs of the remaining 40 percent. There was a time, too, where the two bookstores were sharing the market at about 50/50. But lately, Johnson says, the numbers have flipped and the larger percentage—again, about 60 percent—has been patronizing the Antelope for its bookstore needs.

Elio Distaola, Director of Campus Relations for Follett Higher Education Group, states, “In the last year, we determined that it was no longer in the best interest of the company to keep the Kearney Follett Bookstore store open.We are going to miss this great campus and community.”

John Parish, Director of the University Bookstore at UNL, further clarifies, “Although the timing has been similar, this business decision was made completely separate and unrelated to the Regents’ Resolution and UNK’s seeking of the Saunders property.” Follett’s officially closed Wednesday, October 15.

Johnson declares, “We are glad to have the responsibility for providing the full services of a bookstore to our students.” With this charge in duty comes the necessity to reconfigure the space in the eastern section of the Nebraskan Student Union to make for more sales floor space in the Antelope. As a result, the Office of Multicultural Affairs will move further east into the area of the Oak Room. Additionally, Johnson says, some other expanded storage space will be utilized in other areas of NSU.

UNK’s desire to purchase this particular real property in the vicinity of 25th and 26th Streets and 9th Avenue is not new. In fact, expression of interest and attempts to acquire have taken place numerous times over the last quarter-century, but the owner, the late Mr. O.H. Saunders was not interested in selling.

Most recently, UNK resubmitted its interest in the property to the heirs of Mr. Saunders, and is now actively pursuing negotiations with them and any other persons related. UNK will exhaust all good faith negotiation proceedings before any initiations of the use of authorized eminent domain are enacted.