New facility will include meeting, office space for university, businesses, public agencies
By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – The University of Nebraska Board of Regents approved a project Friday that will connect academics, government and business while strengthening Kearney’s role as a regional hub and portal to greater Nebraska.
The board voted unanimously to support a public-private partnership that will add a Regional Engagement and Alumni Center to the University of Nebraska at Kearney’s University Village development.
Chancellor Doug Kristensen called the $15.6 million project a “centerpiece and anchor” for University Village that will attract talented students and faculty to UNK, bring new businesses to the city and benefit employers across the state.
“As we prepare to develop the Regional Engagement and Alumni Center, it’s clear that it will be a linchpin of University Village and future development,” Kristensen said. “This building will serve as a destination and gathering place for central and western Nebraska and beyond to engage the university and community on a variety of issues that are critical to the region.”
The Regional Engagement and Alumni Center is planned as a two-story, 49,000-square-foot facility to be located directly west of the Village Flats residence hall. Under the plan approved Friday, completion will be in summer 2022.
It will feature meeting, conference and public gathering spaces designed to accommodate both large and small events, as well as state-of-the-art technology capable of connecting people from across the world through virtual meetings and presentations. The building could host career fairs, campus and community events, lectures, public hearings, government meetings and countless other engagements.
The first of several office buildings planned at the 104-acre University Village development, the Regional Engagement and Alumni Center will also serve as a destination for professional firms, public and private agencies and nonprofits looking to lease office space in central Nebraska.
UNK will own and occupy approximately 24,000 square feet, and the UNK Alumni Association and University of Nebraska Foundation, currently located at 214 W. 39th St. in Kearney, will also call the building home. Other tenants will be announced as lease agreements are finalized.
This colocation opens the door to expanded educational and experiential learning opportunities for UNK students while introducing businesses to a large pool of potential employees.
“The Regional Engagement and Alumni Center will elevate the university and our partners,” Kristensen said. “It will inspire and connect visionaries in Kearney and across our great state in meaningful and impactful ways.”
UNK is partnering with developer Josh Berger of Elkhorn on the project. A private equity investment led by Berger is investing approximately $5.1 million in the private portion of the project – office and mixed-use spaces that will complement the UNK space. Berger will oversee construction of the entire project.
“The collaboration between the university and private industry is essential in the development of University Village,” said Jon Watts, vice chancellor for business and finance at UNK. “To realize efficiencies in coordination and ensure execution of the University Village vision, the university selected Josh Berger as a critical partner to develop, finance and oversee the project from beginning to end.”
UNK’s share of the project costs is expected to be about $10.4 million, which covers the university’s space and all shared or common areas. That funding will come from an internal lending program.
Located along U.S. Highway 30 south of UNK’s main campus, University Village is a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood featuring residential, retail, academic, recreation, community engagement and service industry facilities.
Village Flats, a 99-unit, apartment-style residence hall, opened there in summer 2018 and the LaVonne Kopecky Plambeck Early Childhood Education Center followed in fall 2019. Construction started this fall on the $48 million Element 30 housing project, a partnership between UNK and Grand Island real estate developer Scott Rief. UNK and the city of Kearney are also working together to build an indoor tennis complex that’s expected to open in early 2022.