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Lincoln faces legal uncertainty over skywalk system

November 24, 2018

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — The future of Lincoln’s skywalk system is the subject of legal uncertainty after the project’s original contracts expired and plans for a downtown shopping mall were dropped.

City staff and owners of buildings connected to the original skywalk system are discussing how the skywalks should be handled in the future, according to Chris Connolly, chief assistant city attorney. City staff will be considering whether the downtown skywalks are a useful system for the city to maintain, the Lincoln Journal Star reported .

Lincoln’s original skywalk system was built in the late 1970s and early 1980s to connect five blocks in the city’s downtown, providing an indoor pathway. Additional walkways were added later. The core downtown system connects seven blocks and five garages with walkways over six streets and one alley.

The plan was to create a system where shoppers could visit up to 120 businesses without ever stepping outside. But the vision of that downtown shopping mall has been moved to the suburbs, so the skywalk system’s future remains a mystery.

Contracts covering construction, continued maintenance and public access within the original system have expired or will soon end.

Most workers in buildings connected to the original system can still move freely through the skywalks, but their access could be in jeopardy with the ongoing legal discussions.

Under the agreements that created the original skywalk system, private building owners paid for construction and were responsible for internal maintenance. The city was required to carry insurance and repair walkways damaged by fire or other casualties.

Building owners granted public access through their buildings, while the city granted public access on the walkways over public streets.

“This was really more of a private project, done over city property with city facilitation,” Connolly said.

The city is arguing that private building owners are responsible for the walkways, but the building owners disagree.

With agreements between property owners and the city ending, both groups will need to sort out new rules for the original system.

“We are not sure what the property owners want to do and we are trying to assess what we want to do,” Connolly said.

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Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com