LINCOLN -- The $9.6 million campaign to renovate Centennial Mall has reached its goal, thanks to $2 million gift from a Colorado investor.
A Lincoln parks official described the gift from Glenn Korff, a Nebraska boy who spent much of his career at Salomon Brothers and Goldman Sachs in New York City, as the largest ever made to Lincoln Parks and Recreation.
The donation makes it possible to launch construction this summer and to be completed by 2015, said Parks Director Lynn Johnson. That will allow new landscape plantings to be fully established by the 2017 celebration of Nebraska's 150th anniversary.
Supporters will continue to seek donations to pay for a high-tech wireless network along the mall, as well as for a walkway lined with tiles honoring notable Nebraskans and their families. An estimated $500,000 is needed for that phase of the project.
Maintenance of the mall, a seven-block walkway that links the State Capitol with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln downtown campus, is the financial responsibility of the Lincoln parks system, although improvements also must be approved by a state board responsible for the Capitol environs.
The center three blocks of the mall are open to traffic, with two blocks on its north and south ends devoted to pedestrian plazas. Many key Lincoln buildings face the mall, including the Nebraska Historical Society Museum, UNL's Andersen Hall, the Lincoln Children's Museum, the Denney Federal Builing, Pershing Center and the State Office Building.
Though the mall was envisioned by Capitol architect Bertram Goodhue, it wasn't built until Nebraska's 1967 centennial. Its plazas once featured a series of fountains, but most have been shut down, their basins filled because of age and deterioration. Many of the mall's stairs, walkways and planters are cracked and crumbling.
The fundraising campaign to renovate the mall included a $1.5 million endowment to provide for maintenance so the mall doesn't deteriorating again.
Korff described his gift as an “investment in Nebraska.”
“This is a gift to honor all Nebraskans, to honor the heritage of our ancestors, to honor the education of our young people and adults alike about the blessings that abound in this state,” he said.
He has warm memories of both the University of Nebraska and the State Capitol building, he said, and he likes the way the mall links the two as well as the connections that mall designers are making between Nebraska's past and its future.
“With the technology that is planned for the entire mall, we are moving to the future while staying very connected to our roots,” he said. “I find this concept very grounding.”
It is the latest of several gifts that Korff, 69, has made in Nebraska. He recently made significant gifts toward construction of a new College of Business Administration at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and to Doane College in Crete.
Korff's brother, Kenneth, of Tucson, Ariz., also contributed to the NU and Doane gifts.
The Korffs' father, Paul W. Korff, was a University of Nebraska graduate, while their mother, Esther was a Doane graduate. Both are deceased.
The gift to Centennial Mall was made by Glenn Korff alone.
A fourth-generation Nebraskan, Korff grew up in Hebron where his father -- a NU graduate who'd been thwarted from a New York City finance career by the Great Depression -- ran a family-owned lumberyard. His mother grew up in Crete and met his father after moving to Hebron to teach school.
Korff said the biggest transition in his life was leaving Hebron to go to the University of Nebraska. He credited NU not only for his academic education but for teaching him social skills that served him well in his career.
From there, he said, going to graduate school at the Wharton School of Finance in Philadelphia and on to New York City for a career in finance, was “easy.”
Korff still recalls the excitement of that first glimpse of the State Capitol on family car trips from Hebron to Lincoln in his youth.
“It was always who could spot the state capitol first, while miles away from Lincoln,” he said. “Those times are still indelible on my mind.”
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