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Builders Aim for the Sky in Flat Nebraska


LINCOLN, Neb. — In flat-as-a-cutting-board Nebraska, where the horizon is broken only by an occasional stand of trees and a grain silo, some folks have gotten the urge to go vertical.

They're building a giant archway spanning Interstate 80 in the middle of the state and drawing up plans for a 610-foot stainless-steel tower resembling a tornado near Omaha.

"We don't have anything that's vertical here," said artist Robert Hogenmiller Jr., explaining why he is designing Vortex the Tornado Tower, a $35-million contraption that would use lasers to create the illusion of a spinning twister.

About 175 miles west, construction begins this summer on the $40-million Platte River Road Archway Monument, an 80-foot-high, 300-foot-wide arch over the highway near Kearney.

"This will help break up the long drive across Nebraska," said Roger Jasnoch, president of the Kearney-area Chamber of Commerce.

The monument is intended to commemorate the Platte River Valley's role in America's westward migration.

The Tornado Tower hasn't moved much beyond a June resolution from the Cass County Planning Commission saying that a developer should build it.

Not everyone is thrilled with plans that run counter to the natural flat order of things.

"That'll really boost tourism," deadpanned Eric Wilkinson of Lincoln. "Come to Nebraska! See our giant tornado and arch!"

If built, the tower would eclipse Nebraska's tallest buildings. Omaha's Woodmen Tower at 440 feet and the state Capitol in Lincoln at 400 feet rank as two of the few structures that scrape Nebraska's sky.

Nebraska flatness inspired Bertram Goodhue when he designed the Capitol, said state architect Robert Ripley.

Ripley recalled a jab from a Bostonian who once observed that Nebraska was "a tabletop with trees and grass."

The retort: "Yeah, and we didn't have the trees until people moved here."

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