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Cornhusker State Has a Knack for Mixed-Use Projects

The fifth and final phase of Capitol District is slated for completion later this year. The project is a compilation of residential, office, retail and hospitality space.

The term “mixed-use” appears to be all the rage, possibly a victim of its own success. A similar phenomenon occurred in the retail world with the introduction of the term “lifestyle center.” As a concept grows in popularity there is the natural inclination to capitalize on the movement, which can ultimately lead to watering down the concept.

However, despite a trend toward reducing the term “mixed-use” to its lowest common denominator, namely having two different product types, Nebraska’s mixed-use developers have remained dedicated to a meaningful and synergistic combination of several product types: office, residential, retail and food and entertainment. Nebraskan’s zeal for creating sizable mixed-use projects has provided its residents a variety of developments possessing a genuine and meaningful sense of place and community.

Frank Barber, N&M Brokerage Services

Although there’s more mixed-use projects in the making for the Husker State, for the purpose of this article we’ve chosen five projects that best represent the state’s mixed-use development. These developments not only create a desirable feel, but positively impact the larger community. Frankly, it’s one thing to have a successful mixed-use development where live, work and play isn’t just a marketing tag line. But, it’s a whole different matter when a project’s success spills over into positively impacting the surrounding fringe area as well as the larger community.

Omaha

Aksarben Village — 67th and Center streets

Aksarben Village is the benchmark for Nebraska’s mixed-use developments, benefitting from a public-private partnership with the University of Nebraska Omaha. In addition to the University’s College of Business, Peter Kiewit Science Institute and Scott Conference Center, Aksarben Village is comprised of 1.7 million square feet of office space, 420,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and entertainment, 635 multifamily units, 1,200 student housing units, three hotels, a 4.3-acre park and band shell as well as the Papio Trail system. Notable companies at the development include HDR, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, Pacific Life Insurance Co., Kiewit Co., Great Plains Energy, Microsoft, Olsson Associates and the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Erin Pogge, N&M Brokerage Services

The 70-acre tract of land was home to one of Omaha’s most popular destinations, Ak-Sar-Ben (Nebraska spelled backwards) Horse Race Track and Coliseum. In 2019, approximately 15 years from its original inception, there are just a couple of undeveloped pieces which remain at Aksarben Village.

However, Aksarben Village’s master developer, Jay Noddle of the Noddle Companies, admits a project like Aksarben Village “is never really finished.” But through a collective community effort, Noddle notes, “Aksarben Village has become the aspirational project for things not only in the region but around the country.” Furthermore, he states, “When you look at the economic impact on the fringe area surrounding the project and how the fringe area moves farther and farther out, like rings of a tree, you know you probably nailed it pretty well.”

Heartwood Preserve — 144th Street and W. Dodge Road

Another project Noddle is involved with is the state’s largest mixed-use project, Heartwood Preserve. The 480-acre planned development calls for 1.4 million square feet of office space, 500,000 square feet of retail, restaurants and entertainment, 400+ single-family units, 1,600+ multifamily units and 100 acres of parks and public space. Anchoring the project is Applied Underwriters’ 50-acre office campus with an initial phase of 250,000 square feet to be delivered in 2021.

Additionally, Avamere’s Ovation senior living campus, Carson Financial Services and H&H Premier Automobiles (Range Rover, Jaguar, BMW and Mini Cooper) will be joining the project in the near future. Despite being six times larger than Aksarben Village, much of the genesis of Heartwood Preserve comes directly from its smaller predecessor. And, given the success of Aksarben Village, Heartwood Preserve is in excellent company.

Capitol District — 10th Street and Capitol

Mike Moylan’s Shamrock Development is the driving force behind Omaha’s foremost downtown mixed-use project, the Capitol District, a compilation of residential, office, retail, restaurants and hospitality.  Moylan knew he had an A+ location within the central business district, across from CHI Health Center Arena and kitty-corner from Holland Performing Arts Center. He also knew it was important to tailor his project to the immediate area.

Moylan notes, “In our site use design and the merchandising plan for retail, we really focused on the advantages of the location across from Omaha’s largest civic venues, but also focused on new-to-market establishments to make the Capitol District unique and self-sustaining.”

Calling the Capitol District home is Omaha’s newest full-service hotel, Marriott, which opened in 2017, along with regionally acclaimed high-end steakhouse J. Gilbert’s and numerous other restaurants, bars and a Starbucks coffee house. Another feather in the Capitol District hat is becoming the city’s first designated Entertainment District, enabling alcohol to be served outdoors in a demarcated area. The speed at which the Capitol District has come together is impressive with four of the five phases completed by 2018 and the final phase to be completed this year.

Fringe development is now occurring with adjacent buildings being refurbished for residential and commercial use. It’s probably a good thing Shamrock is finishing up the Capitol District because other mixed-use projects like Black Dog’s Millwork Commons, a $300 million mixed-use project anchored by tech company Flywheel, are recognizing downtown benefits.

Sterling Ridge — 132nd and W. Pacific

The potential was always there for a pretty amazing mixed-use project on the 150-acre grounds of the former Ironwood Golf & Country Club. But few could have imagined, save Lockwood Development, how remarkable the end product would be. No doubt, it’s Omaha’s most suburban version of a mixed-use project, with each product type in a standalone configuration.

However, the combination of Class A office, restaurants, retail, single-family estate homes, two senior living projects and the hallmark Tri-Faith Initiative, makes for both a visually compelling and friendly community. Users such as Millard Refrigeration and Renaissance Financial, in combination with the newly announced LinkedIn project and Centris Federal Credit Union, make for a dynamic arrangement.

“Although the dominant focus of Sterling Ridge is office, we needed the other uses to help the project become more successful and sustainable. We had the opportunity to build the project out over time and follow the demand of the market, versus an urban mixed-use development that often needs to have the majority of the uses all at once,” says Emily O’Connor, vice president of Lockwood.

Lincoln

Haymarket-Railyard-Canopy Street — 7th and Q streets

It’s a long title for a project but it’s completely appropriate for capturing the amazing history of the 400-acre site. Haymarket is Lincoln’s original 19th-century center for commerce and trade. In the mid-1980s, the eight blocks of burnt red brick warehouses began being converted into restaurants and retail.

Fast forward to 2010, Lincoln voters approved funding for construction of the Pinnacle Bank Arena (PBA), a 15,500-seat sports and concert venue, which would become the anchor for the entire area. In 2014, the PBA opened and currently hosts 160 events per year, including major sporting events and music performances. Joining the PBA’s opening in 2014 was Canopy Street, Lincoln’s premier entertainment district with more than a dozen restaurants, bars and retail shops.

Over the last five years there’s been the addition of two corporate headquarters, HUDL and Olsson Associates, four hotels, even more restaurants and bars, and over 100 software startup companies. Will Scott, co-founder of WRK LLC, a principal developer, can’t believe the speed at which things have moved over the last five years. “I thought we were looking at 15 to 20 years. It’s happened a lot quicker.”

Like Aksarben Village in Omaha, the surrounding fringe areas around Haymarket-Railyard-Canopy Street continue to expand. “We wanted it to be a thoughtful economic engine, with a combination of uses that would enhance the existing downtown [Lincoln] landscape while also generating a sense of place,” says Scott.

Each of these projects will continue to flourish in the future because of the collective effort of vision, planning, coordination and collaboration. So successful has each team been in creating a sense of place, others wish to join. It’s perhaps the epitome of success when those around your mixed-use project wish to become a part of it by adding to it. It’s mixed-use in the making.    

— By Frank Barber, Partner, Senior Vice President, and Erin Pogge, Vice President, N&M Brokerage Services. This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Heartland Real Estate Business magazine.

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