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Omaha Undergoing ‘Remarkable’ Downtown Transformation

Pictured is a rendering of the Gene Leahy Pedestrian Mall project.

Remarkable. It’s the word that continues to pop up in interviews and conversations relating to the present transformation occurring in Omaha’s downtown area. If you think you might be experiencing déjà vu, it’s likely because you are. After all, it wasn’t that long ago when the same word was being used to describe the transformation that took place in downtown Omaha 10 to 15 years ago. It was at that time that approximately $2.5 billion was invested in Omaha’s downtown through a combination of public and private developments.

Omaha introduced a laundry list of new buildings and projects, including the city’s new arena and convention center (presently branded the CHI Health Center), TD Ameritrade Park (the home of College World Series), the 45-story First National Bank Tower, the National Park Service Building, Gallup Organization’s operational headquarters, Union Pacific’s 1.1 million-square-foot headquarters, The Holland Performing Arts Center, Roman L. Hruska Federal Courthouse and The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. That was remarkable.

Frank Barber, N&M Brokerage Services

What could be so “remarkable” about the current downtown Omaha transformation? The answer is a redevelopment of the Gene Leahy Pedestrian Mall as part of the $300 million Riverfront Revitalization project.

You might be thinking $300 million doesn’t sound remarkable when compared to $2.5 billion. However, the reason the $300 million is so incredible is the anticipated finished product, a 90-acre city park interconnected with an elevated pedestrian riverfront walkway. If that’s not enough to move the needle on your remarkable meter, it’s all slated for a 2022 completion. And one more thing, nearly 80 percent of the funding is coming from private, philanthropic sources. Now that’s remarkable!

What’s to come

Community leaders have had an eye on the riverfront for decades, but this renewed focus has a powerful combination of a shared vision powered by municipal and philanthropic support. The Missouri River was basically viewed as an obstacle 150 years ago. No doubt there were commercial enterprises associated with the river, but for most of the city’s residents the Missouri River was a barrier to overcome. But here in the early 21st century, Omaha’s community leaders have taken the decisive step to bring its residents back to the river’s edge for its enjoyment. The barrier is now a benefit.

In fewer than five years, downtown Omaha will have 90 acres of pedestrian-friendly, interconnected park space comprised of the redeveloped Gene Leahy Mall, the Heartland of America Park and the Lewis & Clark Landing. As part of the Heartland Park, there will be a new pedestrian walkway fronting the Missouri River, which will connect to the current pedestrian walkway at Lewis & Clark Landing. From the Lewis & Clark Landing you can take the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge across the Missouri to River’s Edge in Council Bluffs.

For the first time in modern history, Omaha will possess urban public space unrivaled in the Midwest. Okay, maybe Chicago’s Millennium Park gets the nod, however for a community of its size, Omaha’s new public space is going to be a game changer. Not only will the public space create a draw for area residents but it will become an added catalyst for development.

Local players

In a recent interview, two prominent downtown commercial developers, Mike Moylan of Shamrock Development and Jay Noddle of Noddle Cos., were asked about the impact the park and riverfront walk will have on the community. Want to guess what they said? You got it, “Remarkable!” And that is coming from two men who know what remarkable is all about.

Shamrock Development is the driving force behind Omaha’s new Capitol District project, a mixed-use project anchored by the full-service Marriott Hotel, which is complemented by numerous restaurants, bars and coffee shops as well as the 218-unit Capitol District Apartments. The Capitol District, located at 10th Street and Capitol Avenue, will serve as a direct beneficiary of the 90-acre park. The planned connectivity of the park will provide an amazing opportunity for guests and residents of the Capitol District to enjoy the downtown area in a manner never before experienced.

However, it’s not just the Capitol District that will benefit. Existing and planned residential and commercial development in the downtown area, including downtown developments like the ones in which the Noddle Cos. have participated, will also benefit.

Jay Noddle’s company has helped to facilitate some of Omaha’s largest downtown projects, including the original ConAgra Campus, First National Bank Tower and the Gallup Organization’s operational headquarters, which set the stage and became the determining catalyst for reclaiming the Missouri riverfront as a benefit. 

Most recently, Noddle Cos. has been involved with the River’s Edge mixed-use development, directly across the river at the base of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge in Council Bluffs, as well as the recently announced Builder’s District project, a proposed 12-block area on the north side of downtown Omaha. Anchoring the Builder’s District project will be the new world headquarters for Fortune 500 company Peter Kiewit Son’s Inc.

Like the Capitol District, both River’s Edge in Council Bluffs and the Builder’s District will benefit from the Riverfront Revitalization project. In fact, upon its completion this year the River’s Edge mixed-use project, including the River’s Edge Pavilion, will provide a fantastic example for enjoying the waterfront through work, home and special events.   

The future certainly looks bright for Omaha’s downtown area. Perhaps the better phraseology is Omaha’s future looks even brighter! The benefit of the Riverfront Revitalization will be a game changer — and not only for Omaha but for Council Bluffs as well. Both communities will enjoy the immediate benefit of the revitalization project. More significantly, both communities will appreciate the incalculable long-term benefit of bringing its citizens and communities back to the river. Remarkable.

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

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