Crossroads Mall would become a mixed-use development with stores, restaurants and apartments targeting college students under plans revealed this week by its owner and developer.
Frank Krejci of Omaha, who bought the struggling shopping center for $9.5 million last June, and his Arizona-based partner said the 50-year-old enclosed mall would be renamed University Village at Crossroads.
It would retain its anchor stores but undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation.
“It's not going to be a small deal. It's going to be huge,” Krejci said.
The two have had preliminary talks with City of Omaha officials and have a Thanksgiving 2013 target for completion.
University of Nebraska at Omaha officials released a statement Wednesday that said they are minimally aware of the proposal but have no direct involvement and don't plan to be involved. UNO is opening its own 480-unit housing complex in fall 2011.
“Private housing options in the immediate university area are always attractive for students not seeking to be on campus,” the statement said.
Krejci, whose previous projects include Oak View Mall and several office and housing developments, said he didn't have a vision for the space until teaming up with developer Rod Yates of OTB Destination in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"I just thought there was value there,” Krejci said, “until Rod came along.”
The Omaha developer said he was certain of one thing: Transforming “broken retail” at a prime location beats creating a development from the ground up.
Krejci and Yates, a former Husker football player from Sioux City, Iowa, said they considered several possibilities for the space. Yates' idea of a development that would appeal to college students was a “home run,” Krejci said.
The shopping center's anchors — Target on the east, Sears on the west and Barnes & Noble near the main entrance — would remain.
Another anchor tenant would be sought for the former Dillard's space on the north. The parking garage, a part of which is leased by UNO, would remain as well.
Krejci and Yates would demolish the rest of the mall. Replacing it would be an open-air space encompassing about 350,000 square feet of public-use sites, including a possible Omaha Public Library branch as well as restaurants, housing and retailers targeting the college demographic.
Yates said many retailers would want access to the more than 28,000 college students within a six-mile radius of 72nd and Dodge Streets, the city's second-busiest intersection.
Proximity to the Nebraska Furniture Mart and affluent neighborhoods also make the location attractive, he said. He plans to pursue retail options new to the Omaha market, such as the European clothing retailer H&M.
Bob Batt, executive vice president of Nebraska Furniture Mart, said that he hadn't been briefed on the plan but that he trusts Krejci's judgment.
Revitalizing Crossroads is crucial to the neighborhood and the entire city, Batt said.
“Besides the lost tax base, it does no one any good at all to have that empty.”
City Planning Director Rick Cunningham said, “I'm just tickled pink that they are leading the charge. We would like this to be a catalyst for this whole intersection. ... A redeveloped Crossroads would be an exclamation on the renaissance of Omaha.”
The big-picture plan is a long way from the formal approval process, but a number of city officials have been involved in discussions with Yates and Krejci, Cunningham said. He described the relationship as very collaborative.
Omaha Library Director Gary Wasdin said he learned about the plan from Cunningham. The organization's long-term road map calls for a branch at Crossroads, Wasdin said, but library officials and board members haven't studied the feasibility of moving into Krejci's development.
“It's an ideal location,” Wasdin said. “There would be a lot of discussion on our part to figure out if that was something we wanted to do. We'd need to figure out how we're going to pay for such a thing.”
Yates, who also is working with Krejci and a third partner to rejuvenate the Nebraska Crossing development in Gretna, said he is confident that everything will come together in time for the targeted opening.
The design process will take about 180 days, with construction lasting approximately nine months. To meet the timeline, construction would need to begin in about a year, he said.
Krejci and Yates intend to build apartments for students atop the former Dillard's building.
For that part of the project, Yates said, he is interviewing national companies that manage university housing. That company would decide whether to work directly through a university or to offer leasing options attractive to students — 10 months versus 12 months, separate lease agreements for each of four roommates, for example.
“If we aren't experts in student housing, we should bring in someone who is,” Yates said.
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