You may have picked up a tax form from there in years past.
Or perhaps you recall it as a place Timothy McVeigh reportedly staked out before he detonated a truck bomb at an Oklahoma City counterpart, killing 168 people.
But for the most part, and particularly as it has sat empty the past few years, the Omaha Federal Building at the southwest corner of 15th and Dodge Streets has gone relatively unnoticed. Douglas County officials didn't even want the 1933 structure when it was offered to them six years ago for a buck.
Today, however, a $23 million resurrection plan calls for the historic 12-story office building to be transformed into a 152-room Residence Inn by Marriott.
City officials expect the conversion spearheaded by a group called First OFB to re-energize a key downtown corner, perhaps drawing new retail and other development to the area.
“One of the challenges to making downtown this vibrant place is having anchor projects that will be magnets for moving people around,” said David Brown, president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. “This will add energy and vitality to that corridor.”
Mike Nelson of the Des Moines-based Nelson Development said he is especially pleased to have the opportunity to preserve a historic building in Omaha's aging central business district.
“The best and most effective way to be environmentally sound in the development business is to rehab those buildings,” Nelson said. “So it's a good feeling — and a green feeling — to work on projects like it.”
Under the name First OFB, Nelson Development is teaming up with First Hospitality Group Inc. of Rosemont, Ill. Both have track records in converting historic structures and in hotel operations.
The Omaha Residence Inn will be the third project the two have worked on together, said Angie Pfannkuch of Nelson Development. The others are the Fairfield Inn and Suites in downtown Omaha and the Hyatt Place hotel in the historic Liberty Building in downtown Des Moines.
Alley Poyner Macchietto has been tapped as designer. Nelson Construction will handle interior renovations and reconstruction; First Hospitality Group will manage hotel operations.
Nelson Development had eyed the federal building back in 2007 when it was put up for sale at public auction, Pfannkuch said. That was after the U.S. General Services Administration had declared the building excess property and government agencies, including Douglas County, passed on taking it over.
A group of California investors made the winning bid of $1.3 million, but plans never materialized, and the property has sat vacant since the Army Corps of Engineers in 2008 moved out and into the refurbished Edward Zorinsky Federal Building.
Jon Pesce, who along with Dan Dutton of World Group Commercial Real Estate represented the sellers, said the California group sold the building to First OFB in December for $2.37 million. That price is included in the $23 million the developers say is needed to open the hotel.
Mayor Jim Suttle called the project a testament to the strength of Omaha's economy and said the hotel will “go a long way in revitalizing downtown Omaha.”
Plans call for the hotel to open in 2013 and create 50 full-time and 25 part-time hospitality jobs as well as 100 construction jobs.
Financing would include about $3 million in federal historic tax credits, said Pfannkuch. The group is working with officials on other possible funding mechanisms as well.
Tailored to extended-stay guests, the rooms are to include fully equipped kitchens. Guests will have access to a business center, a fitness center and outdoor patio that overlooks a sculpture park.
“Today's business traveler is interested in a unique experience, and historic buildings provide that setting,” Nelson said.
He likes that the hotel will be near well-known businesses, including First National Bank and Union Pacific Railroad, that need lodging for visitors.
Developers were smitten as well by the proximity to the College World Series, CenturyLink Center Omaha and other downtown attractions.
“We just think Omaha is a good community to be in,” said Pfannkuch. “There's lots to do; it's growing.”
Brown said that many locals and tourists undoubtedly walk past 106 S. 15th St. and think: “What a cool-looking place. I wonder what the story is behind that building?”
He said the rehabilitation should put a spotlight on the history of the 120,000-square-foot structure, which was built on the site of a razed Army building as part of New Deal federal programs aimed at relieving problems of the Great Depression.
Past occupants included federal roads, agricultural and veterans workers, seed and grain testing, civil service and weather bureaus, Army and Navy recruiting stations and the Internal Revenue Service.
In 1995 the building reportedly was staked out by McVeigh and an accomplice before their deadly bombing attack, although the FBI said the report was never substantiated.
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
Preservation enthusiasts say it is one of few local examples of art deco-style detailing popular in the 1920s through the 1940s that emphasized sleek geometric shapes and clean lines.
Developers plan to preserve significant features that also include terrazzo marble floors and granite, limestone and brick in the facade. That's a move not only good for history, Nelson said, but also for business.
“As people understand how green and sustainable the act of renovating a project like the Federal Building is,” he said, “they're even more interested in enjoying it when it's done.”
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