Midtown Crossing isn't exactly in the middle of town — far from it — but it's certainly a center of public activity.
This week, the area features the “Architects of Air” exhibit, as well as nightly concerts. “Movie night” at 8 on Mondays has averaged more than 500 people outdoors. The popular “Jazz on the Green” series on Thursday nights starts July 12, attracting thousands.
All of that and more take place on the grassy, sloping amphitheater created as part of the $365 million Mutual of Omaha project. It includes apartments, condos, a hotel, restaurants, shops, a parking garage, a movie theater and an improved (at more than $9 million in company expense), city-owned Turner Park.
Midtown Crossing takes its name from the historical midtown neighborhood west of downtown — a 3.6-square-mile area bounded by 24th Street, Saddle Creek Road, Cuming Street and Center Street.
If you look on a map today, “midtown” sits in the far eastern part of the city. In the distant past, when the area got its unofficial name and the city was much smaller, midtown stood very much in the center of town.
Today the geographic middle of Omaha is probably around 90th Street and West Dodge Road or even farther west. But the area around Mutual of Omaha's national headquarters at 33rd and Dodge Streets has retained the midtown name — now reinforced by the increasing profile of Midtown Crossing.
Still, “mid” occasionally causes confusion.
“A restaurant was advertising for people to visit its ‘midtown' location, and some came here looking for it,” said Midtown Crossing spokeswoman Molly Skold. “I told them that place was way out on 114th Street; they stayed and dined at one of our restaurants. The other place dropped ‘midtown' from its advertising.”
Omaha has basked this week in the spotlight of national sports events at TD Ameritrade Park and CenturyLink Center Omaha. The U.S. Olympic Swim Trials continue, and Mutual of Omaha is an official sponsor of USA Swimming.
People drive past the Fortune 500 company's headquarters to see the sculpture of a swimmer emerging from the ground. And at night, they view a six-minute movie and light show celebrating swimming, projected on the side of the 14-story building.
For more than a century, Mutual has been good for Omaha. And the feeling appears to be mutual.
How “Omaha” is Mutual of Omaha? When a CBS News documentary during the Cold War dramatized the effect of a nuclear attack on Nebraska's largest city, it showed the Mutual of Omaha building and its Indian-brave logo being blown to bits.
Marlin Perkins and Jim Fowler took us around the world on television with “Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.”
Mutual executives and employees long have served on civic boards and taken part in many community activities. Now the company's Midtown Crossing project attracts people in a variety of ways.
A new feature this week is Wi-Fi in Turner Park so visitors can use their laptops, iPads and other devices to get online without a password or a fee.
The “Architects of Air” exhibit is a colorful, walk-through (in bare feet), inflatable luminarium. Worldwide, more than 2 million people have viewed the exhibit since 1992.
The 11,000-square-foot maze of tunnels, which takes about 15 minutes to walk through, immerses visitors in light and color.
Flo Guerin, a native of Paris who has traveled with the exhibit for 10 years, lay against an inner wall and said visitors who do the same can feel the exhibit “breathing.”
With a kind of New Age music playing in the background, she added: “This is magically meant for people to enjoy the beauty of life in color.”
The luminarium is open during daytime hours — originally to 6 p.m., but cut to 2 p.m. in the heat wave. Friday and Saturday hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $5.
The concert that follows Saturday evening will end with a fireworks show.
Since plans for the 15-acre Midtown Crossing were announced in 2006, the scope has never been middling. Many called it bold.
In the recession that soon followed, condo sales were slow. As for residential buildings today, Skold said one is more than 60 percent full; another leases space to Creighton University and the University of Nebraska Medical Center for visiting professors and others; and condominium sales are to begin soon on a third.
Midtown Crossing, Skold said, has experienced a few “retail bumps and bruises,” but most places are doing well. Total sales, she said, are up 11 percent from last year.
Fifty years ago, the late Chairman V.J. Skutt officially ditched his company's long and cumbersome name — the Mutual Benefit Health and Accident Association — in favor of “Mutual of Omaha.”
That has a much nicer ring. Fortunately, Mutual of Omaha isn't going anywhere — it's part and parcel of its hometown, and often in the middle of activity.
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