Nebraska Furniture Mart is signaling its intentions to make Omaha its permanent headquarters.
The company last year was offered “huge incentives” by officials in Texas to relocate its corporate headquarters to the Dallas metropolitan area, where Nebraska Furniture Mart plans to construct what will be its largest retail store, according to Omaha Planning Department documents.
Instead, the Mart is doubling-down on its Omaha roots. The company has purchased a vacant two-story office building and plans to spend $7.4 million to revive the 44,000-square-foot space at 808 S. 74th Plaza.
The office addition will stretch the Furniture Mart's sprawling Omaha campus south of Papillion Creek. And once construction is finished by next summer, the Furniture Mart will hire at least 176 new employees, including new executives and managers, buyers, information technology staff and customer service representatives, said Robert Batt, the company's executive vice president.
“We've always been here. We're always going to be here,” Batt said. “Every time anybody expands, that's good business.”
The Furniture Mart got its start in 1937 when Russian immigrant Rose Blumkin started the store in a basement shop in downtown Omaha. The current Omaha operation at 700 S. 72nd St. began in 1975 after an F4 tornado ripped through Omaha, forcing Blumkin to rebuild.
In 1983, Berkshire Hathaway CEO and Chairman Warren Buffett agreed to buy the Mart for $60 million, leaving the Blumkin family in charge. Today, Irv Blumkin is chairman and CEO, and Ron Blumkin is president and chief operating officer.
In 1994 the store added an electronics and appliance building in Omaha and, in 2003, the Furniture Mart opened a $60 million store in Kansas City, Kan., the retailer's first satellite location to operate under the mart's name. In November, Furniture Mart officials made public the plans for the Dallas-area store.
The new corporate office is sorely needed, Batt said. As the Furniture Mart's sales and operations have grown, the need for more “back office” positions and space to house them has grown. Some of the company's corporate employees in Omaha who no longer fit in its main facility facing 72nd Street are tucked away in makeshift offices in the Furniture Mart's warehouse.
And with the opening of the massive Dallas-area store, those needs for staff and space will grow even more.
“It takes a lot of people to handle that many customers,” Batt said.
The jobs will be added incrementally over the next three years to prepare for the opening of the Nebraska Furniture Mart now under construction in The Colony, Texas, a suburb north of Dallas. The new store includes 1.2 million square feet of warehouse space, a 546,000-square-foot showroom and 25,000 square feet of regional corporate office space.
Much like Nebraska Furniture Mart's store in Kansas City, the Dallas-area store is set to become an anchor of a much larger development that could include other retailers, hotels, a convention center and restaurants.
All told, the Texas-size store's retail space is about 9 percent larger than Omaha's and its warehouse is more than twice as large.
Batt said the store is scheduled to open in 2015.
Nebraska Furniture Mart currently has 1,900 Omaha employees. Batt said the company doesn't keep track of how many of those are in corporate positions.
According to a project plan that will be considered by the Omaha Planning Board on Wednesday, the new office site will include the construction of a new pedestrian bridge across Papillion Creek that will connect the office to the Furniture Mart's retail campus; a new trail along the creek, with a parking area; and new landscaping around the property.
The proposed office redevelopment falls within the boundaries of the “blighted” redevelopment area surrounding Crossroads Mall that stretches from the four commercial corners at 72nd and Dodge Streets south to Pacific Street and west to 84th Street.
Rick Cunningham, Omaha's planning director, said the Nebraska Furniture Mart office redevelopment is a small piece of what the city envisioned when it laid out the redevelopment zone.
“The area needs to have this kind of redevelopment, not just in a big way like Crossroads,” Cunningham said. “This is getting down on the ground as far as a redevelopment project.”
In its proposal, Nebraska Furniture Mart requests $886,520 in tax increment financing to help offset the cost of acquiring the building, public improvements and the rehabilitation of the vacant building. TIF diverts future gains in property taxes to subsidize project costs.
City planners are recommending approval. The TIF funds also would require a vote of the Omaha City Council.
Nebraska Furniture Mart purchased the building for $916,938 from LK Company LLC, according to public records. Batt said the decision to revitalize the old facility rather than build a new central office “made it a good deal for everybody.”
“We think the building is worth saving and rehabbing,” he said.
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