Apartment dwellers who move into the renovated downtown Omaha Barker Building next year will be just an elevator ride away from not only a toasted sandwich, but also a medical checkup and a pharmaceutical refill.
Two main commercial tenants — Pickleman's Gourmet Cafe and Alegent Creighton Clinic and pharmacy — are to be announced today at an open house launching the remodeling phase of the 48-apartment Barker Building at the southwest corner of 15th and Farnam Streets.
While developers are pleased with how quickly street-level bays were reserved, they're more excited about what tenants like the health clinic represent in the evolution of downtown Omaha.
“We've always had a strong daytime population,” said Mike Moylan of downtown-based Shamrock Development, noting the area's workforce count of more than 40,000. “But now the residential population is finally getting to a critical mass where a lot of these nonfood retailers are starting to look pretty seriously at a downtown Omaha location.”
Moylan, who has partnered with Dicon Corp. on the renovation of the 1929 Barker Building, expects additional service-oriented outlets and soft-good retailers such as clothing and cellphone stores to come to the city's central business district as apartments continue to rise and employers expand.
Tony Hatcher, medical director of strategy and growth for Alegent Creighton Clinic, agreed that the increasing downtown bustle prompted his employer to take notice.
He said Alegent Creighton has a clinic in the Old Market that can't keep up with demand for sick checks, flu vaccines, blood work and other minor medical needs. Hatcher said his company was looking for an additional, central location downtown.
Both walk-ins and reservations will be accepted at the 2,200-square-foot clinic. Also open to the public will be pharmaceutical retail services. Currently the nearest public pharmacies are inside the Union Pacific Railroad building at 14th and Douglas Streets and the Walgreens at 31st and Dodge Streets.
“We're trying to look at ways to improve access,” said Hatcher. “This is something that has really been needed to help downtown to continue to grow and revitalize.”
The clinic will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays (Saturday hours are under consideration). Five jobs will be created: two in the pharmacy and three in the clinic, Hatcher said.
At least 30 people will be hired to work at Pickleman's, which offers toasted sandwiches and pizza in minutes or by delivery, said franchise owner Alex Harrington, who opened a Lincoln store in 2010.
Harrington said most Pickleman's stores are in college towns, but he found the downtown Omaha market “ideal” because of the number of employees within a square mile and the growing apartment population.
Moylan said the Barker Building awaits one more tenant to fill available commercial space in the seven-story structure scheduled to open next year.
The historic structure sat vacant for about a dozen years before Shamrock and Dicon started demolition. It now joins other defunct office space, including the Northern Natural Gas and Farm Credit Banks buildings, that recently were or are being repurposed into residences.
Dicon also is a principal in the planned renovation of the old Lerner building at 16th and Harney Streets into 40 market-rate apartments and street-level retail shops — another project that will add residential density.
Dicon president Royce Maynard said the Barker Building is unique in its linkage to one of Omaha's first families that had built two other structures on the same site. The two previous Barker Buildings burned down before Peter Kiewit constructed the concrete-and-steel neo-Gothic structure that Dicon and Shamrock today seek to return to its original character.
Nate Gieselman of Alley Poyner Macchietto architects said huge challenges emerged in restoring a historic building under modern codes. Yet the lobby, stairwells and windows will return largely to their original condition.
One of the more well-preserved corners is the old Buck's shoe store that closed in 1992 after six decades of operation in the Barker Building. Much of the shoe shop's original lighting fixtures, ornate entry and wood shelving remain. “It's one of the best spaces in the whole building,” said Gieselman.
The old Buck's is the lone commercial space yet to be leased. Residential rents likely will range from $975 to $1,500 a month.
While details are still being hammered out, the renovation will in some way memorialize the Barker family, said Moylan. One idea, he said, is interactive hallway videos.
Throughout the planning, he said, developers have faced the delicate balance of maintaining history in a contemporary and convenient living environment. It's been an interesting challenge, he said.
“We're creating new homes in a historical shell,” said Moylan.
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