Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray said Sunday that north Omaha neighborhoods are “coming back to life” and he hopes voters in the 2nd District will give him another term to help continue the recovery.
Gray said he announced his re-election plans from the Planet Fitness health club at 5804 Ames Ave. to underscore the resurgence of business in the area. The club, which opened Jan. 1, and the Heartland Workforce Solutions office next door occupy a building in Ames Plaza that had been vacant for 30 years.
“This is the first time that a fitness chain’s exercise facility has moved into north Omaha, and I think that’s significant,” Gray said. “We also have Walmart moving in down the street, and that’s exciting.”
Creating jobs and job-training programs top Gray’s list of needed improvements for his district and the city overall, he said. He pointed to his work with Mayor Jim Suttle in creating the Step Up Summer Jobs program that put more than 850 young people to work in 2012.
“We have similar plans this year, with a goal of hiring at least 1,000 youth workers this summer,” Gray said. “I should mention that I am the first city councilman to push for Community Development Block Grant dollars for summer youth employment.”
He also touted the council’s passage of the small-emerging-business ordinance that he said was created to be a mechanism for bringing jobs to impoverished areas of the city.
Other improvements in his district, Gray said, include the new First National Bank branch coming to Ames Plaza and the NorthStar Foundation’s new facility for troubled boys.
Gray said he is helping to negotiate a deal that would allow the city to acquire 70 acres of land east of 16th Street between Ames Avenue and Locust Street. He envisions “four or five manufacturing businesses” moving into that area to provide some “much needed” employment opportunities.
Gray lauded the City Council and present administration for their ability to work with neighborhood groups and business owners to address violence in north Omaha. Organizations like the Empowerment Network, Impact One and the North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance have made significant progress in helping young adults escape the gang culture, he said.
“Even though the city’s homicide numbers are still up, we know that the number of shots fired are down significantly,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction and I want to help the city get (the violence) turned around.”
Incumbents seeking re-election have until Feb. 15 to file. Non-incumbents must file by March 1.
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