A new downtown Omaha hotel will have some old-school gangsters hanging around when it opens in July.
Along with the likes of Machine Gun Kelly, Pretty Boy Floyd and Ma Barker — a few of the infamous faces on an unearthed 1930s FBI most-wanted poster — visitors to the Residence Inn by Marriott will see a trio of Great Depression-era vault doors on display and perhaps notice an eerie basement escape route to a nearby alley.
That's because as many artifacts as possible are being preserved for future decorative use during the ongoing transformation of the historic Omaha Federal Building into a 152-room Residence Inn.
It's the historic character and unusual ambience that developers are counting on to lure business to the hotel they say is an atypical hybrid of old and new elements.
“A lot of travelers want to know the story behind the building,” said General Manager Kyle Highberg. “We have here a different and distinct guest experience.”
Retaining the architectural and historical significance of the landmark at the southwest corner of 15th and Dodge Streets also is a concern of federal officials who, because of the building's status in the National Register of Historic Places and its receipt of historic tax credits, must sign off on adaptations. The Nebraska State Historic Preservation Office also weighs in.
Though the layers of reviews require more time and bureaucracy than building from scratch, they're part of the process that preservation-conscious architecture firms like Alley Poyner Macchietto appreciate.
“You end up having a lot of opinions,” said Alley Poyner's Katrina Stoffel. “It's tedious, but we are delighted with the details, and in the end it's an amazing product.”
Wednesday, city and business officials will be offered a “sneak peek” of progress at the 1933 building originally designed by a team led by renowned architects Thomas R. Kimball and George B. Prinz.
A World-Herald reporter and photographer this week toured the $23 million transformation project that began last spring.
Except for accent lighting and cleaning, the exterior of the 120,000-square-foot structure built as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal is to remain largely the same, said Angie Pfannkuch of Nelson Construction and Development.
Under the name First OFB, Nelson Construction is teaming up with First Hospitality Group Inc. of Rosemont, Ill., to convert the historic building. Alley Poyner is the historic rebuild designer.
Considered a Stripped Classical architectural style with Art Deco influences, the top two of 12 stories are set back from the face of the building forming the art deco-style ziggurat — a terraced pyramid with each story smaller than the one below it.
All windows were replaced in 1984, and will remain.
On the north side of the building, guests will have a patio area and fire pit that looks out over a First National Bank sculpture park. On the east side, guests will drive up to the 15th Street frontage for valet parking — a change from earlier years when security allowed no cars to linger immediately around the federal building.
|Find the latest in local business and development, from who's saying |
what to what's going in at that corner,
in the Money Talks blog.
Parking is to be available in a garage to the north.
Inside, terrazzo tile floors, wooden railings and marble features along corridors are being preserved, along with featured elements such as the old bulletin board that will hang in the new hotel lobby.
Individual rooms, however, will have modern furnishings and amenities, including “urban Omaha” photography. Equipped with full kitchens, the hotel rooms are tailored to extended-stay guests.
Previous dropped ceilings were removed to expose original picture rails, which added about 18 inches in height.
“You get a lot more natural light and you feel like you're in a larger space,” said Stoffel.
Because the rooms were retrofitted to an existing building, their sizes vary. Some furniture was even custom-ordered to fit certain spaces.
Said First Hospitality Group President Robert Habeeb, “Our goal with this project is to ensure that the building's historic architectural features and details remain intact for generations to come, while providing guests modern amenities and outstanding service.”
Topping the building is a 1,000-square-foot penthouse with panoramic views of Omaha.
Nearly 2,000 square feet of meeting space also will be available, along with a fitness room and a game center.
Walls of the main commons area and hearth room will be adorned with the three vault doors that help tell the history of the building that was home to federal branches including the FBI, Army Corps of Engineers and District Court.
Highberg said he still gets questions from passers-by interested in picking up a tax form, as many Omahans recall it as the home of the Internal Revenue Service.
Vacant for the last few years, the building got much of its modern-day headlines around 1995 after it reportedly was staked out by Timothy McVeigh before he detonated a truck bomb at an Oklahoma City counterpart, killing 168 people. (The FBI said the report was never substantiated.)
Originally, the vault doors were going to be placed in the game room, Pfannkuch said, but the historical review officials requested that they be more prominently displayed.
Also to be hanged in the public area is the large screen print poster with faces of mobsters killed or captured in the few years after the building was built. A second most-wanted placard found behind a temporary wall, this one with removable pictures, also will be on exhibit.
That poster offers another fun opportunity to mesh old with new, said Pfannkuch. Perhaps, she said, the frames will be filled with images of staff members.
Certain things, of course, can not be resurrected — like cost.
The original building was erected for $565,000.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1224, firstname.lastname@example.org