Northeast Omaha has made progress but has a long way to go, an influential organization suggested Saturday.
Some 150 people heard discussion from city leaders and Empowerment Network members on development in north Omaha, economic and educational trends among African-Americans and the work that lies ahead.
The dialogue took place at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha campus during the Empowerment Network’s seventh annual assessment of the state of north Omaha and of African-Americans in Omaha.
Willie Barney, president of the Empowerment Network, said gains have been made.
“Now we need to put our foot on the accelerator,” Barney said.
Information provided during the forum gave a mixed picture:
» Gun assaults in the northeast precinct declined from 118 in 2008 to 84 last year.
» African-American unemployment in the Omaha area was 17.7 percent in 2010-12, compared to 5.6 percent for whites.
» One in five African-American households in the metro area in 2010-12 had no car, compared to one in 20 white households.
» African-American graduation rates in the Omaha Public Schools rose from 64.5 percent in 2006 to 71.7 percent last year.
» African-American ACT scores averaged 17.2 in 2006 and 16.2 last year.
Barney said that when Omaha’s public and business sectors really want to get something done, they do it.
For instance, he said, the city participated in building the convention center-arena and a downtown ballpark. Massive redevelopment efforts have transformed the Aksarben and midtown areas, he said. A similar commitment needs to be made to advancing northeast Omaha, he said.
“When that happens, that’s when we’ll see transformation in the city,” Barney said.
The Empowerment Network came together in 2006 with a mission of transforming economic conditions and the quality of life for blacks, north Omaha and the metro area.
Mayor Jean Stothert told the group that 2014 should be an excellent year for building development in northeast Omaha.
“Let’s work together on our challenges and our opportunities,” Stothert said.
Among major developments, she said, will be the Seventy-Five North revitalization project.
An Omaha group supported by Warren Buffett and his daughter, Susie Buffett, plans to build the Seventy-Five North neighborhood modeled on an effort in Atlanta that reduced crime and poverty in an area.
The project near 30th and Parker Streets will go where the Pleasantview Homes once stood. Pleasantview was torn down in 2008 and the site has remained empty since.
City Councilman Ben Gray, who represents northeast Omaha, said he supported successful “land bank” legislation that will oversee redevelopment of vacant, tax-delinquent property and return it to productive use.
But Gray said Saturday the board that will supervise the land bank is heavy on business, banking and real estate representation. He said he wanted to prevent the land bank from turning into a “land grab.” Local government and community members need input into land bank decisions, he said.
North Omahans “have to stop falling for the tricks,” he said, such as the development of the North Freeway that cuts through north Omaha and displaced thousands of citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Stop being tricked,” he told the audience. “Get in the game.”