A new four-story commercial and residential building is planned for the former site of Mister C's, a restaurant remembered fondly for its over-the-top, year-round Christmas motif and Italian Village murals.
Instead of yesteryear's steak and spaghetti, tenants of the new structure would be serving up medical care, coffee and bank accounts. They'd offer fitness programs, dry cleaning and sandwiches.
The upper three floors of the 30th and Fort Streets project proposed by developer White Lotus Group would be apartments that target students and staff of the neighboring Metropolitan Community College Fort Omaha campus.
Arun Agarwal of White Lotus said the goal for the proposed 80,000-square-foot structure is to mesh with Metro and to fill gaps in services wanted by students.
Even the tentative name reflects a connection: 30 Metropolitan Place.
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“It should provide the ancillary services that most students desire or need while going to school,” Agarwal said. “Imagine I don't have a car. I have an 8 a.m. class, my next class is at noon, where do I go? I can go to the coffee shop that has Internet access; I can work out. We're envisioning a commons area, a patio, in the back.”
Key also to the project — estimated to cost about $12 million, with a not-yet-determined amount of public financing incentives — are a health clinic and housing.
White Lotus research showed a dearth of restaurants, laundromats and health facilities within a mile or so of the campus, so the tenant lineup is to be tailored to those student demands.
Other White Lotus developments include the boutique Hotel Deco XV and Zin Room in downtown Omaha, Omaha's Ames Plaza and the Nebraska Advanced Radiology practice and Saddle Creek Center. Construction is to begin soon on the developer's 17-acre mixed-use project near 56th Street and Sorensen Parkway, and at a 54-acre office park and residential development near 168th Street and West Dodge Road.
Jim Grotrian, Metro's executive vice president, said the college has had numerous conversations with White Lotus and looks forward to the rejuvenation of idle property across the street.
Mister C's has been vacant since its last meal was served in 2007. White Lotus bought the property about a year ago, and Agarwal plans to demolish what is standing yet this year. (Omaha firefighters might use the structure for a training exercise before it is razed, he said.)
The size and construction start of 30 Metropolitan Place hinge on factors that include tax-increment financing, which allows future tax revenue from a higher property valuation to help cover costs, from the City of Omaha and federal and state tax credits that are dependent on job creation. Specific amounts have yet to be determined, and requests have not been submitted, Agarwal said.
Although Metro has discussed the possibility of leasing office space at White Lotus' building, Grotrian said there is no formal agreement.
He said Metro has a master plan of its own to improve the southern end of the campus with educational facilities, and some elements of that 2010 vision could be launched this year.
Grotrian said Metro is encouraged by White Lotus' overall vision and the inclusion of housing, which he called a win-win for everybody.
“His idea will be very complementary to the quality of development we have planned for the Fort Omaha campus,” Grotrian said. “It should enhance the overall area.”
White Lotus already has worked with Omaha planners on issues such as parking at the 5319 N. 30th St. site.
As proposed, the building design would be contemporary. Commercial tenants would be on the ground level, with 75 apartments — a mix of two- and one-bedroom — on the top three floors.
As many as 200 jobs could be gained, the plan says, during the construction stage and in operations of tenant businesses.
Agarwal said he has letters of intent from probable tenants.
Vital to the project's success, he said, is connectivity with the Metro campus. Bike racks will be available at the property, which is on a bus line, so students could park and go to class. White Lotus also hopes to create a linkage — some type of walking path — from the complex to the campus.
It also plans to memorialize the former neighborhood restaurant operated for nearly 55 years by Sebastiano “Yano” and Mary Caniglia and their boys. At its peak, the restaurant — which started as a drive-in and once served as the backdrop for a modern-day gangster film — could seat 1,400 between indoor and outdoor areas.
Agarwal plans to meet with the Caniglia sons before deciding, but suspects that bricks, ornamental gates and other architectural features of the old Mister C's courtyard might be worked into the patio of the new building.
Neighbors such as John Backus, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, attended a recent community meeting to hear White Lotus' plan. He noted that the deteriorating Mister C's building comes up at the Miller Park Minne Lusa neighborhood association meetings at least a half-dozen times a year, and that area residents were excited to hear what's ahead.
“I like the look of the project,” Backus said. “I like the possibility for good, solid retail. I like that someone is ready to invest in my community.”