Aksarben Village concept could expand after $3.5 million land purchase

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Posted: Friday, April 11, 2014 12:00 am

The Ak-Sar-Ben Future Trust has purchased eight acres of land south of the former race track, paving the way for an extension of the type of development at Aksarben Village.

Formerly the home of aging mobile homes, the recently vacated tract on the other side of Center Street came at a price tag of $3.5 million, said Jay Noddle, lead developer of the 70-acre Aksarben Village project.

Noddle said transformation of the trailer lots was the next, albeit smaller, piece in the Trust's mission to spur revitalization in and around where Thoroughbreds once ran.

“The Trust felt like, 'Wow, we could do this again,' ” said Noddle, who led the acquisition efforts on behalf of the Trust.

Adding to the appeal of the old trailer court property — which is on the south side of Center Street behind a retail strip mall — was that it abuts the sports arena area planned for the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

More specifically, the site is bounded by 64th Avenue on the west, 62nd Street on the east and a soon-to-be realigned Arbor Street on the south. The northern boundary is the back of the Aksarben Place commercial strip that includes Jimi D's restaurant and a Scooter's Coffeehouse.

Trust Chairman Ken Stinson called the purchase that closed last week a big and important step in extending the Village concept and ensuring solid development in the midtown area.

“We're excited about the opportunity,” Stinson said, to “enhance the surrounding neighborhood.”

The Trust is the nonprofit corporation that owned and orchestrated the redevelopment of the former Ak-Sar-Ben grandstand, coliseum, livestock barns and parking lots into the shops, offices, hotels, housing and entertainment venues now known as Aksarben Village.

Counting an eight-story office building now under construction, spending at Aksarben Village, the University of Nebraska at Omaha's Pacific Street Campus, corporate offices and other improvements on the former horse-racing property has totaled about $650million since First Data Corp. constructed an office building there in 1997.

UNO is spending $87.9 million on the arena at 67th and Center Streets, scheduled to open in 2015.

The owner of the former mobile home park, Paul Waggener, was unavailable for comment. But Noddle said it had been there for decades and, in its heyday, had provided seasonal housing for the horse-racing community.

Until the property is resold and redeveloped, Noddle said he will assume a lead planning and consulting role in this next phase across Center Street. He said this marked an opportunity for a different developer to come in and develop a multiple-use project site that could include apartments, office and retail.

The build-out should be less costly than the Village, Noddle said, since the land is cleared and much infrastructure already is planned as part of the UNO arena to the west.

Stinson said the Trust currently is finalizing an agreement with UNO that would provide the western three acres closest to the arena as parking for sports events. The 300-stall lot, he said, also might be shared by the new project, depending on what materializes.

What specifically occurs on that remaining five acres is yet to be determined, and Stinson said it depends largely on the developer who steps up.

“What's made us successful in the development of the Village is we had the property and offered it to developers based on a master plan,” Stinson said. “Our preference would be to stay with the same mixed-use concept as the Village, but it's not locked in.”

Noddle said redevelopment tools such as tax-increment financing likely would be requested, but only when a specific project plan is ready to be implemented by a future developer.

An even bigger vision outlined by Noddle reaches beyond the eight acres secured by the Trust.

Noddle said that he could see the redevelopment area eventually stretching east to 60th Street along the south side of Center Street and back to Arbor Street. He envisions activity that would complement the Village and the sports arena.

He said there is no plan, however, that threatens to force out existing businesses along Center Street.

The Trust had been pursuing the mobile home property for a couple of years, Noddle said, and enlisted the help of P.J. Morgan Real Estate to negotiate. The entity that took title was 6300 Arbor Street LLC.

Stinson said the former mobile home park wasn't completely compatible with the Trust's vision for the area, and the pursuit began when the owner made it known the land was for sale.

Noddle said that Waggener had another trailer court in Millard that he opened up to tenants.

A plan also is being devised to ease traffic flow in and out of the former mobile home court and arena area, Noddle said. Sewer separation work currently is underway on a section of Arbor Street west of 60th Street. Noddle said the City of Omaha would repave that section and extend Arbor Street along the south side of the Trust's newly acquired land that leads to the arena.

Other new streets and street connections are planned around the arena site, Noddle said, that should help motorists get around the midtown area quicker and easier.

“It's going to bring more people to the area and make it more popular and successful,” he said.

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