By early 2016, a key Aksarben Village intersection will be occupied by an eight-story, $35 million office and retail building and an adjacent $15 million parking garage.
The $50 million Waitt Plaza, with construction starting next summer at the vacant northeast corner of 67th and Frances Streets, will add new retailers, restaurants and office tenants.
The project will bring total spending at Aksarben Village, University of Nebraska at Omaha's south campus, corporate offices and other improvements on the former horse-racing property to about $650 million since First Data Corp. constructed an office building there in 1997.
Waitt Plaza, to be built by Kiewit Corp., will house about a dozen retailers and restaurants on the first and second levels, with 125,000 square feet of offices above. The 1,500-stall, five-level garage will serve not only Waitt Plaza but also the public and office buildings and apartments to be added to the eight-acre site later.
Construction of some of those additional buildings may be under way by 2016, said Dana Bradford, CEO of Waitt Co.
On Aksarben Village projects, Waitt cooperates with Ak-Sar-Ben Future Trust and four Omaha development companies: Broadmoor, Alchemy, Magnum and Noddle. The trust was formed in 1996 to oversee the redevelopment of the former horse-racing property.
“We've worked very closely together,” Bradford told The World-Herald. “We will be very patient and not build too much, too fast, but build enough to keep the momentum going.
“We're collectively building a great enterprise in the form of Aksarben Village.”
Waitt Co., an Omaha-based holding company formed by billionaire Norman Waitt Jr. of Sioux City, Iowa, will move its 15-person headquarters from One Pacific Place to the new building, along with its Active Brands sports equipment division.
Developer Jay Noddle is recruiting additional tenants.
HDR Inc. architect Thomas Trenolone said Waitt Plaza will be Aksarben Village's signature building, with pedestrian pathways on all four sides and curving sides coming together in a knife-edge that points directly south.
A cascade stairway from the parking deck will open onto a plaza that serves as a gateway to the other parts of the Village, he said. “This is probably the cornerstone that holds all that together.”
Ak-Sar-Ben Future Trust gave its approval to the Waitt Plaza plan at a private meeting Thursday.
“It's another great step in bringing to fruition the plan that we've had from the beginning for the Aksarben property,” said Trust Chairman Ken Stinson. “I think it's a commentary on the strength of the Omaha community and the Omaha economy.”
Waitt Plaza could signal a return to speculative office projects, with the owners announcing the building before it's fully leased. “Spec” projects have been scarce since the 2008-10 Great Recession made them difficult to finance.
“It's something of a conservative risk to spec a good portion of the space there, office or retail,” Noddle said. But he said his leasing experience at Aksarben Village and Omaha's healthy office market are in the project's favor.
Office and retail space in the Village is 100 percent leased, he said, and the headquarters building for Omaha-based retailer Gordmans — also a Waitt-Noddle project — will be full, too, when it opens next spring.
“I'm very comfortable that this building will be significantly leased prior to completion,” Noddle said. “The office market in Omaha has been as active in the last 24 months as I've ever seen it in my career,” which began in the 1980s.
He said the city's office market is growing. Omaha's conservative spending habits, educated workforce and affordable prices make it “a pretty efficient place to do business, and consequently the office market's pretty good,” Noddle said.
But he said Waitt Co. is “the real magic. They've got the mental and financial resources to advance this project at a time when others might not be able to move as definitively.”
Waitt Co. had owned about 14 acres of the 80-acre Village project and sold some for residential development and some for the Marriott Residence Inn Hotel, now under construction. Remaining building sites in the Village include land owned by Magnum Development on the north side of Mercy Road and Stinson Park.
The Waitt project will have some references to Aksarben's history: The pedestrian space east of the building is to be named “the Inner Rail,” like the inside rail of a racetrack. Its address, 1919 S. 67th St., refers to the start of horse racing nearby in 1919.
Bradford envisions restaurants and shops, plus the occasional food truck, lining the Inner Rail, with outdoor seating for customers in good weather and an open feeling that encourages strolling.
Noddle said the garage will have express ramps so cars can go directly to the right floors without driving around inside the structure. Like the Village's existing parking garage, public parking will be free, with reserved spots for Waitt Plaza tenants.
Waitt Co. still owns a small lot at 67th and Shirley Streets to be developed later. Noddle said such small pieces can be special projects, “like really cool restaurants or living spaces.”
The Omaha investment and management company owns some projects, companies and brands, and in other cases is part-owner through investments.
>> Eight acres in Aksarben Village, including Gordmans headquarters and planned Waitt Plaza
>> Tenaska Inc. headquarters under construction near 140th Street and West Dodge Road
>> Office buildings and development projects in Denver, Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Ariz.
>> Prince Global Sports LLC, Prince Tennis, Prince Squash
>> Active Brands Co, Battle Sports Science (safety equipment), Ektelon (racquetball), Viking (platform tennis), TapouT (equipment), Nutty Buddy (equipment)
>> Jones Global Sports, Bobby Jones (apparel)
>> Customer Service Profiles LLC
>> Election Systems & Software
>> Authentic Brands Group
>> Taryn Rose
>> Adrienne Vittadini
>> Judith Leiber
>> Gold Circle Films
>> Waitt Outdoor
>> Waitt principals own part of Premier Bank of Omaha