Nonprofit eyes old Omaha rail line for new job corridor

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Posted: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 12:00 am

Decades ago, a railroad line stretching from north Omaha to Bellevue served as a vital connector of major industrial sites.

Today the abandoned belt line is largely forsaken, used as a walking trail in one segment but overgrown with weeds in many other parts.

The removal 30 years ago “contributed to real crisis in many of the neighborhoods surrounding it,” said Anne Trumble, founder of the nonprofit Emerging Terrain organization.

Now Emerging Terrain is hoping to revive the corridor — and return it to a modern-day connector of different types of job nodes that have taken root along the 20-mile route, Trumble said.

She said that while industrial-focused employers relocated to Interstate-accessible sites, they were replaced by prominent institutions of health care, education and service-related jobs.

“It is a really, really important corridor for us to revisit,” said Trumble, noting that connecting today's job hubs could spark more investment.

She said possibilities for redeveloping the belt line range from creation of a light rail system, a trail or a combination of uses.

The question at hand is how to make the best use of that corridor. A series of public gatherings, or “open studios,” will begin Friday to collect input and provide information collected by Emerging Terrain, a research and design group that aims to engage the public in discussion about factors shaping the environment.

Called “Realigning a Region,” the effort features open studios to be held at Emerging Terrain headquarters, 1717 Vinton St.

The schedule:

>>Friday, from 1 p.m. to 8p.m., the design team will offer a look at the belt line's past and present condition. Photos and maps will be displayed, and a free walking guide of the belt line will be offered.

>>June 13, from 1 p.m. to 8p.m., the team will focus on potential reuses for the belt line, providing alternative visions.

>>June 21, from 1 p.m. to 8p.m., the team will explore strategies for achieving visions laid out in previous sessions, including financial options.

>>June 27, at 6 p.m., the group is to host a project exhibition that reviews the month's work.

“We will emerge from the process with an understanding of the possibilities and what it will take to achieve them,” said Trumble, who said the team also plans to meet with the new mayoral administration.

In addition to Trumble, the design team includes Brad Howe, design fellow; Geoff DeOld, architect and planner; Stephen Osberg, urban planner; Sloan Dawson, transportation planner; and Emily Andersen, architect and planner.

All events are free; contributions will help with production costs. Those interested in attending are asked to RSVP online at archives/projects/realigning-a-region or call 402-884-8754.

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