'Technology village' added to Crossroads redevelopment plan

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Posted: Sunday, February 23, 2014 12:00 am

A “technology village” that would allow dozens of startup companies to congregate in a central, entrepreneurial space is a new and key component of the plan to transform the struggling indoor Crossroads Mall into a retail, business and residential hub.

CenturyLink officials say they will partner with the developers of the Crossroads Village redevelopment plan at 72nd and Dodge Streets for the 100,000-square-foot tech village.

CenturyLink would supply the broadband network across the entire redevelopment, including the tech village, delivering data at transfer speeds of 10 gigabits per second, an emerging standard required to attract innovative technology companies, said Danny Pate, CenturyLink vice president and general manager for Nebraska.

The tech village, located on the top three stories of a four-story building with ground level retail, is envisioned as housing fledgling medical and technology startups and early stage companies.

CenturyLink, as sponsor, would provide an unspecified financial investment and serve in an advisory capacity to ensure those companies have full access to CenturyLink's technology, including voice, data, video and cloud-based services, as well as its marketing and business experts, Pate said.

The $400 million Crossroads Village project, other than the existing parking garage and Target store, would be built from the ground up in an open-air design with an urban park at the center. Structures to the west of Target, including the Best Buy store, the vacant grocery store next door and the Applebee's Restaurant, would be leveled, under the plan by developers Frank Krejci, the property owner, and partner Rod Yates of OTB Destination.

They say Crossroads Village redevelopment could begin as early as June if city voters approve a $50 million bond issue May 13 to fund improvements to streets, sewer lines and utilities in the redevelopment district.

Krejci and Yates are seeking a total of $161 million in city incentives — the $50 million bond issue as well as sales-tax revenue and tax-increment financing. The pair plan to invest $234 million.

The first phase of Crossroads Village would provide 400,000 square feet of retail space; 300,000 square feet of traditional, corporate office space located in an eight-story building; a 50,000-square-foot health club; 400 residential units; and the 100,000-square-foot tech village.

The tech village concept grew out of interest Yates has heard from data-intensive businesses, he said.

Members of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Yates and others say they've been contacted by Nebraska startups and out-of-state tech firms interested in relocating to the proposed mixed-use redevelopment, which could open as soon as June 2016.

“The kind of companies that have inquired about it are fast-moving companies with room to grow,” said Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, who represents the area and is championing the redevelopment.

“The technology will attract entrepreneurs who like to be around other entrepreneurs — and that breeds innovation,” Festersen said.

CenturyLink provided Nebraska Crossing Outlets in Gretna, which was redeveloped by Krejci and Yates, with a 1-gigabit-per-second broadband.

Google Fiber currently delivers 1-gigabit broadband but is working on a 10-gigabits-per-second network speeds. Cox Communications has said that the area's biggest businesses can arrange access to speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second.

To put that into perspective: 1-gigabit-per-second broadband can download a full-length high-definition movie in 12 seconds, Pate said. With a data delivery speed of 10 gigabits per second, he said, the entire movie can be downloaded faster than you can snap your fingers.

Local startup companies have complained about the lack of a central high-tech facility in Omaha that would allow them to congregate and flourish in a creative, entrepreneurial space.

“This is a win-win for everyone,” said Dusty Reynolds, director of entrepreneurship and innovation at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.

Being able to offer companies 10-gigabits-per-second data transfer speeds “puts Omaha on the radar for technology entrepreneurs,” Reynolds said. “But it's also about image and brand — it will have people saying, 'They're so forward in Omaha.'”

Cassie Seagren, Mayor Jean Stothert's deputy chief of staff for economic development, said Omaha must foster entrepreneurship if it wants to increase its economic base and offer good jobs to residents.

“New business start-ups and new businesses are some of the highest job creators,” Seagren said.

Seagren did not specifically endorse the proposed tech village at Crossroads but said the city must develop a space where entrepreneurs can work side by side and support one another's ventures.

“Entrepreneurs are a different breed,” Seagren said. “You really get economic development when you have them in one area where they can work together.”

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