Not that long ago, north downtown was the site of railyards, a contaminated lead refinery and some rundown buildings.
A lot of attractions have arrived since then: TD Ameritrade Park, CHI Health Center, hotels, restaurants, a nonprofit film theater and artist colonies, among others.
This weekend, three high-profile events will join the mix. ArchUNITE, an all-day Archdiocese of Omaha gathering that’s expected to draw about 15,000 people, will be at the CHI Health Center on Saturday. At the same time, two longtime signature events of summer will be nearby: the Summer Arts Festival, in a temporary home while the Gene Leahy Mall is being renovated, and the Santa Lucia Festival, a popular celebration of Italian culture.
“This really is exciting,” said Kristyna Engdahl, spokeswoman for the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which operates the CHI Health Center.
Engdahl said MECA has handled multiple large events over the years, most notably the confluence of the College World Series and the Olympic Swim Trials.
“Folks got around with minimal issues (then),” she said. “So we feel prepared for this weekend.”
Parking will be the top concern of people attending each event, said Engdahl, event planners and city officials.
It will be plentiful, they promise. Surface lots B and D near the CHI Center will be open to the public, as will the parking garage on the south side of the arena. Lot A will be open for select people attending ArchUNITE. There’s also street parking throughout the area.
“You may have to walk a little bit,” said Sherry Kennedy Brownrigg, senior partner of the Kennedy Brownrigg Group, the marketing and communications firm that’s coordinating ArchUNITE for the archdiocese.
She said people with limited mobility or health problems should be dropped off in front of the arena. Uber and Lyft also are on alert that more local and out-of-town people probably will be seeking rides to north downtown on Saturday.
Some outstate groups probably will elect to spend at least one night here, Brownrigg said, because ArchUNITE starts early in the morning and could run until about 10 at night.
“One thing we’re super-excited about is all the buses coming from outside of Omaha,” she said. “So many people are coming, from every parish across the archdiocese.”
That includes O’Neill, which is about 200 miles northwest of Omaha, making it the farthest west church in the archdiocese.
Not everyone is likely to stay for the entire ArchUNITE, so parking spaces will become available at times during the day.
Peak times for parking probably will include afternoon hours, which are prime time for Santa Lucia concerts and concessions on Lewis & Clark Landing and strolling the arts festival near the ballpark on Mike Fahey Street between 10th and 14th.
In addition, the Catholic festival’s top draw probably will be the appearance of popular comedian Jim Gaffigan, who will perform at about 2:15 p.m.
Brownrigg said her team has been working with the Omaha Police Department on other crowd control and safety issues.
She thinks ArchUNITE will be a life-changing event, not only for those who attend, but for those who don’t. The day will include a Mass, times for confession, a presentation by Archbishop George Lucas, activities for kids and teens and a theatrical program in addition to Gaffigan. Hundreds of area Catholics are volunteers for the day.
“I can’t wait to wake up in this archdiocese on June 9, because I think we’re going to be different,” Brownrigg said. “The joint experience can’t help but spill out on all the others in Omaha.”
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Butterfield Alpaca Ranch, located in Alma, Nebraska, raises both Hucaya and Suri alpaca breeds. Come get up close to the alpacas (and llamas) and learn all about them. More.
Hebron, Nebraska, is home to the world’s largest porch swing. The swing, which can seat 18 adults or 24 kids, was constructed in 1984. It’s in Roosevelt Park in central Hebron. More.
Visit the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and stand in both Nebraska and Iowa at the same time. The 3,000-feet long walkway stretches across the Missouri River and is connected to more than 150 miles of nature trails. People can enjoy live music in the plaza area on Fridays during June. More.
Visit Cody Park, located on North Highway 83 in North Platte, Nebraska, and ride the restored antique Herschell-Spikeman Carousel, which includes hand-crafted wooden horses. It came to the park in the 1930s. Cody Park also offers a collection of animals, picnic areas, a life-size statue of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, flags from the tours of the Wild West Show and railroad locomotives and cars donated by Union Pacific. More.
Love the salad dressing Dorothy Lynch? Then you’ll want to stop at the St. Paul American Legion at 804 Howard Ave. in St. Paul, Nebraska, where they’re still serving up delicious food and the tangy dressing. More.
In Potter, Nebraska, above the town’s hardware store, you’ll find Potter Duckpin Bowling Alley, which was originally used from the 1920s through 1951 and reopened in 2004. How is it different than ten-pin bowling? Well, duckpins are shorter and squatter and duckpin balls are just slightly larger than a softball. The alley is at 328 Chestnut St. and is $25 per hour for groups. More.
At eCreamery in Dundee you can custom make your own ice cream flavors. Just pick your base, select your flavor and add whatever mix-ins you want. eCreamery is located at 5001 Underwood Ave. More.
In Grand Island, you’ll find a whimsical collection of cars and characters towering above G I Body Shop, 503 E. 4th St. The cars and characters, known as Fred’s Flying Circus, were created by Fred Schritt, who owned the body shop. To get the best view, stand across the street. More.
The pasta forks’ real name is “Stile di Famiglia,” and it’s located at 1115 S. 7th St. in Omaha’s Little Italy neighborhood. The 13-feet-tall sculpture is an homage to Omaha’s Italian heritage. More.
Fort Atkinson was established in 1820 as the first U.S. military post west of the Missouri River. Live history demonstrations are scheduled periodically throughout the summer. More.
The Go Ape Treetop Adventure at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park features 40 suspended rope and steel cable bridges and other challenges on six courses high in the forest canopy. Each ends with a long zip line ride to a soft landing in wood chips. Cost is $49 for ages 16 and older and $39 for 15 and younger. More.
Hollywood Pinball and Arcade Museum, 1209 Jackson St. in the Old Market, features more than 85 games from the 1960s pinball machines and 1980s arcade games. All games are available for token play. The arcade is open Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. More.
Indian Cave State Park is home to a three-sided sandstone shelter where Native American left “petroglyph” carvings about 1,500 years ago. Visitors can tour a cemetery and some restore buildings at St. Deroin, a Missouri River town founded a year before the Nebraska Territory was established in 1854. There’s also 22 miles of hiking and biking trailers, 16 miles of equestrian trails, weekend living history demonstrations, a campground and plenty of wildlife. More.
Come to Hastings, Nebraska, the birthplace of Kool-Aid, to celebrate the drink with the world’s largest Kool-Aid stand, pageant, games and more. The fun will take place Aug. 9-11. Hastings is approximately 160 miles southwest of Omaha. More.
At the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari in Ashland, Nebraska, you’ll think you’re on safari when you see majestic animals like bison and elk in a natural setting. Beyond the drive-through exhibits, there are opportunities to see eagles and other smaller creatures up close. More.
Lee’s Legendary Marbles in York, Nebraska, has the largest collection of marbles in the world, including handmade, machine-made, carpet balls, sulphide, Lutz’s, European swirls and more. The business also includes several buildings of antiques and collectibles. Lee’s Legendary Marbles, 3120 S. Lincoln Ave., is open daily from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. More.
Licorice International in Lincoln offers more than 150 flavors of Licorice from 16 different countries. Located at 803 Q St., Suite 300, Licorice International is open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. More.
Come check out an elaborate milkshake at the Hunger Block in Omaha. The toppings vary, but some include a glazed and sprinkled doughnut, a frozen ice cream cone, nutella, Oreo cookies and M&Ms. The Hunger Block is located at 11036 Elm St. More.
The gift shop at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln has a smaller version of the Good Life sign seen throughout the state. Cost for the 1-by-2 sign is $29. While you’re there, be sure to check out the museum. There is no cost to visit. The museum is located at 131 Centennial Mall N in Lincoln. Hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturday from 1 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. More.
The tree, called the Old Wolf Oak Tree, is estimated to be at least 375 years old and is located in Ponca State Park. The tree began its life in 1644. Ponca State Park is located four miles north of Ponca, Nebraska, at 88090 Spur 26 E. More.
In Potter, Nebraska, a town of 400 people, you’ll find the Potter Sundry, which has been around since 1914. The building was originally a pharmacy with a soda fountain. Pharmacist James Earl Thayer’s son, Harold Dean “Pinky” Thayer is credited for inventing the cold treat, which they called the Tin Roof Sundae. You can still order the sundae. More.
If you’re driving west across Nebraska, be sure to stop at the Robidoux Pass in the Wildcat Hills near Gering, Nebraska. The narrow pass carried thousands of people traveling the Oregon-California Trail between 1842 and 1851, according to the National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior. A replica of the Robidous Trading Post was erected in 1993. More.
Did you know you can do scuba diving in a Nebraska lake? Sandy Channel Recreation area has some of the clearest water and is perfect for scuba diving. The recreation area is located a mile and a half south of exit 257 on I-80, just west of Kearney. More.
Second Wind Ranch in Comstock, Nebraska, is home to dozens of windmills scattered across its grounds. There’s no cost to visit and see the windmills.
Did you know you can spend the night in the zoo? Sleeping Bag Safari is available year-round. Children must be at least 4 years old and reservations must be made at least three weeks in advance. All safaris run 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. unless otherwise noted. More.
Spielbound, 3229 Harney St., offers a library of 2,400 board games to play, ranging from classics like Monopoly to new favorites like Settlers of Catan to obscure European strategy games. Playing games requires either a membership or a $5 one-day pass. More.
Come to Stromsburg, Nebraska, for the town’s annual Swedish Midsommar Festival. The town, located about two hours west of Omaha, was named the “Swede Capital of Nebraska” in 1966. The event, which takes place in June, includes food, Swedish dancers, live music, history programs, a kick ball tournament and more.
Nebraska has a lot of waterfalls, including Fort Falls located on the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge in Valentine, Nebraska; Smith Falls in Smith Falls State Park near Sparks, Nebraska; Snake River Falls located 20 miles south of Valentine, Nebraska; and Platte River State Park Falls.
The Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, 20 minutes southwest of Lincoln, focuses on conservation of the tallgrass prairie ecosystem and its birds. The center includes miles of walking trailers, nearly 650 acres of native tallgrass prairie, ponds, wetlands, wildflowers, grasses, wildlife and historic 19th century wagon ruts. More.
Check out the world’s largest ball of stamps at the Leon Myers Stamp Center in the Boys Town Visitors Center. The sphere is 32 inches in diameter, weighs 600 pounds and contains a reported 4,655,000 canceled stamps. It was stuck together by the Boys Town Stamp Collecting Club in 1953. More.
The Crossroads of America Bigfoot Museum is open to both believers and skeptics in Hastings, Nebraska. The museum includes several artifacts, including three 2,000-year-old skulls, Bigfoot hand castings and a picture of Bigfoot “Patty” famously walking across Bluff Creek in 1967. The cost to visit the museum, 1205 E 42nd St., is $5. It’s open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 to 4:30 p.m. on Sundays. More.
Visit the National Museum of Roller Skating to learn about the history of the sport. Located at 4730 South Street in Lincoln, you’ll experience the evolution of roller skate wheels, view a selection of 19th century roller skate patents and watch highlights of roller skating competitions. There’s no fee to visit, and the museum is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More.
Stop by Nuckolls County Museum, 612 E. 6th St. in Superior, Nebraska, to view more than 3,000 model planes, space craft and aircraft carriers. The planes are the collection of Marve E. Marquart. Admission is a freewill offering. Hours are Monday and Sunday from 1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. More.
Visitors to the Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park can get a firsthand look at extinct animals preserved exactly as they died from volcanic ash 12 million years ago. The park, at 6930 517th Ave. in Royal, Nebraska, also includes a visitor center with interpretive displays and a working fossil preparation laboratory. More.