Omaha Performing Arts is preparing again for a possible downtown expansion. Its plans could involve a new building northeast of the Holland Performing Arts Center.
Arts leaders say they haven’t finalized plans for the square block that now holds the group’s parking lot. The site, which was once considered as a possible headquarters for HDR, is bounded by 11th and 12th Streets, Dodge Street and Capitol Avenue.
The Omaha City Council on Tuesday approved selling the local nonprofit two slivers of adjacent city property. Omaha Performing Arts already owns the rest of the block.
Omaha Performing Arts is paying the city $830,000 for two corners of the site that total nearly a quarter acre, city documents show.
Mayor Jean Stothert signed the purchase agreement Wednesday, the Mayor’s Office said. Closing must occur within the next 10 days.
Omaha Performing Arts President Joan Squires confirmed the purchase in a statement to The World-Herald Wednesday.
“As we determine our future plans and how we can best serve the community, we have gone ahead and acquired these two parcels of land,” she said.
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The group has not filed a building permit for the Holland Center or parking lot properties, based on a check of public records.
But city officials described Omaha Performing Arts’ plans during a pre-meeting of the City Council on Tuesday.
City Attorney Paul Kratz and a representative of the Mayor’s Office told the council that the group intends to construct a new building.
Kratz on Wednesday referred questions to Omaha Performing Arts and said he could not share more details.
Omaha Performing Arts’ board chairman, John Gottschalk, said the group is still exploring possible uses but said he expects a building to be built eventually.
The arts group’s board members have long discussed building a parking garage and performing arts educational complex near the Holland.
Neither Gottschalk nor Omaha Performing Arts spokeswoman Rosalee Roberts would say Wednesday whether that’s what the group plans for the site.
Omaha Performing Arts typically announces building and renovation efforts once the group has secured the funds to start the project.
The group has been briefing local leaders in recent weeks, based on interviews with several officials.
Kevin Andersen, Stothert’s deputy chief of staff for economic development, said the city has seen “high-level plans” and said the mayor is confident that the group will put the lot to good use.
Councilman Chris Jerram, whose district includes the Holland Center, declined to comment.
Councilman Ben Gray, whose district includes the parking lot, said he needed more time to dig into the details.
Omaha Performing Arts’ previous plans called for expanding east of the Holland onto property that holds three historic buildings. Proponents of historic preservation worried that some or all of the buildings might be demolished.
The arts group backed off those plans in 2016 after a public outcry over the possible land-swap deal involving the city, the group and HDR Inc.
Squires said at the time that the group had no appetite for dividing the community or creating controversy.
Some had objected to a since-abandoned proposal for the city to spend $11 million to buy the historic buildings and then transfer ownership to the arts group.
HDR was to buy the arts group’s parking lot property at 11th and Dodge for a possible downtown headquarters. In the end, HDR chose to build in Aksarben Village.
Now, Omaha Performing Arts plans to use the property itself.
“The Performing Arts Center as it stands cannot be picked up and moved,” Gottschalk said. “We’re bursting at the seams. We have this ground.”