It’s been nearly a decade since Mister C’s dished up a veal parmigiana or any other Italian fare, but neighbors still call the 30th and Fort Streets site by the name of the demolished restaurant.
That’s changing, though, with increasing signs of the incoming 30 Metro Place — a $20 million development set to rise five stories on the nearly 3-acre tract surrounded by a residential neighborhood and a community college.
The planned 110,000-square-foot structure, whose dimensions have grown since first conceived, is to be anchored by a ground-level health clinic and 110 upper-floor apartments.
Today, developer White Lotus Group and others are to gather for a formal groundbreaking and to update progress. Crews already have been moving dirt, preparing to lay the foundation in a few weeks.
White Lotus bought the site about three years ago and cleared it in 2015. Arun Agarwal said his firm could have taken an easier and faster route by building a convenience station or fast-food place, but chose a more complex mixed-use project he said better complements the expanding Metropolitan Community College Fort Omaha campus and retail-hungry pocket of north Omaha.
“It’s the right thing for the neighborhood,” Agarwal said. “It’s truly meeting a need.”
The idea, he said, is to offer affordable housing and services to working students or couples. He noted a shortage of nearby apartments and student-friendly retailers such as a coffee shop or breakfast diner. He hopes to attract such shops, as well as a bank, to 30 Metro Place.
Charles Drew Health Center already has dibs on half of the 12,000 square feet of commercial space. Three physicians and support staff are to provide primary medical, dental and behavioral health
care, said CEO Kenny McMorris, who views the services as a healthier alternative to emergency room visits.
“We are excited about the opportunity to respond to community need and increase health care access for a diverse and growing population,” McMorris said.
The satellite would join a dozen other Charles Drew health centers east of 72nd Street and north of Dodge. The closest is at 30th and Lake Streets, McMorris said, noting the geographical need, especially as Metro’s Fort Omaha campus grows.
The two-year college is in the midst of a $90 million capital construction project there — the biggest capital expansion in Metro’s 42 years — that will add three new buildings for classes and programs by fall of 2017.
Randy Schmailzl, Metro president, said the Fort Omaha campus expansion was expected to be a catalyst for more north Omaha development, and he welcomed the separate 30 Metro Place project as an ally in that effort.
“It doesn’t get any better than this, to have someone investing — adding value and improvement to our neighborhood around the Fort campus,” he said.
White Lotus expects residents and commercial tenants to begin moving in by spring 2018.
The development firm is assisted by Clarity Development. BVH Architecture designed the structure that Ronco Construction is building.
Under the affordable housing program helping to subsidize Metro 30 Place, eligible apartment dwellers must make 60 percent or less of the area’s median income, which for a couple would be about $35,000 or less. They would pay $685 in rent for a one-bedroom, $825 for a two-bedroom.
“We call it workforce housing because it really does serve that middle-income individual and family,” said Clarity’s Mike Peter, “whereas a lot of projects serve the very low-income, and market-rate projects serve the upper income.”
The City of Omaha also has approved $1 million in tax-increment financing.
Success hinges on connectivity to the Metro campus, the developers said. Bike racks are to dot the property, which is on a bus line, so students could park and go to class. White Lotus also hopes to create some type of walking path from the complex to the campus.
Still to be determined is a way to memorialize the site’s previous occupants.
Sebastiano “Yano” and Mary Caniglia ran the storied Mister C’s for about 55 years with their boys. The family eatery, which started as a drive-in, is fondly remembered also for its over-the-top Christmas decor and Italian murals so distinct that the place served as the backdrop for a modern-day gangster film. At its peak, Mister C’s could seat 1,400 inside and outside.
Son David Caniglia said that before the restaurant closed in 2007, his family had cut a deal with a different developer. It fell through, as did a potential dollar store, and the property remained in limbo for years.
“That was a terrible hardship for our family and an eyesore for the neighborhood that my father held so dearly.”
Caniglia said he believes the Metro 30 project is a better outcome that fits the college environment and is a community builder. He said he was grateful the developer took on a “risky, costly endeavor.”
“If our original deal would have come to fruition, our neighbors would now be stuck with just another convenience store gas station,” Caniglia said.
Options to recognize his family legacy on that corner include naming an apartment suite after the Caniglias, or perhaps integrating Mister C’s ornamental gates as an architectural feature.
Agarwal said he even broached the idea of David Caniglia running a diner in the new building.
To that, David Caniglia smiled. He appreciates the gesture but said he prefers a nostalgic nod that doesn’t put him back in the business.
“My parents were the main force behind that place,” he said. “You can’t re-create that stuff.”