A three-year stretch of uncertainty for a storied 127-year-old office building along downtown Omaha’s Gene Leahy Mall has taken a positive turn.
The twist involves a new owner, renovations — and, possibly, a cold beer for those passing by in the future.
Kirsch Transportation Services, currently based in Council Bluffs, is the new owner of the complex that used to house Alvine Engineering at 11th and Douglas Streets, north of the mall.
Matthew Kirsch, who, with his mother Camilla Moore Kirsch, owns the incoming transportation business, also is a partner in Keg Creek Brewing of Glenwood, Iowa. He’s pondering how a tap room might fit into the eastern storefront section of the downtown structure.
If it materializes as an outpost of the Glenwood brewery, the new taproom might pour signature drinks such as Moongold Apricot, Brick Red and Citrafiable Pale Ales.
To get the brew flowing, Matthew Kirsch says he’d need a liquor license and perhaps other approvals. He said his priority, though, is to pay for renovations needed for the transportation operation.
The 30,000-square-foot structure is to be transformed into a new home base for the nearly 60 Kirsch employees helping to move materials around North America.
The Kirsches, who hope to have renovations done by January, say they’re excited to personalize and energize the spot that’s more than three times the square footage of their current place.
“We’ve got a new baby, and it’s 30,000 square feet,” said Camilla Kirsch. “We’re going to have a blast down here.”
The Kirsches, who founded their enterprise with the help of Camilla’s now-retired husband, James, said they’d had eyes on the former Alvine building for a while. Before paying $2.275 million for it, they checked out the possibility of new construction and other sites, including the River’s Edge mixed-use development in the Bluffs.
They preferred to own, and said incentives from the Nebraska Advantage Act helped cinch the move across the river.
Trucking goes back generations in their family, but the company roots date to 2001, when the parent-son team launched operations from their respective homes in Bellevue and Atlanta, Georgia. They eventually built a shop in Glenwood, Iowa, but relocated to rented space in the Council Bluffs Omni Centre because they needed better Internet connectivity.
In 2011, the business, now certified as a woman-owned logistics company, evolved to Kirsch Transportation Services.
Essentially a brokerage operation, the Kirsches say they’ve built their company on people skills and technology that matches freight with the appropriate transportation mode. One area of expertise, for instance, is assembling trucks needed to carry emergency care items to hurricane victims.
Last year, it was recognized by Inc. magazine on its Inc. 5000 list as one of the nation’s top 5,000 fastest-growing private companies. It ranked 1,901.
According to the company, revenue increased 226 percent in a five-year period (2012 to 2017) to $62 million. It arranged the movement of 31,000 loads last year, up from 8,000 in 2011.
Wanting further growth and ownership of their property, the company’s search led them to the building that a few years ago had been targeted for demolition in a plan tied to expansion of Omaha Performing Arts’ Holland Center campus for the proposed downtown HDR headquarters tower.
Mayor Jean Stothert in late 2015 arranged a deal in which the city was to buy the structure (then owned by Alvine) and neighboring properties, including the historic Christian Specht building, and turn them over to OPA for its expansion.
As reports of razing the century-old buildings drew public protest, OPA in 2016 withdrew from the plan, leaving Alvine leaders stunned and without a buyer. Alvine leaders decided to move anyway.
Prior to Kirsch, two close deals fell through, said Eric Renner of Omne Commercial Real Estate, who represented Alvine. He said the property, originally listed for $2.6 million, is in an area of promising development, especially as a group of Omaha business leaders are “re-imagining” and pushing for changes to reinvigorate the riverfront and Gene Leahy Mall.
The Kirsches were drawn to the building’s history and charm. (They recently helped Matthew’s wife, Jeni, on her project reviving a historical Glenwood structure for her clothing shop, JWren.)
The Kirsches say they’re uncertain how much they’ll invest in renovation, as they’ve just started to meet with architects and construction people.
They envision most operations on the second floor, with a call center and people on phones dealing with customers, and others monitoring the stock market. Accounting and human resources types also will have offices there.
On the main floor, Camilla Kirsch foresees a big area for employees to relax, do yoga or exercise.
She takes pride in what she said was low turnover and many family and friend connections among the workforce.
“We just want to get our people here so they can have a great environment to work, and spread out a little.”