Five years ago, from a downtown Omaha rooftop, architect Jay Palu pointed toward the old Logan Hotel and spoke enthusiastically about the place then occupied by varmints and squatters.
He told a reporter that the Logan, on 18th and Dodge Streets, was among the most rescue-worthy on the list of endangered buildings kept by his comrades at Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture.
At the time, there was no public plan to resuscitate 1802 Dodge St. But Palu’s rooftop proclamation exposed an unrelenting love affair of sorts that has been brewing since before 2005 between the historic Logan and the team at Alley Poyner.
The relationship has carried over to the latest plan by a Lincoln developer who hopes to turn the seven-story structure into a boutique hotel, condos, a speakeasy bar and office and retail space. Records and experts at Alley Poyner, which has been tapped to be the architect for the $21 million project, help piece together the ups and downs of one of the most storied properties along the city’s busiest corridor.
“They just don’t make buildings like this anymore,” said Palu, a partner in the firm. “It’s an amazing piece of Omaha history that still can be saved.”
At 80,000 square feet, the Logan stands out in part for a facade that appears to be two separate buildings. Its brick and concrete frame withstood a massive reconstruction of Dodge Street a century ago that made travel less steep for a then-novel invention, the automobile.
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Also notable is the assortment of redevelopment plans drawn up over the years.
“The number of iterations that lead to this point — that’s unique, extreme,” Palu said.
Alley Poyner’s ties to the Logan go back about 15 years to when a client was exploring possible rehabilitation of the structure. Architect Jennifer Honebrink led an effort to dig up details that ultimately put the building on the National Register of Historic Places.
That particular renovation never took off, but the historic designation put the Logan in line for future federal tax credits. A Kansas City developer took a stab at creating housing at the Logan about 2008, but the recession took hold. Then about 2013, Alley Poyner worked with a different entity interested in tapping tax credits to convert the Logan into affordable residences.
In the following years, Alley Poyner would draw up at least three more concepts for different developers. Ideas ranged from a place where artists would both live and work to a hotel with an addition and a top-floor pool. Those all fizzled, too, but the architects accumulated what would prove to be useful information about the structure and its potential.
While the Logan was stuck in redevelopment limbo, Palu said, the team didn’t give up hope and continued site visits, updating images and reaching out to daring developers.
Co-worker Denise Powell said Palu and Honebrink have become so familiar with the Logan that they could probably navigate it blindfolded.
Honebrink can recite where the marble staircases lurk. She helped crack the mystery behind missing bricks on certain walls (which turned out to be a man-made adjustment for a radiator system and not a moisture problem).
When Mike Works of the Lincoln-based Logan Hospitality LLC started poking around the property, he said he turned to Alley Poyner. “So we didn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”
While Works has built other hotels, he said the Logan is the first involving federal and state historic tax credits. Alley Poyner architects (Lisa Bell is the Logan project manager), Omaha attorney David Levy and others offered tips on available financing tools and incentives.
Included in the stack is the relatively new city occupation tax and a private loan under the PACE, or Property Assessed Clean Energy, program. Both are to be used in the project, along with tax-increment financing, that will feature a 90-room Hotel Indigo, top-floor residential condos, a speakeasy bar and ground-level retail and office space.
Considering the failed efforts at the Logan, Works, who specializes in hotels, said the assortment of uses appears to be the best shot at success.
He expects that the project will also benefit from new federal opportunity zone legislation that offers incentives to investors in blighted areas. Without the array of financial tools, Works said, he could not pull off the project.
Various hurdles are ahead, but Works said city officials have been supportive about reviving the longtime eyesore. New commerce anticipated from the hotel project — which is a block from the vacant Civic Auditorium site — is expected to spur nearby development.
Palu said he has a good feeling that this latest redevelopment proposal will take hold.
“It seems like it’s the right time for this building,” he said. “It feels like we’re in a good spot.”