CenturyLink's 'Lot B' development moves ahead; plan would need approval from new committee

A development agreement was floated as the next step when last year a committee drew up plans for Lot B. That proposal's executive summary detailed a $125 million mixed-use development with restaurants, stores, apartments, open spaces and possibly another hotel.

Officials are a step closer to developing Lot B, an 8-acre piece of downtown real estate near the CenturyLink Center.

The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board on Friday voted to approve a development agreement with the City of Omaha that calls for the city to replace the parking stalls that will be lost when Lot B is developed.

The agreement also creates a new committee of business leaders to oversee the development of the city-owned Lot B, which is located between the arena and TD Ameritrade Park.

Under the agreement, the oversight committee would need to approve development plans for Lot B in addition to the MECA board and Omaha City Council signing off.

MECA operates the arena and ballpark, but the city owns the facilities.

The agreement names the following people to the committee: Chairman Emeritus of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc. Ken Stinson; city planning consultant Steve Jensen; HDR urban planner Doug Bisson; and developer and MECA board member Jay Noddle.

The committee would include one appointee each by Mayor Jean Stothert and the MECA board. MECA President and CEO Roger Dixon would serve as MECA’s appointee.

Noddle called MECA’s approval on Friday “exciting.”

“It’s taken awhile to get here, but I think it’s been a worthwhile effort and will provide a great road map for whomever is involved in this in the future,” he said.

The agreement will now go to the City Council for consideration. Noddle said he expects the city to act quickly but cautioned that construction is still a few years away.

Stothert said Friday that work on the site will be driven by the market. She said “right now is not the right time” for development, but “we’ll be ready when it is.”

Stothert said officials have sought input from many stakeholders, including the NCAA and Creighton University.

“I think it’s important to stress that downtown is very important to us,” she said. “It’s important that we have a plan and a vision.”

The development agreement was floated as the next step when last year a committee led by Stinson drew up plans for Lot B.

That proposal’s executive summary detailed a $125 million mixed-use development with restaurants, stores, apartments, open spaces and possibly another hotel. That would go in the area bound by 10th, 12th, Mike Fahey and Cass Streets.

The committee that came up with that plan got together after some sparring between the city and MECA over the parking lot. The members of that committee are largely the same as the oversight committee established under the development agreement.

Stinson said the new committee, made up of volunteers, will allow for continuity and ensure that the proposal released last year doesn’t end up on a shelf.

“I don’t find this particularly unusual for the city to ask people for help,” he said of the oversight committee. “We have no overwhelming authority. MECA and the city have the ultimate say.”

Noddle said the replacement parking would take the form of a garage on Lot D, which is located between Abbott Drive and the arena. The city could pay for the garage with revenue gained when Lot B is developed, Noddle said.

“That’s really important,” he said. “This is not a request that the city spend more money.”

Stothert said there’s multiple ways the city could pay for the garage, such as revenue bonds.

Ultimately, the city will craft and issue the request for proposals to develop the Lot B site. The agreement approved Friday said that the oversight committee would have to be kept in the loop about the bidding process.

The agreement also details the following:

  • The city will consider a number of incentives to help finance Lot B development, including tax-increment financing. The agreement says that officials expect that developers will ask to impose an occupation tax within the project area and will apply for an “entertainment district” designation.
  • Any development on Lot B can’t block the signs on the arena or ballpark, both of which carry naming rights.
  • The development will include “significant greenspace and well-designated pedestrian walkways.”

A separate agreement approved by MECA on Friday lists a number of restrictions for the development, including that it can’t be used for manufacturing, gambling or “sexually oriented commercial activities,” among other uses.

On Thursday, The World-Herald inquired about the MECA board’s agenda item called “Lot B.” MECA through a spokeswoman declined to provide the development agreement. City Attorney Paul Kratz said Thursday that he did not have a final draft.

The agreement was discussed and then voted on during MECA’s Friday morning board meeting. It was passed 4-0, with MECA board Chairwoman Diane Duren and members Noddle, Susie Buffett and Tom Kelley voting yes. Board member Dana Washington was absent.

“Congratulations, all,” Duren said after the vote.

Also after the vote, MECA attorney Robert Freeman said the agreement was now available for public inspection.

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