Developers hope Lerner building project sparks a renaissance on 16th Street

Renovation will add three stories to the former Lerner Shops building, as seen in this rendering.

Construction is underway on the long-vacant Lerner Shops building, a $6 million redevelopment that project investors hope will help return the spunk to downtown Omaha's 16th Street shopping corridor.

While other developers have tried to transform the property on the northeast corner of 16th and Harney Streets, this is the first initiative to reach construction stage.

“This will bring in 24-hour population as well as daytime population into what was once the most important shopping corridor in the state of Nebraska,” said Jeff Beals of Seldin Co. and World Group Commercial Real Estate.

Seldin is partnering with general contractor Dicon Corp. on the project scheduled to open next summer as “The District.”

Alley Poyner Machietto is the architect. Security National Bank is financier. Seldin Co. will manage and lease apartments, and World Group will handle leasing of the 4,000 square feet of main-floor retail space.

Friday, city and business leaders gathered for a “ceremonial jack-hammering” that officially kicked off construction to add three floors on top of the two existing levels and basement.

When completed, the project will be about 52,000 square feet and include 40 one- and two-bedroom market-rate apartments with rents ranging from $865 to $1,600.

Parking will be available in the basement.

Demolition work on the interior of the 1947 structure started earlier this year to make space suited for restaurants, banks or other shops. Commercial tenants have yet to be announced.

Ted Seldin of Seldin Co., which is the principal investor, said The District name was intended in part to evoke the feel of a theater district. He hopes its eateries will be the place to grab a bite before or after a show at the neighboring Orpheum Theater.

For those at Friday's event, the 82-year-old Seldin recalled 1930s boyhood memories of riding the trolley car with his mom to shop on the 16th Street strip before taking in a matinee at the Orpheum.

He said he hopes city and other officials will remain committed to re-creating 16th Street as a corridor with parking and the same vigor he saw as a kid.

“Yes, we hope there will be a return on our investment,” said Seldin. But he said he wanted also to be part of the momentum rebuilding downtown.

Before Seldin Co. and Dicon bought the Lerner building from the city for $157,500, it had sat largely vacant for 17 years. Two earlier plans called for demolition and parking. Another envisioned a grocery and upscale condos.

Other speakers Friday included David Brown of the Omaha Chamber of Commerce, Randy Lenhoff of Seldin and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert.

The mayor said the city is committed to the 16th Street redesign and has included funds for streetscape improvements in the Capital Improvement Plan.

“It's time for a renaissance,” she said.

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