Bellevue city leaders are pulling a plan off the shelf to redevelop Fort Crook Road.
And, if fully realized, it would render the street unrecognizable.
The plan, which HDR finalized in November 2008, envisioned the road as “Bellevue’s Destination Corridor.” It is almost 200 pages of analysis and strategy on an area stretching more than 6 miles from Chandler Road all the way to Fairview Road.
The plan calls for the road to be reduced from six lanes to four and shifted to the west, opening up acres of land for sprawling mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly developments and bicycling and walking trails.
“It’s kind of exciting that we’re dusting this off and taking a look at the framework that exists that we can start working from,” said Kevin Hensel, president and CEO of the Greater Bellevue Area Chamber of Commerce.
Mayor Rusty Hike said, “We’re all about the economic development part of this city, and we’re not going to rest until we get some stuff going.”
For decades, Fort Crook Road was a major thoroughfare connecting Omaha with Offutt Air Force Base and communities to the south.
Developments emerged on both sides, but when the Kennedy Freeway opened in 1994, traffic on Fort Crook dropped from more than 49,000 vehicles per day to just 20,750 today at its busiest intersection, with Chandler Road, according to Metropolitan Area Planning Agency estimates.
Fort Crook Road has been stuck in neutral ever since.
The plan highlights several flaws. Fort Crook Road is “visually chaotic.” The right of way extends 500 feet in some places, taking up land that could be used for development.
Train tracks immediately to the west limit development and continuity between both sides of the road.
“It’s not practical the way it’s designed today, so that has to change,” City Administrator Jim Ristow said.
City leaders see the potential embedded in the plan, even though it is more than a decade old and may need to be tweaked.
Hike described it as a plan a good real estate developer would use.
“What we’re doing with it right now is more like a slumlord would do — we’re just patching it,” he said. “This (plan) is totally gutting Fort Crook Road and doing it right.”
Auto dealerships and other businesses along Fort Crook Road that have invested in their buildings would need to be incorporated into the plan, which envisions a gateway neighborhood of town houses and condos to the north near Chandler Road, while areas to the south near Nebraska Highway 370 and Offutt would become technology districts.
The plan suggests that leaders and developers should emphasize three focal points that would spur growth around them: Southroads Technology Park, the intersection with Galvin Road and the intersection with Cornhusker Road.
Southroads would turn into a mixed-use development anchored by corporate offices. The stretch near Galvin Road would be lined with multifamily housing. The intersection with Cornhusker would have a roundabout, mixed-use developments and multifamily housing.
None of that will happen, city leaders say, until the city gets control of the rights of way. The state handed over maintenance of Fort Crook Road to Bellevue when the freeway opened but kept its authority over things like access control.
Ristow pointed to revitalization along 13th Street in Omaha as an example of the role rights of way play. That rejuvenation is possible, he said, because developers in that area don’t have to go through the state to get projects moving.
Hike said the city won’t spend any money on tweaking the 2008 plan until it resolves the rights of way issue.
That will be the first step in a long process.
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“Projects like this, there has to be patience,” Hensel said. “But then we also have to be communicating what is the progress that we’re making towards those end goals.”
Leaders said Bellevue is divided into four distinct areas — northwest, southwest, the Fort Crook Road corridor and Olde Towne — and each has its own identity, but a redeveloped Fort Crook Road would provide a unifying centerpiece.
“Fort Crook Road really lends itself to being that showcase that as people are driving to and from the community that kind of ends up being our spokesperson,” Hensel said.
Hike and Ristow said connecting the different hubs would be an important goal of any redevelopment.
Fort Crook Road is Bellevue’s major north-south corridor with the potential for commercial development, and leaders want it to draw in spending dollars from around the area instead of allowing people to bypass Bellevue and spend money elsewhere.
One fortunate outcome so far, leaders say, is that the city didn’t pursue big-box retail stores. Several retail anchors have moved out of Southroads over the years as the market has turned toward online retail and smaller stores.
Leaders say any future development is more likely to follow the 2008 plan, which calls for a mix of uses: office and retail space and multifamily housing.
Hensel and Ristow pointed to the success of Bellevue’s restaurants along Fort Crook Road as a sign of its potential.
A representative from an Italian restaurant chain once told Ristow that Italian food would never work in Bellevue. He said he would like to show that person the business Roma draws on a Friday night now even though it’s on a “tired, difficult to navigate corridor.”
“They’ve proven that if you have something there (customers) will come,” he said. “It’s just how do we do that with the rest of the corridor?”