Most may remember it as the grassy patch that northbound cars passed before reaching the CenturyLink Center. One winter it was an ice skating rink. Way back, it was Abbott Drive.

Now rising southeast of 10th Street and Capitol Avenue is a six-story mostly residential structure with ground-floor commercial bays.

Capitol Place, as the $27 million project is called, is the dream of two former city officials who are shedding a suburban lifestyle to help build Omaha’s downtown central business district.

“Our past professional and personal interests have always made the urban core attractive to us,” said Mary Lopez, who, with husband Rodrigo, is developing the 72-unit, mixed-use building that spans nearly 150,000 square feet.

He’s a former city Planning Board member who worked 30 years in mortgage banking. She’s a former Omaha Housing Authority commissioner and university administrator who served on the city’s master plan committee.

Those roles, the Lopezes said, reinforced how vital a thriving downtown is to a growing city. Retired from earlier careers, and with their two kids launched in their own professions, the Lopezes looked for an opportunity to rehab or build residential property downtown.

Though the couple sold their mortgage bank a few years ago, they kept the AmeriSphere name for their new development company, which now owns Capitol Place.

They’ll live on the building’s top floor — and are looking forward to the bird’s-eye view from what they believe is downtown’s best intersection of activities, amenities, restaurants, event venues and gathering spaces.

All the residences should be done by year’s end, and the nearly 30,000 square feet of commercial space should begin to open next spring. The Lopezes said they’re seeking to secure a high-end restaurant and a specialty food retailer for the retail bays.

Rents on the one- and two-bedroom units that will range from 800 square feet to 1,200 square feet have yet to be determined.

Dark brick and large windows will cover the building, designed by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture. Amenities include a fitness and community center, and secure and refrigerated delivery package service. Most units have dens and balconies. There are 92 on-site parking spaces, 82 of them underground.

By this time next year, the Lopezes should be out of the west Omaha house they’ve occupied for more than 20 years and in their urban dwelling.

He’s looking forward to having a separate room to set up his hobby trains. She’s looking forward to being within walking distance of favorite volunteer spots and event venues. Together they plan to seek other development opportunities in and around downtown.

“We’ve always had an interest in downtown,” said Rodrigo. “We wanted to be part of it.”

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