north downtown

Drivers make their way through dense fog in north downtown Omaha.

A new $300 million plan has emerged to help boost another section of north downtown Omaha with housing, entertainment areas and tech-friendly office space.

Called the Millwork Commons, the proposed mixed-use neighborhood would breathe activity into an old industrial area between 11th and 14th Streets, from Izard to Seward Streets.

The project led by Paul Smith of Black Dog Management would evolve over a decade — but is to launch Wednesday with an announcement of an anchor tenant for the soon-to-be-renovated Ashton building at 1218 Nicholas St.

A statement described the tenant as a “large and fast-growing technology company” whose identity would be revealed Wednesday. The company is to occupy about a floor and a half of the Ashton. The overall plan for that four-level building calls also for a ground floor of retail services, restaurants, bars and shops tailored for people who live and work in the area.

According to a nonbinding memorandum of understanding signed a few months ago by Mayor Jean Stothert and Smith, the Ashton is one of several warehouse and historic properties within the Millwork community (either currently owned or to be purchased by Black Dog Management) that would be renovated mainly for office and retail use.

The widely known Mastercraft building, a collection of about 50 entrepreneurs employing about 300 people, is among the properties, Smith said. He said that former furniture factory at 1111 N. 13th St. meshes with the Millwork vision and will go on as is, for the most part.

Also envisioned in the district is new construction and infrastructure work, a parking structure and areas that would be revamped for community events.

“We saw there were some amazing historic buildings north of Cuming in the area we’re calling Millwork Commons,” Smith said. “They were in need of some TLC — the area was somewhat blighted and had problems with heavy truck traffic and other issues.”

Smith said it made sense to develop a plan broader than one or two buildings. “We really have to do something that’s transformable for the neighborhood.”

(While their missions are complementary, the Millwork community is separate from the ongoing and adjacent New North Makerhood District, led by the Peter Kiewit Foundation. The foundation and other philanthropists have bought up property along 11th Street through a nonprofit group with the goal of making the former industrial zone an area where creative types could live and work affordably.)

Smith, an investor in the multimillion-dollar Capitol District redevelopment at 10th Street and Capitol Avenue, said the Millwork idea grew out of thoughts about how to further build up Omaha’s downtown. He said his team was excited about new plans for the riverfront, for the so-called Lot B, for the future new Kiewit headquarters.

“Downtown Omaha is filling in,” Smith said. “This is a logical next place. It’s also a place that has some great old buildings that can be brought forward for new use.”

The team saw an unmet need, he said, for big open office spaces favored by technology and design firms.

In the memorandum of understanding, the city agreed to consider providing tax-increment financing and to improve or build certain streets and infrastructure.

The developers plan to have the Ashton renovated and ready for use in 2020, Smith said.

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