It’s not every day Omahans see an airplane — in this case, a 1970 Mooney — plastered on the side of a midtown Omaha apartment building.
But wiping away any lingering images of a sterile hospital and replacing them with an altogether different vibe was a tall order.
NuStyle Development, faced with converting the former Creighton University Medical Center into the state’s largest single structure of market-rate apartments, wanted the new aura to be one of international travel and exploration.
Owners Todd and Mary Heistand said the travel motif celebrates the diversity of the surrounding Gifford Park neighborhood and the student body of nearby Creighton University.
Enter the Mooney, with a 35-foot wingspan — which the couple found on a salvage website for planes that could no longer fly. Once painted and gutted, the aircraft is to be permanently attached to a northwest corner of the 732-apartment structure, whose name has been changed to the Atlas.
“We were considering an iconic symbol that would replace the cross and help provide unique definition to the building,” said Jennifer Zimmer of Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture.
The travel theme pops up elsewhere on the campus near 30th and California Streets, including murals on the rooftop pool area, names of apartments and atlas-themed art.
For those who recall, the project’s original name — the Landing — was changed to avoid confusion with other similarly named sites.
Now nine months into its $108 million remake, the Atlas’ first 145 apartments and amenity floors are set to open in June.
The project that got a $19 million boost from city-approved tax-increment financing actually had been talked about as far back as 2012, but the hospital staff moved out last July.
Renter inquiries have started to pour in the last few weeks, NuStyle officials said, even as construction continues throughout the complex that for 40 years ran as a teaching hospital.
Another wave of 100 apartments are to open in August, with the rest to be available the following year at rents between $925 and $1,725.
Todd Heistand said the midtown and downtown area can absorb the additional residences without upsetting occupancy at other apartment buildings. He said market saturation later could become an issue, though, if Omaha was not able to bring more jobs to downtown.
At the Atlas, the bulk of dwellers are expected to be young professionals and Creighton students, as the campus literally will connect to the university by a pedestrian and bicycle bridge spanning the North Freeway.
Sections of the overpass are being painted in Minnesota and local assembly is to begin in mid-April and finish in June. Heistand said residents of the Gifford Park area are excited they’ll again be able to walk to church services at the Creighton campus — on a path that takes them into the Atlas, past first-level retailers, and onto and over the Interstate bridge that leads to the heart of the university.
(The bridge is unlike the connector that collapsed recently on a Florida college campus, Heistand said. “Like apples to oranges,” he said. “This is a steel truss bridge,” he said, “tried and true.”
Vicki Kramer, a spokeswoman for the Nebraska Department of Transportation, said the construction method for the bridge isn’t the Accelerated Bridge Construction method used with the Florida bridge. The bridge is being privately built, but the State of Nebraska has some oversight because it crosses a public roadway, she said.)
Pieces of the bridge are pre-manufactured and will be assembled here, Heistand said. Hawkins Construction will work on the local project.
Meanwhile, the innards of the gutted hospital are being transformed, and The World-Herald got a look at the progress.
All told, there are 10 levels including two underground parking floors.
The sheer volume — roughly 1 million square feet — allowed for a variety of spaces and nooks. There’s a theater room for movie fans, a study area for bookworms, a section for gamers.
Mary Heistand said one of her favorite spots is a front porch-like area featuring swings to enjoy rooftop views to the west. Nearby is a cardio studio, garden and community kitchen. “It’s such a big space,” she said. “We get the opportunity to do a lot of things we’ve never done before.”
Also on the top level, which once was filled with hospital mechanical equipment, is the heated swimming pool area that opens to sky deck areas with a big-screen TV, outdoor grills and a fire pit.
On the street level is a larger lap pool with a winding slide that drops users onto an outdoor courtyard, where a 2.5-acre lagoon (whose purpose is to collect rainwater and snowmelt) is to be finished around September. A sandy beach, kitchen area, trail system and tennis and basketball courts will surround the lagoon.
Set to occupy much of the 12,000 square feet of street-level retail space is a restaurant, convenience store and coffee shop. Two retail bays still are available.
Zimmer foresees the finished product as warm and welcoming. “A far cry from the building’s original use as a sterile hospital environment.”
World-Herald staff writer Steve Jordon contributed to this report.