Gearing up to launch in 2019: a five-story structure with 375 apartments, parking and a pedestrian-oriented retail corridor — all aimed at juicing up idle parts of the Conagra riverfront campus.

Carrying a $105 million price tag, those elements are in the first phase of a broader $500 million redevelopment announced a year ago in the wake of Conagra downsizing and moving its headquarters to Chicago.

Brad Soderwall of the Houston-based Hines real estate company tapped to transform the site told The World-Herald that his team has been busy putting together details and will present the initial phase this week to the Omaha Planning Board.

The team chose to “kick-start” the multiyear effort with market-rate rental units it believes will draw people who can trigger demand for more shops, restaurants and entertainment venues.

“The apartments make it 24/7,” Soderwall said. “It truly is trying to create that dynamic situation people want, a place to live, work and play.”

Before the apartments rise, a vacant Conagra building must be torn down so crews can reconfigure three city blocks. Soderwall expects that infrastructure work to begin next September or October.

The Conagra campus-based effort is separate from another high-profile project in the works that focuses on revamping the landscape to the north, including the Gene Leahy Mall. That $290 million plan is led by the nonprofit Heritage Services.

Though different initiatives, Soderwall said the two teams have been communicating, and he expects the combination to bring a new level of zest to the city’s core.

City documents refer to the Conagra project site as the River Crossing, but Soderwall said that’s just a placeholder name. Here are key elements of its first phase, which will cover about four acres of 23 acres to be redeveloped:

  • Demolition of the Conagra building southeast of 10th and Farnam Streets will make way for a two-lane plaza that will extend Harney Street two blocks from 10th Street to Eighth Street and the Heartland of America Park and lake. Soderwall calls that walkable artery, to be lined with merchants, offices and residences, the project’s spine.
  • A mixed-use building is to cover 680,000 square feet and contain a city-funded parking structure of about 720 stalls. Commercial space would wrap around the ground floor except for Farnam Street, which is to feature residences with walk-out entrances. Passers-by would see apartments on upper floors.
  • Retailers and office space would occupy about 42,000 square feet of the structure’s street level. At least one well-known restaurateur will be among them. Soderwall said the Omaha-based Flagship group has plans for two restaurants. (Flagship’s other downtown eateries include Blue Sushi Sake Grill and Roja Mexican Grill.)
  • Improvements to an extended Eighth Street between Harney and Farnam Streets also are planned.

Hines will own and manage the apartments and commercial space after construction, Soderwall said. He said the privately owned global real estate firm, which has a presence in 207 cities in 24 countries, would coordinate various programs and events to build bustle along the Harney corridor.

Mindy Simon, a spokeswoman for Conagra Brands, said employees at the campus are excited. After the downsizing, Conagra employees were concentrated in Buildings 6, 9 and 11 in the southeast portion of the campus. Those structures were renovated and contain operations such as finance, information technology and procurement.

“Conagra is excited to be located right next to this incredible, multi-use development that will be a terrific addition to Omaha,” Simon said. “A vibrant downtown is a tremendous asset for the area and our 1,200 employees who continue to work in the buildings that have been renovated.”

City Council approval lies ahead, and final designs also have yet to be drawn. But Troy Anderson, an economic development aide to Mayor Jean Stothert, said city leaders hope to boost success with various incentives.

“This is another one of those projects we see contributing to the overall economic vitality and continuing growth and development of the community,” Anderson said.

He said the city intends to finance the parking structure with revenue or lease-purchase bonds. He expects the design to be done next year and construction to be completed a year or two later.

Planning documents say the project also calls for the city to pay about $15 million in additional public improvements.

That’s on top of a request for approval of $11 million in tax-increment financing. Hines said it also might apply for an enhanced employment area designation.

Planning Director Dave Fanslau said in the city documents that the use of TIF would allow Omahans to “enjoy a residential and retail ‘bridge’ connecting the existing Old Market and the to-be-revitalized Riverfront Park.”

Expected to unfold over 10 years, the broader redevelopment of Conagra’s campus is to result in seven new structures containing roughly 500,000 square feet of office space, more than 80,000 square feet of retail space, a boutique hotel with perhaps 200 rooms and about 900 new residences.

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