New construction activity is accelerating along the riverfront — that is, on the Iowa side of the Missouri River.
Developers are to officially break ground Friday on the first office building at the River’s Edge mixed-use campus in Council Bluffs. The four-story, 67,000-square-foot structure will serve as new headquarters for the Iowa West Foundation.
The office building, expected to open late next year, is part of a flurry of construction at the former 25-acre Playland Park across the river from downtown Omaha.
Also rising at the redevelopment site are hundreds of apartments. Streets and other infrastructure have been installed. Completed about a month ago is a community pavilion where concerts, weddings and other events are to take place.
Yet to come are more offices, retail space and a pair of condominium towers.
When complete, co-developers Noddle Cos. and the Iowa West Foundation anticipate the amount of private and public investment east of the river and including the old Playland area to reach $170 million.
“We are putting a stake in the ground that will undoubtedly drive future success and transform our region,” said Pete Tulipana, president and chief executive of the private Iowa West Foundation. “It is a new front door to Council Bluffs.”
Jay Noddle of Noddle Cos., which earlier redeveloped key pieces of Omaha’s riverfront, said the River’s Edge stands out in being a multiple-use campus built from the ground up by public and private dollars in the urban core of a metropolitan area.
He called it the biggest new commercial venture on either side of the Missouri waterfront corridor since downtown Omaha’s Riverfront Place condos. The second of those towers was completed in 2011.
Among earlier riverfront projects led by Noddle are the Gallup campus, completed in 2003, and the National Parks Service regional headquarters, which opened in 2004.
Noddle foresees the River’s Edge sparking further development to the south, and creating a stronger tie between business communities on both sides of the river.
“We’ve got $60 million in development underway,” he said of current construction. “That’s a big deal anywhere in the metropolitan area.”
As the River’s Edge village takes form, a group spearheaded by Omaha business powers continues to imagine ways it might revitalize the larger and mutual riverfront corridor.
The Riverfront Revitalization Planning Committee, which has connections to the nonprofit Heritage Services, includes mayors of both Omaha and the Bluffs. Its most recent public input meeting was held in mid-November.
Tulipana is engaged with that group. But the Iowa West Foundation also has moved forward with efforts to build the Iowa side of the riverfront. The foundation is funded by casino operators and investment earnings.
Tulipana recalled the days when the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, which connects downtown Omaha to the Bluffs, was referred to as “the bridge to nowhere.” In the past decade, the foundation has helped change the Bluffs’ image by investing in projects such as the five-acre Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, which sits between the river and the former Playland property. The foundation has financed public art and concerts.
Plans call for the foundation to occupy most of one of the four floors in the new $20 million office building. Designed by HDR, the structure is to feature environmentally and energy-conscious elements, including a two-story living green wall in the lobby. Glass exterior and west-facing patios will offer views of the park, river and Omaha’s skyline.
The $14 million parking structure being built near the office building is to provide free parking for workers as well as the public.
Noddle said he’s had good interest from businesses considering a move to the office structure anchored by the foundation, and has started to discuss building a second office building.
Of the projected $170 million total investment, Noddle said, about $34 million is from the City of Council Bluffs and the rest is from private sources including Noddle Cos., Iowa West Foundation, Broadmoor Development, Chicago-based Argent Group and future investors.
Noddle said good weather has boosted construction progress. The River’s Edge plan calls eventually for a total of about 200,000 square feet of office and retail space, as well as more than 350 residences ranging from condos in high-rise towers to Broadmoor’s low-rise rental apartments that are projected to open in phases starting at the end of 2018.
Noddle expects the first condo tower to start rising soon. Agents of Argent Development have started marketing the for-sale homes.
Other amenities, he said, include a children’s splash park, trails, a 10-foot-wide bike path through the development and a pedestrian-friendly piazza designed for art fairs, music festivals and other public events.
The ramp-up to the River’s Edge has been lengthy, Noddle said, with a planning process launched a decade ago and intensifying in 2013.
“It’s been a long time coming, but it’s real,” he said.