The 85-year-old building didn't scream “potential.”
Leaky roof. Unstable floor. Filled to the brim with dusty furniture from bygone days as a warehouse. But in that mess, Ray Trimble saw the possibilities.
Five years later, Trimble's vision of transforming the former Omar Bread bakery near 43rd and Nicholas Streets into shared workspaces for Omaha businesses is nearly complete. It's filling up with tenants ranging from lawyers to personal trainers and, for the first time in years, it is considered a bright spot for the Midtown neighborhood.
The building was built as a commercial bakery in 1923 and, in its prime, the Omar Baking Co. had bakeries in Omaha, Milwaukee, Columbus and Indianapolis. The “Omar Man” delivered bread in some 1,300 communities. The bakery changed hands over the years, and the building was being used as a furniture warehouse in 2008 when a PropertyBanc affiliate bought it for $230,000.
PropertyBanc, a commercial real estate developer, with Trimble as president, has invested more than $2.1 million. The makeover was also approved in 2009 to receive $650,000 in tax increment financing with the endorsement of city planners, who said its office, storage and private parking spaces would serve an unmet need in Midtown.
A section on the corner of 45th and Cuming Streets will serve as an entrance with the Omar name on display, Trimble said.
“Now, it's brand new with a piece of the old,” he said.
Parts of the 80,000-square-foot building's preserved history include the original, 13-inch brick facade, a cooler door that swings open into a conference room, a vintage scale used to weigh ingredients and many of the original colors like aloe and emerald that covered the walls when it was an industrial bakery.
But as obvious as the Omar building's history are the renovations that freshen up the space that sprawls two city blocks long.
The first floor has a center for creative arts in the East wing, a Fit Farm gym in the center and, still under construction, a banquet hall for special events and entertainment in the West wing.
Two law firms and a handful of corporate offices — including dropout prevention organizations Communities In Schools of Nebraska and Communities In Schools of Omaha and community organization Seventy Five North Revitalization Corp. — are housed on the second floor. The building's administrative offices and PropertyBanc headquarters are on the third.
The building, which with the parking lot covers about three acres, is about half full. Trimble said he's in negotiations with a couple of potential tenants that would bring it to two-thirds leased.
Its grand opening is scheduled for mid-February and workers this week are finishing artwork that has the appearance of aged copper in the main entrance. Other renovations include $27,000 worth of new wood floors on the second level and $20,000 worth of repairs to restore the elevator that leads to a fourth floor.
Trimble said they saved more than $500,000 by doing much of the construction internally.
Many people have likened the Omar building to the north downtown shared workspace in the Mastercraft building at 1111 N. 13th St. When potential Omar tenants asked what the various rooms could be used for, Trimble encouraged them to “use your imagination.”
The freedom to customize and the old details were enough to attract the four employees of GoodTwin. Creative director Adam Nielsen said what they like best about their 3,900-square-foot office is the exposed brick and tall ceilings mixed with modern window and lighting fixtures.
Andrew Failla, co-owner of CrossFit affiliate Fit Farm, which opened about three weeks ago, said gym goers can't get over the 8,500-square-foot gym with exposed brick and beams. The space allows Failla to offer CrossFit classes, personal training sessions, soccer camps on its turf flooring, antigravity yoga and locker rooms.
“They're just oohing and aahing over the space,” he said. “When you're here, it doesn't feel like your typical gym.”
But the biggest reason both GoodTwin and Fit Farm chose the space was because it was off the beaten path in a developing neighborhood they hope comes to life with the building's new activity.
“We hope we're a big part of that,” Nielsen said. “This neighborhood has been neglected for a long time and it has a lot of potential.”
Trimble said his hope is that the building's community ultimately extends beyond its brick walls.
“The concept has to be collaborative and have a high exchange of ideas,” he said, “and that's happening.”
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