A two-block tract of north downtown Omaha — once a surface parking lot known as “The Yard” — now is fully transformed into the three-piece campus developers announced four years ago.
What wasn’t as touted early on, however, was the super techy vibe visitors will find at the area bounded by 14th, 15th, Cuming and Mike Fahey Streets.
The last of the trio of buildings just had its grand opening, and among the features of the 128-room Cambria Hotel are Bluetooth bathroom mirrors that talk and play music.
Steve Hilton, president of the Metropolitan Hospitality Association, said he hasn’t seen that technological touch at any other area hotel property and believes that it’s new to this market.
The upscale Cambria joins, at the former Yard tract, the 62,000-square-foot Kiewit University training facility, which opened in 2017 on the southern end.
Kiewit’s two-story facility contains all the modern equipment necessary to hone skills of more than 3,000 salaried construction, mining and engineering employees that come in each year from throughout the U.S., Canada and Australia.
Anchoring the campus’s northern side is a five-story mixed-use apartment complex. Called 1415 @ The Yard, the property also opened in 2017. Managers say it’s the first metro area apartment project to have a “fully integrated” smart home technology system wired during construction and operational in all 101 units. Retailers occupy the ground level.
The Cambria at 740 N. 14th St. started accepting guests earlier this year but celebrated its grand opening last week with dignitaries and tours showcasing amenities such as charging stations for Teslas and other electric vehicles.
Various decorative touches are intended to evoke nostalgia and showcase local flair. For example, integrated into the bar and lobby woodwork is reclaimed timber from the historic Omaha Belt Line railroad. Beers from local breweries are on tap at the hotel bar.
“Authenticity and personalization are hallmarks of the brand,” said Janis Cannon, senior vice president for Choice Hotels, which includes the Cambria brand.
Partnering with O’Reilly Hospitality Management and Robert Low, founder of the Prime Inc. trucking company, the Cambria in north downtown is the first in Nebraska.
Guests at the Cambria also will find spa-style bathrooms, on-site dining, meeting space, a fitness center and community art. Eco-friendly elements include a solar array on the roof and a salt water pool that reduces chemical usage.
Transformation of the four-acre Yard site goes back to a 2015 announcement by NewStreet Properties, which had owned the tract since 2005, and Noddle Cos., another Omaha-based developer.
At the time, officials described the project as the biggest private investment in recent history into the area surrounding TD Ameritrade Park, where momentum had been slowly ramping up since the recession.
Brian Diedrichsen, managing director of NewStreet, said in an interview Friday that he was happy with the results, though apartment leasing at the 1415, which NewStreet owns, went somewhat slower than anticipated as other area apartment project also opened around the same time.
He expects even more pedestrian and commercial activity after other projects under construction are done, including the new Kiewit global headquarters and the Millwork Commons tech district.
Technological gadgetry in the old Yard area simply seized upon current trends and demands, Diedrichsen said.
“Electric cars. Bluetooth thermostats. Smart door locks. That’s what we’re moving toward. It’s what the consumer wants.”