Leaders at OBI Creative were less than thrilled to learn a few years back that their midtown Omaha home would meet the wrecking ball to make way for a future real estate development.
They liked their eclectic neighborhood near 29th and Farnam Streets. The founder said she’d invested more than $100,000 into remodeling since moving the marketing agency there from California in 2006.
Earlier dread, however, has since turned to delight. OBI’s search for a new headquarters has ended with a site that, while in suburbia some 12 miles from their existing place, has its own urban charm.
The growing OBI (which just acquired a Des Moines agency specializing in digital, IT and social media marketing) will be an anchor tenant at the new Lumberyard District near 135th and Q Streets.
After a 125-year history as a yard for lumber and supplies, the six-block district in the historic heart of Old Millard is nearing the finish of a dramatic transformation into offices, retailers and apartments.
Jason Lanoha of Lanoha Development said his vision since buying the swath three years ago was to create a cool and walkable district, akin to a Benson or Dundee — a new downtown core for Old Millard.
At least one longtime neighborhood leader believes that’s happening.
“It’s a new lease on the area,” said Dave Rathbun, president of the Old Millard East Neighborhood Association. “The retail is going to offer new places to go. People will live in the apartments, fall in love with the area and purchase homes here. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
OBI’s move will occur later this year, into about 10,000 square feet on the second floor of the 35,000-square-foot main commercial building on the district’s northern end. First American Title Co. will move into a neighboring 4,000 square feet; Courtney Law has moved already into its space.
On the ground floor below those offices are retailers including Dunkin’ Donuts, Eat Fit Go and Local Beer Patio and Kitchen.
The Omaha Police Department’s southwest precinct moved earlier into a $7.9 million, 22,000-square-foot facility on the district’s southern end.
Between the bookend structures are five apartment buildings containing a total of about 350 dwellings, a clubhouse and outdoor swimming pool. Tenants are moving into the initial wave of apartments that recently opened. So far, about 35 units have been rented; more residences will become available as their interiors are finished.
In all, Lanoha said, about 85 percent of the redevelopment’s commercial space is accounted for — either filled, soon to be occupied or nearing a signed lease.
Certain elements offer visitors a nostalgic glimpse at the former City of Millard.
Wood reclaimed from the Millard Lumber company, which previously occupied the district site, was recycled and used in various places throughout the redevelopment.
Transposed onto a wall in the apartment leasing office is a blown-up historic image of local farmers in overalls standing near a tractor.
Linda Bartels Davis, who graduated from Millard High School in 1975 and still lives in the area, supplied the original family photo featuring the farmland of great-grandparents August and Sophia Bartels. Her grandpa Henry was among the couple’s eight children.
While Bartels Davis would have liked more of a historic look in the new district’s low-rise buildings, she was pleased that the developer highlighted Millard’s past with images such as the area’s old baseball team.
“It shows they’re respecting the community,” she said.
Lanoha said his company is excited about the progress so far. He called the project a huge piece toward revitalizing the heart of Millard and hopes that more development follows over the next couple of decades up, down and around Millard Avenue.
Filling the apartments, he said, is a big step. “More bodies, more people living there, coming home from work, sitting on a patio having a beer and eating dinner, walking to conveniences nearby.”
Gaining OBI Creative also was a feather, Lanoha said, as it adds more creative types who appreciate the local flavor.
Founded by Mary Ann O’Brien in 2001, the OBI website says it has a client roster of Fortune 500 companies, start-ups and nonprofits from the region and across the globe.
Its newly acquired office in Des Moines adds 11 people to Omaha’s 28-person workforce specializing in public relations, research and brand-building.
Lana LeGrand, vice president of operations and leadership, said OBI’s new digs will nearly double the space the agency currently leases, setting OBI up for more growth. (The current home was sold to a Mutual of Omaha-related entity involved in the redevelopment of a multiblock area east of Midtown Crossing.)
LeGrand said the new headquarters site offers a “blank canvas” for OBI to tailor to its tastes and needs.
Co-workers liked the windows, natural light, the area’s green spaces, proximity to a biking and walking trail and the old brick road that runs through the neighborhood.
“One of the most attractive things about the Lumberyard District is that it’s a new development — a revitalization of an area we are really proud to be a part of.”