New downtown Omaha condos aim for creative types


A five-story condo building designed for creative types to live and work — and even mix in a ground-floor bar and restaurant — is planned as a neighbor to the new Blue Barn Theatre south of downtown Omaha.

Called Boxcar 10, the 28,500-square-foot structure shares the same design team as its theater neighbor. The idea is for the two to complement each other architecturally.

Behind them to the west, a unique outdoor event area is to emerge and will be the focus of a national contest seeking the most ingenious ways to make that public green space pop.

Organizers hope the mini arts campus at 10th and Pacific Streets will become the catalyst for more creative development along the 10th Street corridor, long valued as a key connector between downtown's Old Market and tourist attractions such as the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and nearby Lauritzen Gardens.

“I wanted that entire block to be cool and arts-focused,” said Omaha native and philanthropist Nancy Mammel, a leader in the development. “It's close to the Old Market, Kaneko, the Bemis ... it's just kind of moving south.”

Indeed, when Mammel bought the former Angie's Italian restaurant property where the arts hub will be built, she wanted to preserve it for what she called out-of-the-box projects.

She previously donated part of the land for the theater, which is halfway through its capital campaign. Now, this marks the first public mention of Mammel's vision for the compatible condo and restaurant project, as well as the green event space.

The hope, Mammel said, is for the condos to become home to progressive and arts-minded residents who would live and work out of them.

A dozen units, each about 1,000 square feet, are to be “bare-bones lofts,” with concrete floors, simple kitchens and bathrooms and mostly open space that each owner can shape to meet specific needs.

Mammel said she wants them to be affordable, under $200,000 apiece. “These aren't for the person who wants granite countertops and foo-foo appliances,” although amenities could be added by owners if they so choose.

All the work-live condos will have views to the north downtown skyline and riverfront.

Jeff Day of the Min | Day architecture firm, which has offices in Omaha and San Francisco, said the building's layout creates the possibility for a 13th unit as a commercial office or a live-work residence.

Although the design by his company has yet to be finalized, Day said, the condo-restaurant building will be contemporary, modern and a “fit for its eclectic industrial neighborhood.”

To the south of the half-block condo and Blue Barn site is the large Omaha postal annex, old mansions and residential neighborhoods. To the north is a mix of industrial space, trendy shops and loft apartments. Across the street to the northeast is the lifeless historic Burlington Station, which recently was purchased by Omaha TV station KETV to restore into a news headquarters, and the Durham Museum, housed in the former Union Station.

“It's not a neighborhood that has a consistent character,” said Day. “It's very diverse, so we're taking advantage of that. This will be a very forward-looking project.”

In the railroad-oriented spirit of the neighborhood, Mammel chose Boxcar 10 for the name of the condo structure. “I wanted to pay homage to the history of the area,” she said.

The restaurant area, which has no confirmed tenant yet, will be up to 3,000 square feet. Covered parking will be available in the back for residents.

“This will be like no other building in Omaha,” Mammel said. “I'm not scared of color. It will be fun, a nice vibe, cool and contemporary.”

The condos are to be completed in the fall of 2014, followed by the anticipated opening of the 99-seat Blue Barn in 2015, its 27th season.

The theater will open in the back to green space, about 70feet by 100 feet, which will be the subject of a national landscape design competition set to launch in September.

Omaha By Design is serving as the project manager for the contest, called Green in the City, and will be assisted by the Nebraska Arts Council. Mammel provided the lead donation for the competition.

“There is so much discussion around open space,” said Connie Spellman of Omaha By Design. “This gives us an opportunity to be creative in establishing a sort of new concept in how to use open space.”

The winner of the contest will receive $200,000 to implement its vision, and the space ultimately will become Blue Barn's to maintain and manage.

On Sept. 5, a “Place Game” workshop will be held at 7 p.m. at the nearby House of Loom to launch the contest. Neighborhood residents, businesses and civic groups at that time will brainstorm ideas that will help set the contest parameters.

A judging panel of local and regional design experts will hear finalist presentations early next year.

Mammel said she envisions creative minds gathering at the 10th and Pacific Streets site, perhaps catching a show at the Blue Barn and then spilling into the restaurant for spirited conversation over food and drinks.

“I'm just glad to see it all happening,” she said. “The fall of 2015, that block will be totally different. It will be fun to see it.”

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