Dave Paladino bought a historical structure on a rather rough fringe of downtown Omaha — and got busy revamping its retail bays and apartments.
He didn’t stop there. He bought a commercial building and parking lot across the street. Then he bought two more vacant apartment buildings around that intersection of 24th and Leavenworth Streets.
Most recently, he picked up a corner store farther east on Leavenworth, hoping to fix and fill it with a trendy motor scooter business. (It’s just doors away from a warehouse that he already owned and is trying to lease as office space.)
Paladino, whose primary business is storage facilities under the Dino’s name, expects to spend about $15 million to get his latest projects up and running, and he’s looking to buy more nearby properties.
Paladino, of Landmark Group real estate, joins a growing number of local developers amassing multiple parcels — even entire corridors and neighborhoods — to better control, brand and transform older pockets of Omaha into the next hot spots for shopping, dining, living or all of the above.
“It’s what people want: authentic neighborhoods and local shops and restaurants they can support,” said Jay Lund of GreenSlate Development, which is behind midtown’s fast-growing Blackstone District. “And they want to be able to walk to these places.”
To be sure, a master developer buying a swath of property to help guarantee a certain tenant mix and consistency is nothing new — that is, if they’re developing in suburbia or an open field.
But the increased popularity of urban living has sparked greater interest in older commercial areas from Benson to South Omaha’s Vinton Street to midtown, where tighter space and existing infrastructure complicates projects and can drive up redevelopment costs.
Developers say it’s more economical to renovate in bulk and to provide services such as security and maintenance to contiguous rather than scattered properties. That critical mass of activity also can fuel momentum.
“It just makes a lot of sense controlling the neighborhood,” Paladino said. “You can get things done, move the needle easier — especially down here.”
The City of Omaha has started to take a more proactive role in helping developers rebuild stagnant and declining neighborhood commercial areas.
Jed Moulton, Omaha’s urban design manager, cited a budding effort along a tired stretch of Center Street, from about 34th to 37th Streets. Mike Peter of Clarity Development is part of a group of friends that so far has bought three commercial properties along the corridor, which the buddies hope will return to its heyday vitality.
Moulton said the Center Street initiative would be the first in which the city, in partnership with Omaha By Design, fully implements its Neighborhood Conservation/Enhancement District strategy intended to help re-energize neighborhood commercial hubs that evolved along historic streetcar lines.
“We’re trying to set up a model to replicate,” Moulton said of the Center Street project, which also involves neighborhood associations. Omaha By Design is a nonprofit entity dedicated to improving the physical design of the city.
Related city boosts could come in the form of changes to zoning, traffic patterns, streetscapes and developer incentives. City planners also encourage the creation of business improvement districts, such as one formed by Blackstone merchants at the launch of that revival, that assess a tax on property owners to fund efforts. (Since GreenSlate about three years ago opened a renovated a cluster of Blackstone bays at 42nd and Farnam Streets, the ripple has continued up, down and around the Farnam corridor.)
Peter, who lives near Center Street, said the redevelopment fever hit there when a few retail structures went up for sale. He and a few friends bought them without a firm plan but with the question: “Why isn’t something happening here? Something should.”
That stretch of Center Street includes longtime go-to spots such as Richie’s Chicken and the former Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater (now an auction center), which are not among the buildings that Peter bought. But as a broader commercial center, Peter said, the stretch has fizzled.
“Our overarching goal is to have a walkable neighborhood district. We’re not there now, at all.”
Peter said tools such as tax-increment financing probably would be needed to reactivate the corridor, which is in the midst of the Field Club and Hanscom Park neighborhoods.
As a partner in Clarity Development, Peter also has been involved in the Blackstone redevelopment. In Little Bohemia south of downtown, Clarity has assembled more than a dozen parcels in anticipation of future redevelopment.
Not far away, P.J. Morgan Investments Inc. bought and is renovating a century-old theater and adjoining properties to nudge revival of the 13th Street commercial corridor.
Similarly, residential-focused developers including Urban Village, Uptown Urban Dwellings and Harvest Development also have collected multiple old properties in certain urban pockets. They say that gives them economy of scale and more impact in redefining a declining neighborhood.
In the 24th and Leavenworth area, Paladino said he has acted largely on his own. He didn’t seek TIF funds for the Anderson Apartments building renovation at 701 S. 24th St. but said he probably would to revamp the nearby twin 98-year-old buildings on 24th and Jones Streets.
He was waiting to organize a neighborhood meeting until more of his retail bays were occupied.
Well Grounded coffee shop opened last year in one of the Anderson’s five ground-level commercial bays. Tastes of Soul Cafe is to open soon. Across Leavenworth, an antique store operates in another of Paladino’s commercial buildings.
His vision, he said, is to infuse a “dynamic kind of feel” with a denser mix of retail and residential uses.
Paladino said he recognizes that the Leavenworth corridor is scary to many, as homeless and transient people often loiter. There is little parking near his apartment buildings, and he is counting on most of his tenants being mass-transit users.
Still, Paladino said, he has witnessed improvement. A few blocks to the north, the new Flats on Howard project has brought 177 market-rate dwellings to a historical district that had been a crime magnet.
Arch Icon Development is nearly done renovating the eight structures and cluster of row houses that comprise the multiblock, $20 million Flats project. About 82 percent of units are leased, spokeswoman Mindy Crook said.
Paladino’s 28 market-rate units at the Anderson just opened for occupancy, and he has welcomed his first apartment dweller. Rents at the 27,291-square-foot structure built in 1924 range from the $600s for a micro-unit to the $800s for larger apartments.
Paladino expects years to go by before he can determine success. Meanwhile, he is on the lookout for more properties.
“I’d love to get more restaurants going; that would really change things down here.”