The highway-spanning pedestrian overpass that links Creighton University with the student-dominated Atlas apartments will be officially named Tuesday in honor of two brothers whose mark can be seen at Creighton and across Omaha.
As it so happens, one of those siblings already had a history with the bridge, and that tie dates back more than 40 years — before the almost 600-foot span was even built.
In recognition of C.E. “Carr” Heaney Jr., and Robert P. “Bob” Heaney, the overpass that was erected last year and is a daily passageway for scores of backpack-toting students now will be known as the Heaney Pedestrian Bridge.
“We’re honored,” said Carr Heaney, 90. He said that his family is touched and that the dedication would have meant a lot to his brother, who died in 2016 at age 88.
Both brothers got their undergraduate and professional degrees from the Jesuit-led Creighton.
Bob Heaney, a physician-scientist, worked at the university for almost 60 years. His pioneering strides in osteoporosis and vitamin D research gained international acclaim.
Joining the faculty in 1957, he chaired the Department of Medicine and later served as first vice president for health sciences and first vice president for research.
“Dr. Heaney was a beloved figure on campus and a role model for the entire academic community,” said the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, president of Creighton.
Carr Heaney is a lawyer whose career has spanned more than six decades. He had a hand in the development of landmark projects such as TD Ameritrade Park, the Durham and Joslyn Art Museums, the Orpheum Theater and the Holland Performing Arts Center.
He wrote the articles of incorporation for Heritage Services and for 30 years has provided legal counsel to the powerful nonprofit organization of leaders behind landscape-changing projects in the city.
Heritage Services’ board of directors, along with the Sunderland Foundation and friends, made a “significant gift” to ensure that the Heaney name will remain connected to Creighton University, according to a statement from Creighton.
“Carr has such an affection for Creighton, as did his brother,” said Sue Morris, president of Heritage. “We thought the bridge dedication would be a wonderful way to honor that affection and the many ways they connected the university to the city.”
It was Carr Heaney who had the foresight and legal know-how decades ago to secure the air rights above the North Freeway, where the bridge now spans.
Todd Heistand of NuStyle Development, whose company transformed the former Creighton University Medical Center into the Atlas apartments and retail space, said the previously secured air lease made for a smoother and faster bridge project.
As Carr recalled, “It all started about 45 years ago ...”
At that time, he said, he was the attorney for St. Joseph Hospital, which was moving from South 10th Street to the 30th and California Streets site. (The facility eventually became CUMC and, after a 40-year run as a teaching hospital, was sold to NuStyle as hospital operations shifted elsewhere.)
The hospital’s initial design included a parking structure to be built over the freeway, Carr Heaney recalled. He said he negotiated an agreement with government officials that allowed the hospital to rent the air above the highway for 49 years, at a rate of $1 a year. He said that he cinched a good deal, as the purpose was charitable, and that the leasing rights extended an additional 50 years with renewal options.
“So I sent them a check for $49 that covered the first 49 years.”
As it turned out, that parking structure was too expensive. The idea was abandoned, and the hospital design was tweaked.
Decades passed, Carr Heaney said, and in an unrelated meeting with Morris and the Rev. John Schlegel, then the president of Creighton, the hospital sale came up. Schlegel, who died in late 2015, mentioned how nice it would be to connect a future project with the university campus.
“It occurred to me that I was probably the only person still alive that realized that the (air rights) lease was still in place,” Carr Heaney said. “I got back to the office, and I found the documents.”
Today, the Atlas pays the Nebraska Department of Transportation about $6,000 a year to lease the air, Heistand said. He said that his team had to negotiate a new 50-year contract but that the earlier terms helped frame the discussion.
The 732-unit Atlas — which was renovated in phases and is the metro area’s largest single structure of market-rate apartments — was totally completed as of June. Today, the $108 million conversion project is about 95% leased, Heistand said, saying he is pleasantly surprised at the pace.
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The bridge, with its $6.5 million cost split between Creighton and NuStyle, also establishes another connection between Creighton and the Gifford Park neighborhood west of the Atlas.
It allows both pedestrians and cyclists to cross over eight lanes of highway traffic between the campus and the Atlas, which also has restaurants, shops and a public corridor that connects to 30th Street.
On Tuesday, during a private event with members of the Heaney family present, officials plan to gather on the Creighton side of the overpass for a dedication ceremony.
Muirne Heaney, a Creighton-educated lawyer and daughter of Bob, said the careers of her dad and uncle epitomize Jesuit values.
“They have lived their lives in service for others,” she said.