Now nearing its 100th birthday, an old downtown Omaha Chevrolet dealership that later served as a storage facility, banquet hall and parking garage is preparing for its most dramatic metamorphosis yet.

The roof of the structure at 20th and Dodge Streets — which, in its heyday, drew nighttime crowds to watch motion pictures under the stars — is about to get a lid. Add floor-to-ceiling glass walls, furnishings and balconies with views toward the riverfront, and the property would transform from garage to modern office space.

“The timing is right,” said Ryan Anglim, whose family wants to redevelop the property they’ve owned since 1996 but first are looking for a tenant. “As downtown grows and buildings are getting remodeled, this seems a perfect fit.”

Poised to bring about 36,000 square feet of new office space to the city’s core, the Anglim project is a sign of optimism and better times for a downtown Omaha market that’s been filling business space at a faster rate than a year ago.

According to Colliers International, the office vacancy rate in downtown Omaha has dropped from about 10 percent at the end of 2017 to 5.7 percent today. Some of that decline is attributable to the fact that some empty office space was turned into hotel rooms or apartments.

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People gather to watch a movie in the open air on the roof of John Opitz Chevrolet in 1938. The rooftop would be enclosed under the proposal for the building, now a parking garage, at 20th and Dodge Streets. But views of the city would still be possible from balconies.

Still, the Colliers statistics show that new or expanded businesses accounted for about 130,000 square feet of additional downtown office space being leased last year. Citywide, there was net growth of about 400,000 square feet, about twice the 10-year annual average.

Downtown’s declining amount of available office space for employers looking for large worksites with modern amenities such as indoor parking has, in turn, sparked some to build anew.

Omaha-based Noddle Cos., for instance, believes that demand is growing to the point that it plans to erect a new 100,000-square-foot office facility. Jay Noddle predicts that his company will start building the structure as early as this year, next to the Kiewit Corp.’s global campus now under construction near 15th and Cuming Streets. The future Kiewit offices are expected to bring some 650 employees to the area.

Also this year, developers of the downtown retail and entertainment Capitol District have said they would start building the final piece of that campus: an office wing.

Lanoha Development just launched a marketing campaign to lease a high-rise office structure it wants to build on a vacant block at 14th and Dodge Streets. Jason Lanoha said construction depends on an anchor tenant coming forward, but he said he is more confident today in that happening than he’s been since 2014, when he bought the land.

Other indicators of a rebounding central business district include the recent relocation of Mutual of Omaha Bank, which went from its longtime midtown Omaha home to the top floor of the Landmark building at 13th and Farnam Streets.

Two new-to-town companies also chose downtown for their digs. Last year, Boston-based Toast, a point-of-sale company, started to move a 400-person workforce into about 45,000 square feet at the Central Park Plaza. A few blocks away, New York-based Metlife settled about 150 customer service representatives into a similarly sized spot in the Gavilon building.

Such moves were notable because a few years back, the downtown occupancy rate took a dive, driven in part by ConAgra Foods moving its headquarters to Chicago.

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Since then, business and city leaders have hatched a few different plans aimed at rebooting the central business district. A $290 million plan spearheaded by the nonprofit Heritage Services is set to raise the Gene Leahy Mall to street level and install new public amenities including trails, an urban beach and play areas along a 90-acre swath of downtown.

A neighboring $500 million redevelopment of the Conagra Brands campus will begin this year with demolition of a vacant office building on the north side . That will clear the way for a five-story structure with 375 apartments, parking and a pedestrian-oriented retail corridor.

On the Council Bluffs side of the riverfront, the Iowa West Foundation is soon moving into the first office building at the still-developing River’s Edge mixed-use campus.

In north downtown Omaha, developers Paul and Annette Smith of the newly dubbed Millwork Commons district expect $300 million in investment as they push to transform six blocks of buildings and warehouses into workspaces. Already, the Ashton warehouse is being renovated there for the 200 or so employees of tech company Flywheel, who are now scattered in a few other downtown buildings.

Throughout the Omaha metro area, more than 1 million square feet of office space is under construction, and the bulk of that is slated for completion this year, according to a new market report by Omaha’s Cushman & Wakefield/Lund Co.

Some newer projects are anchored by financial institutions along or near the popular Dodge Street corridor, including: a 33,000-square-foot building for Exchange Bank, a 16,500-square-foot building occupied by Pinnacle Bank and a 10,000-square-foot home for American National Bank. Those are east of 85th Street, yet other new construction is underway to the west.

Among the projects farther west on or near the Dodge artery is construction of a 115,000-square-foot office building in the West Dodge Hills business park.

LinkedIn, currently spread between a couple of buildings near 90th Street and Western Avenue, recently announced that it will build a 200,000-square-foot, two-building complex at the Sterling Ridge mixed-use campus, south of Dodge near 132nd and Pacific Streets.

Applied Underwriters, a Berkshire Hathaway affiliate, will start building its new headquarters this year at the developing Heartland Preserve near 144th and Pacific Streets, where its area workers will be united under one roof.

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John Opitz Chevrolet circa 1937. The Anglim building at 20th and Dodge Streets in Omaha, which opened in 1928 as a Chevy dealership, is to be transformed from a garage and event center to an office building.

Back at 20th and Dodge Streets, the planned conversion of the Anglim building joins a burst of other activity sure to dramatically change the look near that intersection, if it all comes to fruition.

Among the shifts in motion is an Omaha Rapid Bus Transit station to be built across from the Anglim and outside Central High School, which is completing its own $22 million addition.

Northeast of the Anglim, by a bike and coffee shop that opened about three years ago, another developer plans a $21 million resurrection of the long-vacant Logan Hotel as a boutique hotel and restaurant, bar and residential condos.

Ryan Anglim said family members, including dad Ron and brother Greg, had long been thinking about what to do next at the 112 S. 20th St. building that now bears their name. The family previously renovated a few other local structures, including the headquarters of their business, Access Elevator & Lifts, in midtown.

“At the end of the day, we’re elevator guys who love real estate,” Ryan Anglim said.

As momentum downtown ramped up, the Anglims decided to make big changes to the structure that today serves predominantly as a parking structure leased by area workers. People also rent storage for fancy cars and boats, and family events have been held there over the years, including a rooftop party celebrating Ryan’s 40th birthday.

Renovation plans call for the roof to be enclosed and the top floor to become about 28,000 square feet of office space, with scenic outdoor decks. A total of about 125 parking stalls would be available on the first and second floors. The first floor has an additional 8,000 square feet that could be office, amenity or retail space, said Cindi Incontro of Colliers, who is marketing the space along with colleague Kristi Andersen.

Changes to the building will wait until an anchor tenant is secured, Incontro said. She said calls about other available downtown office spaces have been “brisk,” and she expects the Anglim project’s proximity to the future mass transit station, its indoor parking and views to stir up interest.

The Anglim brothers predict that conversion of the structure will start yet this year.

“It’s something that my father has always wanted to do, and my brother and I are trying to make this a reality,” Ryan Anglim said. “We like to see the city improve and want to add our own little flair.”

Reporter - Money

Cindy covers housing and commercial real estate for The World-Herald. Follow her on Twitter @cgonzalez_owh. Phone: 402-444-1224.

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