Earlier this year, Omaha Housing Authority leaders were met with skepticism when they showed tenants a multimillion-dollar concept for redeveloping the Spencer Homes public housing project and its north Omaha neighborhood.

“One of our residents said, ‘That all sounds nice and good, but I’ll believe it when I see it,’ ” Housing Authority board member Jennifer Taylor said Monday. “Well, you can believe it, because you’re gonna see it.”

Optimism prevailed Monday as Taylor and other officials gathered on the sun-splashed deck of a new event center on North 30th Street to announce that the federal government will give Omaha a $25 million grant. The money will help demolish the worn-out barracks-style apartments of Spencer Homes, replace them with better housing and rejuvenate a nearby stretch of North 30th.

The grant comes from a Department of Housing and Urban Development program called the Choice Neighborhoods Initiative. Omaha was one of three cities nationwide that HUD announced Monday will receive funding this year through the competitive grant program.

Two Virginia cities, Newport News and Norfolk, will each receive $30 million. HUD also said Monday that it will award $30 million to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, if it makes certain changes to its plans.

Jason Mohr, a regional HUD administrator, said Choice Neighborhoods grants are focused on housing, people and neighborhoods. He listed three goals: replace distressed housing with high-quality, mixed-income housing options; connect the families HUD serves with employment, health and better education; and create conditions conducive to investment in better schools, more commercial activity and other neighborhood amenities.

He said Omaha had “established a new vision” of a stretch of North 30th that made it an excellent choice for the grants.

Mohr noted that Omaha’s grant application said it will leverage the HUD grant with $157 million in other investment, from philanthropists, private businesses and local government.

He was joined by Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., Omaha City Council President Ben Gray, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, Nebraska Lt. Gov. Mike Foley and Earl Redrick, director of HUD’s Omaha office, to make the announcement.

The setting revealed one of the big reasons Omaha won the grant. Things are already happening on North 30th, and more are in the works. The announcement took place on the patio of The Venue, an event center surrounded by the new modern-looking apartments, townhouses and business buildings of Highlander.

Highlander is being developed by 75 North Revitalization Corp., a nonprofit backed by Susie Buffett’s Sherwood Foundation and her father, Warren Buffett. Several other local foundations also made pledges to help secure the HUD grant, said Othello Meadows, CEO of 75 North. He said those include the Lozier Foundation, the William and Ruth Scott Family Foundation, the Suzanne and Walter Scott Foundation, the Peter Kiewit Foundation and the Daugherty Foundation.

“Most importantly, I want to thank the families in this neighborhood, in this community that trusted us, that met with us at Spencer Homes, who met with us, who meet with us here still, that meet with us on the street, and trust us to try and build a better neighborhood, a better community for them and their families,” Meadows said.

That’s no small feat, he said, given the neighborhood’s history, including the construction of the nearby North Freeway, which “devastated a lot of that trust.”

Gray said the grant will “make a significant difference in our community.” He too acknowledged skepticism and a long history of disappointment in the area but expressed optimism.

“This is one of the depressed areas in our community that has been struggling for a very long time to come from under the grasp of poverty and other things,” said Gray, whose district includes the area. “And this is an opportunity to make that happen. ... This is an opportunity for people in our community who have suffered for a very long time to see some light at the end of the tunnel, and it’s not a train coming at them.”

The City of Omaha and the Omaha Housing Authority applied for the funding from HUD. The city and housing authority will partner with 75 North and Brinshore Development, a national company whose past projects include redeveloping Chicago’s notorious Henry Horner Homes public housing project.

The money will help build more than 400 apartments, townhouses and homes, according to the city’s grant application.

It will boost the completion of Highlander. It will help connect the new developments and existing neighborhoods with such places as Howard Kennedy Elementary School, the Omaha Early Learning Center at Kennedy, the Charles Drew Health Center and the Highlander Accelerator Building.

It remains to be determined exactly what will be built first and when. But it’s a five-year grant, said David Brin, a principal at Brinshore Development. So it has to be completed in five years.

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Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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