Downtown Omaha

Gene Leahy Mall’s proposed makeover.

The Gene Leahy Mall and downtown Omaha riverfront renovation project moved ahead Tuesday with the approval of two significant agreements.

The five-member Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority board voted 5-0 to select Kiewit as the project’s construction manager.

The board also signed off on an agreement among MECA, the city and the Downtown Riverfront Trust, a group of donors, that spells out MECA’s responsibilities in managing and maintaining the parks, which will remain public spaces.

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Construction of the $260 million to $290 million project is mostly privately funded, though $50 million is coming from the city. Private donors have already raised $210 million.

The city and private donors will also help fund maintenance of the area; each has committed $3 million annually over the next 10 years.

The project includes three areas: the mall between Douglas and Farnam Streets, Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing along the Missouri River. Under a conceptual master plan, the mall will be raised to street level and the lagoon will shrink.

Plans show a promenade that stretches past Eighth Street to the river, a water plaza where kids can play, a dog park, restaurants and cafes, and areas for festivals and food trucks.

MECA’s President and CEO Roger Dixon has said the entity plans to hire about a dozen people to help activate and maintain the spaces. MECA also plans to hire a vice president to help oversee construction.

Dixon said using Kiewit as the construction manager is the same process that was used for the convention center-arena construction. He said Kiewit would put all construction work over $20,000 out for bid. If Kiewit wants to do any of those jobs itself, Kiewit would have to submit bids to MECA.

Under the contract, Kiewit will be paid 7.2 percent of the construction cost, not including such expenses as architectural and engineering fees. An estimate of the construction cost has not been made public.

Dixon said such a professional services agreement “is the best way to do it. ... We’ve always had a very good relationship with Kiewit. In my mind they’re the right people to do it.”

Jay Noddle, vice chairman of the board, praised the agreement. He said Kiewit doesn’t get all the work as construction manager — only part of it.

Board member Tom Kelley asked questions about the management agreement with the city and riverfront trust. He wanted assurances that MECA’s finances would be protected.

Board President Diane Duren told him they are. “That’s all separate,” she said. MECA attorney Bob Freeman, Noddle and Dixon said that the city’s commitment is firm and that most of the private money has been raised.

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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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