Jones Street in the Old Market is a mess.
It’s supposed to be a brick street. But in many spots, the century-old road has just as much asphalt and concrete patching as it does exposed brick.
Holes dig deep scars along the stretch from 11th to 13th Streets. It looks as bad as it rides.
With the holes, the patches and the bumpy brick, Jones Street has developed an ugly reputation that the City of Omaha plans to remedy with an old-style renovation.
Mayor Jean Stothert says people call it “the worst street in town.”
“I’d probably agree with that,” said Jim Douglas, senior vice president of Warren Distribution, which until two years ago operated a block away on Leavenworth Street.
“I don’t disagree,” said Ryan Kuehl, a broker at Investors Realty, who worked with the Fairmont Creamery building that runs along Jones Street.
Jones Street has a long, rugged history. It was laid out as part of Omaha’s earliest plat maps, and Omaha’s first house was reportedly built in the area.
The brick street itself dates to somewhere from 1890 to the early 1900s, said Jamie Winterstein, design project manager with the Omaha Public Works Department.
Now, the worst street in town is about to get fixed.
The City of Omaha will undertake a $3.5 million project in 2020 to restore the brick street, improve sidewalks and realign parking along the street — all in a way that fits with the Old Market.
The city says it will salvage as much of the existing bricks as possible but will need to supplement those because many are worn and unusable.
The concept has been in the works for years, and officials have been talking through the plans with area establishments and property owners.
Related sewer work already is underway in the area, cutting off Jones between 12th and 13th Streets. The city plans to start street construction in the spring, possibly expanding the work up 12th Street.
Despite its scars, Jones Street has seen some notable redevelopment and investment thanks to the pull of the Old Market, one of Omaha’s most popular tourist attractions.
The block between 11th and 12th Streets runs along one side of the Bemis Bag Building, which is home to the Boiler Room restaurant and the office of civic group Omaha by Design.
Across the street, the Kaneko arts and cultural gallery has established its presence, even building its own decorative granite sidewalk along Jones Street.
Along the 12th Street block, the Fairmont Creamery building has changed owners, and the food processing plant has left the building, opening up a redevelopment opportunity.
“We’re really happy we’re going to have a Jones Street roadway that’s reflective of the investment going on in that south Old Market area,” said Kevin Andersen, Stothert’s deputy chief of staff for economic development and development services.
But people also know the street and its problems.
Samuel Bertino, Kaneko’s individual gifts and community engagement manager, said when he talks with people around Omaha about Kaneko and its location, they’ll say, “Oh, your street’s terrible.”
“Always,” he said.
Bertino said the organization believes the street’s condition and terrible on-street parking affect attendance. It’s hard to be as accessible as the organization wants, he said, if people don’t want to drive down the street and street parking is awful.
Kuehl said that with industrial users keeping up activity and heavy truck traffic until recently, “there’s just never been a lot of pedestrian traffic.”
But now, he said, the street is going to change.
“It’s time for improvements to take place and for the Old Market to extend.”