Kiewit will oversee construction of the 90-acre plan to renovate Gene Leahy Mall and Omaha’s downtown riverfront.
And the city will put $3 million of taxpayer funds each year over the next decade toward operating and maintaining the project. That’s on top of a previously reported $50 million in city bonds to help with construction.
Those details and others were disclosed Friday when Mayor Jean Stothert’s office released a proposed agreement among the city, the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority and the Downtown Riverfront Trust, a group of donors with ties to Heritage Services.
Among other things, the agreement spells out MECA’s role in the massive project to raise the mall to street level and redo Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing.
The mostly privately funded project is expected to cost between $260 million and $290 million. Much of that — $210 million — has already been raised by private donors. In addition, private donors will match the city’s annual $3 million contribution .
Omaha businessmen and philanthropists Ken Stinson and Mogens Bay have been leading the project. They’ve said they want to reconnect people to the river and transform the area into a vibrant and iconic destination that’s more inviting.
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Stinson is chairman emeritus of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc.
He said Kiewit’s contract to be construction manager wasn’t competitively or publicly bid because “it’s not required.”
MECA’s board is scheduled to vote to hire Kiewit at its meeting on Tuesday. MECA spokeswoman Kristyna Engdahl declined to say how much the firm will be paid or provide the contract the board is considering.
Engdahl said Kiewit’s payment will be “within the established budget” for the project. “As the agreement states, the budget is fixed and cannot go over,” she said.
The agreement between MECA and the city says competitive bidding isn’t required for professional services or construction management of the project. But other contracts costing more than $20,000 need to be competitively and publicly bid.
“It’s the same process we followed for the arena and convention center, and then the ballpark,” Dixon said.
Kiewit spokesman Tom Janssen said the company is honored to be part of the riverfront project.
Omaha-based Kiewit, which is building a new headquarters in north downtown, not far from the riverfront project, also built the CHI Health Center and TD Ameritrade Park.
Both venues are managed by MECA, though they are owned by the city. That’s how the riverfront project is intended to work; the parks will be managed by MECA but remain public parks.
A conceptual master plan for the riverfront project — now being called the Tri-Park Complex — shows grassy lawns for events, a Farnam Street walking promenade that stretches past Eighth Street to the river, a ribbon-shaped rink for ice skating and Rollerblading, a water plaza where kids can play, a splash pad and a dog park.
That would be accomplished by raising most of Gene Leahy Mall to street level and downsizing existing water features to create an open, continuous park leading all the way to the Missouri River.
The plans also show restaurants, cafes and a “discovery pavilion” for kids close to the river.
Dixon estimated that MECA would add a vice president to help oversee construction and hire roughly a dozen people to help activate and manage the parks.
MECA’s goal, according to the agreement, “shall be to make virtually all of these events free to the public.” Dixon said there will be some things that cost money, like ticketed concerts and some parking.
The project would generate $407,000 in revenue by 2022, according to a preliminary budget forecast. That money could also come from grants and sponsorships, Dixon said.
“As I envision it, I see different types of festivals going on, (like) BBQ, chili cook-offs, flower exhibits,” he said. “Stuff that’s going to generate people coming to the downtown area.”
Stothert praised the agreement, calling MECA the “perfect” partner that has a history of successfully running city facilities.
The mall, between Douglas and Farnam Streets downtown, could be closed to the public starting in March. Officials have said construction would begin first on the western end of Gene Leahy Mall, though the sidewalks around the mall would remain open to the public during construction.
The mall portion is expected to be completed in 2021. The entire project wouldn’t be done until 2024.
Stothert said the city’s annual $3 million contribution would go into a fund managed by MECA. The Downtown Riverfront Trust, in addition to the money pledged for construction, will also contribute $3 million a year to the maintenance and operation fund.
The city’s Parks Department currently maintains the parks within the project area. It’s unclear how turning their management over to MECA will affect the city’s budget and workforce.
“We will have to discuss that, as far as what the Parks budget will look like” in the future, Stothert said. “I don’t have any intention of reducing the Parks budget though.”
MECA’s board will vote on the agreement and the selection of Kiewit as construction manager at its Tuesday meeting at 1:30 p.m. at the CHI Health Center. The Omaha City Council will consider the agreement at its Jan. 15 meeting. A public hearing is set for Jan. 29, with a vote on Feb. 5.
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An aerial view of downtown Omaha on July 29, 1974, looking west from Eighth Street and the Jobbers Canyon area. The Central Park Mall would later take shape on the blocks east of the Woodmen Tower, seen near the top of the image.
Aug. 12, 1975, World-Herald: "The former Omaha Typesetting Co. building at 1119 Douglas Street gained a final distinction Tuesday — it became the first building to be demolished in what with become the Central Park Mall."
Aug. 28, 1975, World-Herald: "Demolition continues in the blocks planned for the Central Park Mall. ... This picture of the demolition was taken looking west from the north side of the street between Twelfth and Thirteenth Streets on Farnam Street."
1976: Downtown Omaha is rapidly changing. The library in the upper right is under construction as several blocks to the east are cleared for Central Park Mall. The Woodman Insurance building is shown in the upper right hand corner.
Speakers dedicate Central Park Mall as spectators look across the pool at them on June 3, 1977.
People listen to the Ogden Edsl Band at Central Park Mall on July 5, 1977. The performance was the first in the 18-concert SumFun '77 series.
"The summer of 1977 on the Central Park Mall ... Fountains are fun, and cool."
May 1979: Steel from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, arrived in Omaha to be installed as part of the 13th Street Bridge over the Central Park Mall.
The 13th Street bridge of Central Park Mall under construction in August 1979.
Dec. 28, 1979 World-Herald: "Work has started on the southern gateway to the Central Park Mall that is to serve as a symbolic connection between the mall and the Old Market business district."
May 10, 1980 World-Herald: "Only two walls remain of the Pendleton Woolen Mills Building at Ninth and Douglas Streets as crews from Andersen Excavating Co. continue their work on the project. The Pendleton and the adjacent A.C. Nelson Building are being demolished for the city to make way for the final two blocks of the Central Park Mall."
Jan. 8, 1980 World-Herald: "This week's cold weather hasn't slowed demolition of buildings in the path of the Central Park Mall, City Planner Greg Peterson said. In this photograph, taken with camera pointed northeast from Ninth and Farnam Streets, the partially razed Carrier Air Conditioning Building is in the left foreground. The Henningsen Foods Building to the right of the Carrier structure has been leveled, and wood timbers from the Omaha Baker's Supply Building at far right are being stripped and recycled. Being razed this week, Peterson said, is the Canar Manufacturing Building in the right enter of the picture, site of a four-alarm fire last week. The Ford Storage Building remains untouched."
April 10, 1980 World-Herald: "Downtown visitors soon will be able to walk through a rebuilt slice of Omaha history. Two arches from the former Solo (Corey-McKenzie) Building at 12th and Farnam Streets have been blended back to back in the Central Park Mall on what was 11th Street between Farnam and Douglas Streets. When plans were made to demolish the Solo Building, architect Gary Bowen suggested saving the arches."
Sept. 12, 1980 World-Herald: Work continues on the 13th Street bridge over the Central Park Mall downtown.
Dec. 10, 1980 World-Herald: "Work is nearly done on the 13th Street Bridge over the Central Park Mall. City Planner Greg Peterson said the $1 million bridge should be open to traffic before Christmas. The bridge originally was to have been completed more than a year ago. After most construction was complete, engineers decided the bridge was unsafe and needed modification." Mark Lordemann sandblasts the concrete side of the bridge in this photo.
From the March 19, 1981 World-Herald: Windmill idea spinning on downtown mall: Planners stand atop mound where windmills would be placed. ... "They would serve as an interesting sculptural form, and they would be functional, because they could be used to pump water," said Don Carter (second from right) of the firm Carter, Hull, Nishita and McCulley.
April 10, 1981 World-Herald: "It takes a mighty bit of strength to lift, lug and set in place enough big rock blocks to make a retaining wall around the waterway in the Central Park Mall downtown. But laborer Bob Ring, left, and bricklayer Ron Mraz, employees of A. Borchman Sons Co., appreciate a little help from a crane in building the south wall. Once the water is let loose, the stones will do their job -- maintain a calm waterway instead of the Central Park Swamp."
Two slides near completion in the downtown Central Park Mall in August 1981.
Oct. 27, 1981 World-Herald: "Workmen are completing a $100,000 pedestrian bridge in the Central Park Mall."
From the June 17, 1983 Morning World-Herald: "Central Park Mall ... Four blocks long with lagoon, waterfall and sandy play area. Plans call for it to be extended south two more blocks."
Central Park Mall in January 1984.
Tom Keritinger taking a break at the Central Park Mall in September 1984.
Sept: 22, 1984: "'Heritage,' a statue of a pioneer family formally dedicated at the Central Park Mall Saturday morning, is a gift from the Mid-America Council of Boy Scouts."
May 10, 1984. "Making room for expansion: Another step involved with expansion of the Central Park Mall is taking place at private expense near Eighth and Douglas Streets east of the mall. Workmen from Anderson Excavating & Wrecking Co. are tearing down what used to be Burlington Northern Railroad freight houses, said Greg Peterson, city planner involved with downtown planning. He said the railroad is paying for the demolition. When completed, an area one block wise and three blocks long between Jackson and Farnam Streets will be available for future private development in what will be known as the Central Park East Project. The area will be set aside for residential and office use, Peterson said.
The Santa Lucia Festival at Central Park Mall on Aug 12, 1986.
April 24, 1988: "The Central Park Mall has become a showpiece of downtown Omaha."
April 1989: "Omaha's Central Park Mall, with its lagoon, well manicured lawns and trees ... is a pleasant place to stroll on a sunny day. Beyond the mall is the massive riverfront development project, home to Union Pacific's dispatch center and the future headquarters of ConAgra."
The Gene Leahy Mall in 1998.
The Gene Leahy Mall in 1998.
Gene Leahy Mall holiday Christmas lights in 2000.
The "Heritage" statue by Herb Mignery is seen in 2000 at the Gene Leahy Mall.
The First National Tower rises in May 2001 with the Gene Leahy Mall in the foreground.
Tara Maulsby, 6, of Omaha goes down a slide at the mall in December 2003.
Downtown Omaha, including the Gene Leahy Mall, are seen from the east in August 2004.
Downtown Omaha, including the Gene Leahy Mall, are seen from the east in August 2004.
The Gene Leahy Mall in 2007.
A warm fall wind whips leaves near the arch on the Gene Leahy Mall on Nov. 10, 2012.
The Gene Leahy Mall is seen from above in April 2014.
Logan Johnson of Omaha and Ian LaFollette of West Des Moines, Iowa, pose for a selfie at the Gene Leahy Mall on June 9, 2018.
Blake Welchert, 10, right, of Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, lands in the gravel while playing on the slides at the Gene Leahy Mall on June 7, 2018.