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.
Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates
Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.
Stinson is chairman emeritus of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc.
MECA President and CEO Roger Dixon said Friday that Kiewit, OJB Landscape Architecture, HDR and other firms have been working on the project for more than a year.
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.