Donors have long paid for maintenance along Omaha’s front door from the airport, Abbott Drive. Now, Omaha taxpayers are set to pick up the cost.
The City Council on Tuesday is poised to vote on an agreement under which the city will pay as much as $93,345 each year over the next decade for upkeep of the right of way between Eppley Airfield and downtown.
Under the agreement, Lanoha Nurseries would do the work on the feature that has been known for its String of Pearls, the globed lights that line the thoroughfare.
The city typically is required to pick the lowest and best bid when selecting contractors and vendors. But city documents say that in this case, the agreement will automatically go to Lanoha to “keep the original intent” of the Peter Kiewit Foundation’s donation. The Kiewit Foundation funded the original construction of the decorative features and has paid for its maintenance.
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The head of the City Parks Department said there was no reason to change the arrangement. “We feel that this has been a great partnership with Lanoha and Kiewit, and we want to continue to keep it at that level,” said Brook Bench, the director.
“We want the entrance of Omaha to continue to be the way that it is,” he said. “We feel with having a long-term agreement with Lanoha, it will continue that way.”
Chris Lanoha, vice president of the family-owned Lanoha Nurseries, said his company has enjoyed the relationship and takes pride in maintaining the city’s entryway.
“It’s kind of been part of our company,” he said. “We do a lot of work downtown, we have a facility downtown and we’ve always been on that project.”
Jeff Kutash, executive director of the Peter Kiewit Foundation, said that the project is one the foundation’s trustees are most proud of and that they’re glad to have gotten it to this point. Still, he said, the foundation isn’t set up to fund things for perpetuity.
“We love that project,” he said. But “given that it’s public space and that Parks and Recreation has done such a great job (with it), it made sense for the city to take on ownership of maintaining it.”
Nearly 20 years ago, the Peter Kiewit Foundation gave the city $5 million to revamp Abbott Drive, which included the addition of the globed String of Pearls streetlights. Lanoha did the landscaping, adding thousands of trees and shrubs.
More recently, the foundation gave the city more than $300,000 to help replace ash trees, which are threatened by emerald ash borers, with more viable ones. Lanoha also did the landscaping, renovating the islands with new shrubs and perennials.
The foundation’s donated funds have been exhausted.
Chris Lanoha said the area is challenging, given it’s a busy traffic. Plantings, he said, have to withstand salt in the winter.
“You have to know what you’re doing in regard to plant selection. Only some would survive,” he said. “It’s been one of those we’ve worked hand in hand to develop the plantings that work well.”
Under the new agreement, under which taxpayers start covering the maintenance cost, Lanoha will be paid $83,345 annually plus a $10,000 allowance to replace trees, shrubs or sod.
The maintenance includes work like applying chemicals and fertilizers, controlling weeds and pests, mowing, edging, picking up trash weekly and power washing the String of Pearls poles.
The city will use general funds to pay for maintenance through 2027.