The Oklahoma City mayor who became famous for using urban design to help his town lose a million pounds offered praise Wednesday for Omaha’s strides in walkable redevelopment.

Mayor Mick Cornett was in Omaha to speak at the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency’s 50th anniversary event. He gets a lot of speaking gigs around the country because of Oklahoma City’s gains and losses during his four terms as mayor.

After Oklahoma City was declared the nation’s most obese city, Cornett launched a successful campaign in 2007 for the city to collectively drop 1 million pounds. He did that not only by cheerleading and losing 40 pounds himself, but also by leading efforts to make the pedestrian-hostile city into a pedestrian-friendly one by adding sidewalks, bike and walking paths, and a new downtown park. A downtown streetcar is expected to begin operating next year. Oh, and he helped Oklahoma City land an NBA franchise.

Cornett, who’s now a Republican candidate for governor of Oklahoma, walked a block Wednesday through Omaha’s reawakened Blackstone neighborhood with real estate developers Jay Lund and Matt Dwyer, and Omaha City Planning Director Dave Fanslau.

Cornett also went up on the rooftop deck of a condominium tower in Mutual of Omaha’s Midtown Crossing to learn about that project.

He liked what he saw.

“We’re emerging from an era where cities were built around cars,” Cornett said, looking down on Turner Park from the condo tower roof. “And the way I describe the next stage is when we build cities around people.”

Lund and Dwyer, partners in GreenSlate Development, took Cornett past several of the new restaurants, bars, shops and apartments that have popped up on Farnam Street in the past three years.

“The main thing was changing this (Farnam) from a one-way to a two-way street,” Lund said.

That slowed down traffic and piqued entrepreneurs’ interest.

The group popped into Archetype Coffee, which Lund said was the first of 30 new businesses to open in the area.

“It looked really rough four years ago,” Archetype owner Isaiah Sheese told Cornett. “You definitely had to have some vision.”

On the Midtown Crossing condo roof, East Campus Realty Vice President Joe Schmidt described Mutual’s investment in the redevelopment, including taking over the maintenance of Turner Park and hosting numerous community events there.

Schmidt described walkability as a key part of the design of Midtown Crossing. He pointed out how Mutual used landscaping to create a barrier between pedestrians and the street.

With the emergence of Blackstone, Schmidt said, more people are walking between there and Midtown Crossing, spurring more business growth.

“This was a risky venture,” Cornett said. “But it’s worked out.”

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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