A group of Omaha’s civic leaders has drawn up plans for an estimated $125 million mixed-use development on the 8-acre lot across from the CenturyLink Center, in the heart of north downtown.
And those leaders seem to have resolved one major obstacle to the long-imagined development: parking.
A committee led by Ken Stinson, one of Omaha’s business heavy hitters, spent nearly a year studying the site and coming up with plans and solutions.
This week they sent their final report to the city and the entity that operates the CenturyLink Center. It proposes that the site bounded by 10th, 12th, Mike Fahey and Cass Streets be developed into an area with restaurants, stores, apartments, open space and even possibly another hotel.
The committee’s plan includes a new garage and other replacement parking for the 850 stalls that currently exist on the site, which is known as Lot B.
“It’s going to be the place to be,” said Diane Duren, chairwoman of the board of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which operates the CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade Park. “And I think this will really help the whole downtown development.”
But don’t expect to see a groundbreaking anytime soon. The report lays out the next steps, which include further studies on traffic and the construction of new parking facilities, that would probably take at least three years. And the city hasn’t identified a developer to take on the project, said Mayor Jean Stothert.
The committee suggested that the city and MECA now form an agreement to sort out potential design restrictions for the site and guide any development.
The committee was formed last year after intermittent sparring between the city and MECA over the parking lot.
City officials have long considered the site one of Omaha’s greatest potential development spots.
But MECA has balked at the possibility of giving up convenient parking for its patrons at both the convention center and arena and the nearby ballpark.
The committee then had the task of proposing a solution that would allow development while respecting MECA’s parking needs, along with other concerns such as preserving the view of downtown from the ballpark.
The committee’s parking solution: a new garage across Mike Fahey Street to the north of the CenturyLink Center, plus additional surface parking in that lot and in what is now a grassy area immediately to the north of the convention center.
After adding those spots and losing the 849 stalls in Lot B, the number of MECA-controlled parking stalls would rise by 13.
MECA officials said they’re happy with the solution because it satisfies the needs of their tenants, including Creighton University and the College World Series.
“As long as they’re happy with what we’re doing, I have no qualms,” said MECA’s president and CEO, Roger Dixon.
In fact, the new garage could be a better deal for Creighton basketball season ticket holders: They could get a covered garage to park in.
Representatives from Creighton and the CWS, as well as the city, MECA, the NCAA and other business leaders, served on the committee. Private donors paid to hire a consulting firm, HR&A Advisors, to do some analyses of the details.
“So many people worked together on this,” Stothert said. “And that whole area is such an asset for Omaha.”
In addition to the new MECA parking, the report recommends an additional 1,000-stall garage in the new development, and the report says any additional demand could be absorbed by nearby parking that now exists.
The report includes two possible designs for the area.
Each includes about 450 residential units, with open spaces, a spot for a civic development such as a museum, open space and room for future office space and a hotel.
The concept that the committee designated as the “preferred” design contains a diagonal street running from the entrance of the convention center to the ballpark. There would be a park surrounded by restaurants directly across from TD Ameritrade, and the civic institution would be along the diagonal street and visible from 10th Street.
The development has the potential to bring tax money, jobs and activities to Omaha. And it could help the city attract conventions at the CenturyLink Center, Dixon said, because convention attendees often ask for more places to go near the center.
Stinson, who is chairman emeritus of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc., said the development of Lot B would be a next step in the explosion of development in Omaha’s north downtown.
The most recent new development is the $205 million Capitol District, which is under construction and will be a mixed-use development with apartments, restaurants and a 333-room Marriott hotel.
The next step for the site would be for MECA and the city to adopt the recommendations and form a new governing body.
Then there would be paperwork to complete, such as amending the two entities’ agreement to reflect the plans for Lot B, and studies to conduct on sewers, parking and traffic.
It would take a while but, Duren said, “If we don’t start thinking about the future now, it’ll be upon us before we know it.”
Once that’s all done, the city would be ready to solicit proposals from developers.
“When the market calls for it, we’ll be ready,” Stothert said.