Riverfront (copy)

Downtown Omaha near the riverfront and Missouri River just south of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, as photographed from Council Bluffs on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017. 

Gene Leahy Mall would extend east to the Missouri River, and the riverfront would have more amenities under conceptual plans presented Wednesday.

Work is underway by a group of powerful leaders to transform the Omaha and Council Bluffs waterfronts into popular destinations.

The group, which has connections to the nonprofit Heritage Services, emphasized that it’s still seeking public input.

“We have ideas, but none of them are cast in granite,” said Ken Stinson, chairman emeritus of Peter Kiewit Sons’ Inc.

Stinson and Mogens Bay, chief executive officer of Valmont, are co-chairing the Riverfront Revitalization Planning Committee.

Bay said the project has public and private interests working together. The group includes Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh.

“This is not one side dictating to the other, and it’s not both sides dictating to the community,” Bay said after Wednesday’s public meeting at the Omaha Marriott Downtown. “That’s why we wanted 300 people here to tell us what do they like and what don’t they like.”

Among the ideas presented:

» Extend the Gene Leahy Mall so that it connects to the waterfront. Reduce the size of the lagoon and fill in the mall with an event lawn and a play area for children and a dog park.

» Reduce the size of the Conagra lake at Heartland of America Park from 15 acres to nine acres. That would make room to extend Farnam Street farther east.

Douglas Street, meanwhile, would also extend farther east and swing north to connect with Riverfront Drive. Botanical gardens would surround part of the lake, which would feature boat rentals and model boating. A children’s museum would overlook the river, and a grand staircase would lead visitors to the riverfront promenade and trails.

» Create a dual-purpose sports field and event lawn at Lewis & Clark Landing big enough to fit 10,000 people. The area would include a restaurant and event center.

» Convert some of the park space to private development.

On the Iowa side of the Missouri River:

» Build upon the nature already present on the north side of River’s Edge in Council Bluffs. The area would have camping spaces, a nature center and an observation tower.

» Restore native habitats along the southern portion of River’s Edge. Trails and boardwalks would allow visitors to connect with nature. The area would also have a large marina and disc golf.

The group acknowledged that there are challenges ahead, including parking and coordinating with existing businesses and residents.

The group has engineers and environmental experts studying how to develop the area without disturbing the lead-contaminated soil left behind by the Asarco lead-smelting plant and capped by the city.

The proposed development won’t happen fast.

“If this were easy, it would have already been done,” Stinson said.

The group’s consultant, the Office of James Burnett landscape architecture firm, is working on a master plan for the area.

The consultant is being paid privately. But future development would involve public dollars.

Bay said that while the effort won’t satisfy everyone, he wants the public’s involvement.

“We should have the community go, ‘Yes we were part of it. We love it, and it’s going to happen,’ ” he said.

The group is planning its next meeting for Jan. 30. A location was not specified. For more information or to give feedback, visit riverfrontrevitalization.com.

emily.nohr@owh.com, 402-444-1309

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