The Omaha Housing Authority board has conditionally agreed to sell its downtown office building to Douglas County and to buy the historic original Omaha Public Library as a new headquarters site.
If the transactions go through, they would help make way for a new juvenile justice campus.
The County Board voted April 24 to offer to buy the OHA’s building at 1805 Harney St. and parking lot for $2.75 million. The housing authority board voted Thursday to accept the county’s offer. The agreement to sell is conditioned on the agency’s acquisition of a new place for its offices. That is in the works as well, and apparently has been for months.
At the same meeting as it approved the county’s purchase offer, the housing authority took a step toward buying the historic original Omaha Public Library building at 1823 Harney St. The OHA board voted to take over a $2.75 million purchase agreement for the library building. It now houses offices and is next door to the housing authority’s current headquarters.
Ryan Ellis, acting as a partner in a company called Leavenworth6 LLC, had sewn up the library building for the housing authority by entering the purchase agreement with the owner, Bassel El-Kasaby. Ellis is the president of P.J. Morgan Real Estate, owned by Douglas County Board member P.J. Morgan. The purchase agreement is dated March 26, 2018, and lists the brokerage firm as P.J. Morgan Real Estate.
Morgan abstained from voting on the county’s purchase offer to OHA. He said neither he nor his company would make any money from the transaction.
Ellis is to be paid a broker’s fee by the seller of the library, according to the purchase agreement. Ellis would not say how much that fee will be. Morgan said it will be a smaller commission than often is charged. Ellis said he will donate a portion of his fee to the Omaha Housing Authority and to another nonprofit organization.
Ellis said no proceeds from the sale will go to Morgan or Morgan’s company.
El-Kasaby said he had not known originally for whom Ellis, as Leavenworth6 LLC, was buying the 125-year-old library building. But El-Kasaby said it is not unusual in real estate dealings for brokers to not disclose buyers’ identities.
El-Kasaby also said he didn’t believe there was anything wrong with someone from P.J. Morgan’s firm being involved in the transaction, as long as that person’s involvement is disclosed and that Morgan does not personally profit from county business.
According to an advertisement published online, P.J. Morgan Real Estate is involved in a prospective redevelopment at 500 S. 18th St., just across Howard Street from the proposed juvenile justice center site, plus two other buildings nearby, 563 S. 18th St. and 1801 St. Mary’s Ave. Ellis is listed on the flyer as a contact.
Morgan said his company doesn’t have any ownership interest in those properties but is representing the owners for leasing.
Meanwhile, the county also has made a $900,000 offer to buy a vacant building at 420 S. 18th St. as part of the juvenile justice center project. It is owned by Marcy Mason LLC, public records show. J. Robert Perrin, who is listed as the manager of the company, didn’t return an email or phone call seeking comment.
For its part, the housing authority is conducting its due diligence on 1823 Harney St. and could move by fall. Jennifer Taylor, OHA board chairwoman, said the sale to the county and the purchase of the library building should be a break-even proposition for the agency.
She said 1823 Harney St. will provide the housing authority with a good office building and make way for a new juvenile justice campus.
“If it’s built, it’s good for the community, good for everybody,” Taylor said.