Heartland of America Park may be downtown Omaha’s most forgotten park.

Despite its picturesque fountains and pristine views of the skyline, it’s hard to reach and its trail often attracts more goose poop than visitors.

But the City of Omaha and its army of private donors envision a bolder future for the 25-acre park, which sits between the Conagra campus and the Missouri River, east of Eighth and Douglas Streets.

Construction begins this fall to create a new and better destination, a place for people to walk, run, bike, skate, shop, eat or relax. Work on the project will carry into 2023, with finishing touches in 2024.

HOA Conceptual Site Program 2019

Here is an early rendering of possible features in the new Heartland of America Park. Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority officials say the layout could change a bit during design and construction.

The new plan is part of nearly $300 million in renovations of three downtown parks, including the Gene Leahy Mall and Lewis and Clark Landing. The riverfront project is largely privately funded, with the city providing $50 million in bonds and about $3 million a year for maintenance.

Early renderings highlight a swath of new open spaces to host everything from festivals and concerts to family reunions.

Some of the new green space comes from filling in the northernmost part of Heartland of America Park’s manmade lake and building a causeway over the filled-in lake bed, Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority officials say.

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This rendering shows part of Heartland of America Park’s lake filled in for green space.

Plans envision the Farnam Promenade, a walkway from Eighth Street east that will be flanked by space for working out and picnicking and a smooth concrete ribbon-shaped rink for seasonal in-line skating and ice skating.

The waterfall at the lake’s northwestern edge will be removed, replaced by, among other things, the skating ribbon. The old bathrooms and concrete structure will be ripped out, too. New bathrooms will be built elsewhere.

Food trucks will have a place to park along Douglas Street, which will be extended east through part of the park so drivers can more easily reach Lewis and Clark Landing. The design also calls for a tiered botanical garden and a winter market, a seasonal version of the City Market in Kansas City.

Wednesday’s damp, 60-degree weather thinned out the afternoon crowd around the lake. But downtown resident Ed Urbanowicz, 62, ignored the rain for his near-daily walk on the trail.

He said he would miss having the larger loop around the lake, and he isn’t excited about three years of park construction. But he said the new plans sound exciting, and he hopes it draws more people downtown.

“It’s another attraction for Omaha,” he said.

Better connecting Heartland of America Park with Gene Leahy Mall and Lewis and Clark Landing is a major goal of the renovations.

Preliminary plans show that visitors will be able to walk at street level from the W. Dale Clark Library through the Gene Leahy Mall and Heartland of America Park to the Missouri River’s edge, with help from a revamped pedestrian bridge over the rail lines east of Heartland of America Park.

With both parks being raised to street level, the new layout evokes images of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Omaha’s version will show off the First National Bank Tower and downtown buildings, instead of George Washington’s monument.

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This rendering shows potential recreation space along the new Heartland of America Park in downtown Omaha.

Preliminary work has already begun. Statues in the park have been moved to central Omaha’s Memorial Park. The part of the park on the north side of Conagra’s gates will close for construction in November or December.

The Conagra side of the lake will remain open during construction, said Katie Bassett, vice president of parks for MECA, the organization the city has hired to oversee the renovation and eventually the maintenance of the parks.

Omaha Parks and Recreation will turn off the fountains as usual when cold weather arrives this fall but expects to turn them back on in the spring, while much of the rest of the park is rebuilt.

Officials say they expect to close no streets for construction, because Heartland of America Park is fairly isolated. The city closed a section of Eighth Street and others to work on Gene Leahy Mall.

The city plans to reopen Eighth Street to southbound traffic late this year and to two-way traffic once the riverfront work is done.

Major construction in the Gene Leahy Mall is expected to wrap up in late 2021, with work on additional features stretching into 2024.

MECA expects to begin renovations of Lewis and Clark Landing in late summer to early fall of 2020. Lewis and Clark Landing is the park at the foot of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge on the Nebraska side of the Missouri River.

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