With renovations progressing on the historic Ashton Building, the people behind Millwork Commons are moving ahead with planning the rest of the $300 million redevelopment aimed at blending newly urbane Omaha with its north downtown neighborhood’s industrial history.
Up next: apartments. In the future: offices, retail, town houses, probably a hotel, a park and an entertainment area with restaurants and a musical performance space.
It should add up to a neighborhood designed and built to special city standards crafted to allow redevelopment and old-neighborhood preservation to coexist.
“It’s a unique development, unlike any other in the area, and we’re excited to get going on kind of the overall plan,” Kendra Ringenberg, an attorney for the developer, told the Omaha Planning Board on Wednesday.
The home-grown tech company Flywheel will move into the first 1½ stories of the Ashton, a former furniture warehouse at 1218 Nicholas St., near the Hot Shops Art Center. That should happen by summer 2020, said Keith Weeces, director of Black Dog Management, which is led by investor Paul Smith.
The next thing to happen will probably be the construction of new apartments adjacent to the Ashton. Black Dog is in talks with a local developer about building those, the first of a variety of housing types they hope to create in new and renovated buildings in the area.
The developers are seeking a rezoning of the 42-acre area that will make it a Neighborhood Conservation/Enhancement (NCE) district. The Planning Board voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend that the City Council approve that rezoning along with Millworks Commons’ preliminary plat, which is a broad outline of how a development will shape up.
That creates a special set of zoning regulations that are meant to preserve and protect unique areas of Omaha and allow some flexibility in city zoning regulations and design standards to allow redevelopment to thrive.
Such districts have been created in other parts of Omaha, such as downtown Dundee, historic Vinton Street in South Omaha and a stretch of 10th Street south of downtown.
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In Millwork Commons, that flexibility is likely to include allowing the use of industrial grade materials and metal panels for walls, and building-top signs above roof peaks, as well as waiving a requirement for ground-floor business space in a parking garage.
Millwork Commons is “designed to be a hub for technology, design, arts, cultural and community-focused institutions and individuals looking for an unparalleled and inspiring environment in Omaha,” according to the NCE district application prepared by the Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture firm. “The neighborhood celebrates Omaha’s past through the revitalization of historic 20th century brick buildings, while folding in modern, new construction that will create layers of visual interest and activity for office users, residents, retailers and travelers alike.”
The developers have some work to do with the city and some of their neighbors on the details. City Planning and Public Works Department staff want them to change some of their plans for streets in the area, such as changes to the intersection of 14th and Nicholas Streets.
Planning Board member Mike Pate, noting the growing number of entertainment areas downtown, asked how much entertainment is needed in this part of Omaha.
Ringenberg said the development will have open space within the Ashton Building, a couple of restaurant/music venues, a significant outdoor public space and public art to tie it all together.
In general, the plans are finding favor at City Hall.
Planning Board Chairman Greg Rosenbaum likened the people behind Millwork Commons to the people who “stuck their necks out” to revitalize downtown Elkhorn when he was on the Elkhorn City Council years ago, before it was annexed by Omaha.
“This (area) is in need of development and improvement,” Rosenbaum said Wednesday. “I just want to say thanks for stepping forward and doing this.”