Market conditions are opening up promising opportunities for downtown Omaha, with significant development projects underway. Government and private-sector leaders should work to see if this economic momentum can yield even bigger results, with an eye toward the former Union Pacific and Civic Auditorium sites.
The office vacancy rate downtown is now 5.7 percent, down about 10 percent from 2017, The World-Herald’s Cindy Gonzalez reports. New or expanded businesses accounted for about 130,000 square feet of additional downtown office space leased during 2018.
This tightening of office availability is a central market factor helping spur several promising developments. Among them:
» Redevelopment to provide about 36,000 square feet of new office space at the Anglim building at 20th and Dodge Streets.
» A 100,000-square-foot office facility in north downtown, next to the Kiewit Corp.’s global campus now under construction.
» The transformation of six blocks into workspaces in the newly dubbed Millwork Commons district north of Cuming Street, between 11th and 13th Streets.
» An office wing to be added to the retail and entertainment Capitol District complex.
Important work needs to be done elsewhere downtown, however. Two large, vacant properties — the former Civic Auditorium site and the former Union Pacific headquarters block — are glaring examples of sites in need of development. A vigorous push by city leaders is vital if the city-owned former Civic site is to move into productive use.
Prospects are brighter, though still uncertain, for the block at 14th and Dodge formerly hosting the Union Pacific headquarters. U.P. vacated the property in 2004 for its new headquarters one block to the south. The former headquarters site, cleared in 2008, has passed in ownership over the years from the City of Omaha to a Kansas City-based developer and then to Lanoha Development, an Omaha firm.
Developer Jason Lanoha’s ambitious plans for the site have much to recommend them. The developer proposes a mix of uses — corporate offices, hotel rooms, retail and entertainment amenities — that are intended to appeal to the modern workforce. The project would proceed in stages, in an effort to facilitate development. The project’s 30-story and 27-story towers are explicitly intended to boost Omaha’s skyline.
The challenges involved in a project of this scale mustn’t be dismissed, but the proposal has a variety of sound components. The City of Omaha and private-sector players should work together to clear roadblocks, craft the best development options and maximize the potential community benefits from the site’s development.
Omaha is fortunate to have these downtown development opportunities. Government and private-sector entities should do all they can, cooperatively, to achieve the highest community benefits possible.