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The Conagra Brands campus in Omaha. A $500 million redevelopment project could start in December.

Omaha’s urban core is in the midst of several impressive redevelopment projects that can open up new opportunities for business growth and public amenities. A key example is the $500 million transformation now beginning for 23 acres on the Conagra Brands site downtown, involving residential, commercial, office, hotel and entertainment uses. The project will proceed at the same time a nearly $300 million revitalization project will revamp Gene Leahy Mall and provide a direct connection to the riverfront.

These projects have great potential to add new energy to downtown Omaha. If this revitalization work is managed successfully, in several years longtime visitors to the College World Series might well look around and say, “Hey, look at all this new development. Omaha isn’t standing still. It’s moving forward.”

Brad Soderwall, with Houston-based development group Hines, described plans for the Conagra redevelopment in an interview with The World-Herald’s Cindy Gonzalez. A redevelopment agreement for the Conagra site this month is expected to reach the City Council this month.

The first, $105 million phase, southeast of 10th and Farnam Streets, includes 375 luxury apartments in a five-story building, a parking structure, plus ground-level restaurant and retail at the project’s focal point: a two-block-long plaza intended as a pedestrian magnet that will link the area to the Old Market. The restaurant and retail establishments will face south, to the new eastward extension of Harney Street leading to the Heartland of America Park and lagoon. The next stage will place a hotel on the lawn along 10th Street.

These are transformative changes, indeed.

Among other projects shaping up for Omaha’s urban core:

» 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.

Downtown development challenges remain, however. The vacant expanse that once housed the Civic Auditorium provides a glaring black eye for downtown Omaha. Omaha leaders should be pushing strongly toward practical redevelopment. In addition, city officials should work with developer Jason Lanoha to clear roadblocks for redevelopment of the former Union Pacific headquarters, another major vacant downtown property.

Omaha’s urban core is seeing promising new redevelopment. The city should do all it can to maximize its full potential for progressive, well-planned growth.

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