Papillion took a major step toward realizing its vision of enhancing the city’s downtown.

The city will enter into negotiations with two firms that submitted plans to develop city-owned property near downtown.

The first proposal, by the firm Urban Waters, would turn the city’s former Public Works Department building into a commercial building, add a plaza and walking trails to connect the area to the rest of downtown and bring in 21 multifamily housing units north of the public works building.

Under the second proposal, from FYRA Engineering, the site of the city’s current Recreation Department building would be redeveloped into a two-story, 14,500-square-foot building. FYRA would lease the first floor as retail or professional space and occupy the second floor as its headquarters.

Papillion’s City Council approved the negotiations with the developers at its Dec. 3 meeting.

Mayor David Black said he appreciated that both developers have Papillion connections and the proposals fit into the current character of downtown.

“We want to do a redevelopment and we know it’s going to change, but we don’t want to change the characteristics of downtown,” Black said.

Both plans meet the needs and fit the vision city leaders have for the area, Black said. Traditional redevelopment pushes high density to draw in other development, which would mean large apartment buildings.

Some of the proposals had between 50 and 100 units and included parking garages, Black said, but Urban Waters’ plan focused on smaller boutique retail that fits with existing businesses currently in downtown, and FYRA’s plan would add daytime employment while still enabling small retail.

“I think the scale of the buildings, the type of buildings, the uses, I think people will see it fits,” Black said.

Papillion’s position is both familiar and new to the city, Black said. It is familiar in that the city is leading a major development project and can draw on its experience with Papillion Landing Community Recreation Center and Field House and the city’s new public works facility.

The role is new in that the city would be leading a development that will ultimately be used for non-municipal purposes. The council made proactive steps to prepare when it declared the area blighted in May 2018, allowing for the use of tax increment financing.

Urban Waters’ Gerald Reimer said he was cautiously optimistic about the downtown plan, but would use lessons from Urban Waters’ other Papillion development near 132nd Street and Lincoln Road. That development is an attempt to recreate the small town downtown feel of Papillion, Reimer said, but it is on the site of a former cornfield, while more urban redevelopments like the one proposed downtown can provide surprises.

One of the lessons learned, Reimer said, is there is a market for people who want to live in smaller multifamily buildings, which are a key feature of the 132nd and Lincoln development and are often referred to as the “missing middle” between large, high-density apartment buildings and single family homes.

“The fact that we can bring some new housing to an area that doesn’t have it from a supply and demand perspective is a reasonable bet,” Reimer said.

Black said the downtown plans align with other developments in Papillion like growing housing density along the Papillion Creek system and the addition downtown of a Heartland B-cycle station — and possibly more in the future. Urban Waters’ two developments could form downtown-style bookends to Lincoln Road, both of which would be easily accessible for people living in the area.

“There’s interaction, I think, between the various site that I don’t think people quite see yet,” Black said.

Mike Sotak, owner of FYRA, said he and his business partner Lindy Rogers were happy to be a part of the redevelopment plan. They are 1987 and 1989 Papillion-La Vista High School graduates, respectively, Sotak said.

FYRA is an engineering firm, not a traditional developer, but Sotak said he was aware of the city’s plans to enhance downtown and thought FYRA’s proposal would help downtown thrive and could turn the area into a hub.

“It’s a huge investment for us so anything would require some thinking on it,” he said.

Assistant City Administrator Amber Powers said over the next few months, the city will meet with Urban Waters and FYRA to conduct impact studies and update info in the proposals and the city’s downtown redevelopment plan, which will need approval from the city’s Planning Commission and Limited Community Redevelopment Authority.

The downtown redevelopment plan then will go back to council for approval. Powers and Black said the city should have a good indication of where plans stand in the spring, but it was a major statement the City Council voted earlier this month to support the negotiations.

“They’re going to invest even more money into more drawings and getting into the more finite details and there’s a cost to that, so I would hate to have them do that if there wasn’t support from council,” Powers said.

The city is also anticipating a grant that will contribute to its efforts to reduce the floodplain near downtown, which could affect both developments.

Black said it was also important to work with the Papillion Downtown Business Association and be respectful and supportive of the community already there.

“They’ve got a good thing going, we want to make sure we’re actually fitting that and keeping that momentum going and supporting it, not changing what’s going on,” Black said.

Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.