Around 56,000 attended events in Downtown Omaha this weekend: two UNO hockey games, one Creighton basketball game, and one sold out rock concert. All of these events took place at the CenturyLink Center Omaha. With the Holland Performing Arts Center, Orpheum Theater, CenturyLink Center, and TD Ameritrade Park, downtown has evolved into the entertainment epicenter of Omaha. Compare that overall event attendance figure to any market, whether it be Kansas City, St. Louis, Des Moines, Milwaukee, or heck, even Chicago. We, as a city, have really found something here. Downtown has become, for the lack of a better term, the place to be.
For decades, Omaha has been the business hub of Omaha. Titans of industry such as Union Pacific, Woodman of the World, Con Agra Foods, and First National Bank, have called downtown their home for decades (some of them over a century). Over a years ago, it was really one of the only places where companies would consider when locating an office. In the past 20 to 30 years, that wasn’t the case. Suburban office parks began to offer ample parking, easy access to and from residential neighborhoods, and major shopping destinations just a short car ride away. In 2010, Black Hills Energy announced its intentions to relocate 150 downtown employees to its new facility in the bustling bedroom community of Papillion. The move, without question, made sense for Black Hills. It brought them closer to their customer base and allowed them to become more effectively serve them. But in their wake, they left behind an antiquated 96,000 square foot office structure at 19th and Capitol.
We’ve seen resurgence in downtown’s entertainment offerings: the Old Market, North Downtown, TD Ameritrade Park, the list is long. Even with companies like Black Hills moving out of downtown we’ve seen growth in the Office Market. But the major boom that is currently underway will shape downtown in larger ways than the physical office buildings or entertainment venues. They are lampshades seen in windows as the sunsets over Downtown Omaha. They are young professionals walking their dogs in the Gene Lahey Mall. They are residents, who call Downtown Omaha their home. The true sign of a strong urban core is its overall vibrancy. Sure, larger cities have more tall office buildings, bigger stadiums, and fancy shopping destinations, but what Omaha is gaining right now will set it apart for decades to come.
NuStyle Development has been at the forefront of this emerging downtown mutlifamily market. They have launched successful redevelopment efforts such as the Bank, a multifamily conversion of the former Farm Credit building at 19th and Douglas and the Tip Top Lofts in North Downtown. Currently, they are the talk of downtown with their soon to be move in ready Highline project at 23rd and Dodge. Soon though, they will add to their resume of success with their latest project at 19th and Capitol.
Last July, NuStyle announced their intentions to create 110 residences in the 7 story office building. The project, which will cost an estimated $17 Million (per the Omaha World-Herald), will again, create a unique property for Omahans to call home. Later this year, residents will be able to picnic on its rooftop deck overlooking the core of Downtown Omaha, read a book from the buildings newly installed exterior decks, or get in a good work out at the on site fitness center.
What is more important is that, once again, developers are finding a way to bring more people downtown. Unlike the events that filled downtown’s calendar last weekend, these people live there. As this and similar projects continue to be met with success, soon, demand for more retail will need to be filled. Soon the young enterprenuer who lives at 19th and Capitol will no longer seek office space at 114th and Dodge streets, he or she will want to be downtown. Large companies who want to attract and maintain young and bright minded talent will seek space office space in downtown. It may seem over simplified, yes, but in order to build a truly vibrant neighborhood, people just need to live there. Much like the speculative strip center or office building located among new suburban residential developments will be eventually filled, commercial property in downtown will have a similar fate.
For those who often wish Omaha’s downtown was more vibrant, had tall shiny buildings and big name retailers, don’t worry. It’s coming. We will get there. A renaissance larger than what we’ve seen in the last decade is coming to Downtown Omaha. In fact, it’s happening right now, one resident at a time.