It was 1878 when a young Thomas Kimball and his family moved to the banks of the muddy Missouri River to the bustling railroad town of Omaha, Nebraska. At the time, his current neighbors likely could not fathom the role that the young 16-year-old Kimball would have in shaping the architectural landscape of Omaha. The future graduate of MIT aided in the creation of local icons such as the Hotel Fontenelle, the Medical Arts Building, Omaha Public Library, Burlington Station, St. Cecilia Cathedral, and campus of the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition. In all, he was responsible for the design of over 25 buildings across town, few of which are still in existence today. Built in 1933, the Old Federal Building on 15th and Dodge Streets remains one of the few existing Omaha landmarks designed by Kimball.
Constructed as a part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, the 12 story 105,000 square foot building was home to several federal agencies, including, the US Weather Bureau, the Internal Revenue Services, US Department of Agriculture, and most recently the Army Corps of Engineers. For the past few years though, the once bustling legacy of Kimball has been relegated the status of just another vacant building in Downtown Omaha.
In December of 2011 that changed when First OFB, a joint venture between Iowa based Nelson Development and Rosemont, Illinois’ First Hospitality Group acquired the property for $2.375 million. The group intends to bring the property to new life with a 152 room Residence Inn by Marriott.
The approximately $23 million redevelopment will create an estimated 50 full-time and 25 part-time hospitality jobs and is slated to open in the Spring of 2013. The hotel will feature amenities such as Wi-Fi, a fitness center, meeting space, and will serve as a great compliment to the sculpture park located just west of the property.
The project will help meet the demands of the currently undeserved Downtown Omaha hotel market. With just under 2,400 rooms currently, the 152 rooms created by this project is among the over 600 units either planned or under construction in downtown. Worth noting, the building is located in an area not widely utilized by tourists. Most other projects are taking place in either the Old Market or North Downtown neighborhoods. This project speaks volumes of the level of confidence out-of-town developers and investors are seeing in Downtown’s core. Additionally, the hotel will greatly serve neighboring corporate giants including First National Bank, Union Pacific, and Woodman of the World.
Currently under construction, it will be exciting to see another great piece of Omaha’s history saved. With the proud legacy of one of Omaha’s great architects at stake, the hotel project will be a wonderful reminder of the many contributions made by Thomas Kimball to the Omaha landscape.