Downtown Revitalization: Omaha

Metro Jacksonville takes a visit to one of the more successful downtown revitalization scenes in the country: Omaha, Nebraska.

Published March 10, 2014 in Learning From -


The Revitalization of Downtown Omaha

Omaha has been working on transforming its downtown for decades.

An early improvement plan, known as "back to the river," proposed turning Omaha's faltering industrial riverfront into an amenity with parks or other uses, Jensen said. The industrial area stood between downtown's core and the Missouri River.

The back-to-the-river idea was followed by a 1974 master plan that proposed a series of downtown improvements. One of the basic concepts of that plan, Jensen said: The city must maintain downtown as a home for major employers and government institutions, even as business and retail losses would likely continue.

About the same time these plans were getting underway, brainstorming workshops were taking place among Omaha businesses. Those sessions produced more downtown ideas, Jensen said, but they also had another long-term benefit: Young architects, engineers and other professionals who were participating in the discussions embraced a vision for a better downtown and carried it with them as they moved into front office positions with their companies, Jensen said.

"These ideas really became embedded in the young professionals," he said. "When they became head of the corporation, they supported the idea of improving downtown, being downtown and living downtown."

A ripple effect

Several critical amenities and attractions grew out of Omaha's early plans.

A city park - with water features and pedestrian walkways - was built downtown. That project was controversial; it was funded by city and federal funds, but some residents argued the federal money should have been used to upgrade older neighborhoods.

City officials stuck with the park, which had a ripple effect. A city library, state office building and Northwestern Bell office building were constructed on streets fronting the new city park - decisions made by those parties with the idea of contributing to the fledgling downtown revitalization effort, Jensen said.

Another early 1970s redevelopment effort took place in the Old Market, downtown Omaha's warehouse district. An Omaha family that owned and controlled a few Old Market properties saw the potential of converting the buildings' upper floors into lofts and ground floors into shops, restaurants and art galleries.

Even as some local residents questioned the idea of rehabbing an old warehouse district, city officials came on board - changing building and zoning codes to encourage residential uses and adding flowers, trees and street lights to Old Market intersections, Jensen said.

Those projects were just the beginning.


Tale of the Tape:

Omaha City Population 2012: 421,570 (City); 885,624 (Metro 2012) - (incorporated in 1857)

Jacksonville City Population 2012: 836,507 (City); 1,377,850 (Metro 2012) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Omaha (251,117)

City Land Area

Omaha: 127.09 square miles
Jacksonville: 757.7 square miles

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2010-2012)

Omaha: 2.34%
Jacksonville: +2.40%

Urban Area Population (2010 census)

Omaha: 725,008 (ranked 58 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 1,065,219 (ranked 40 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2010 census)

Omaha: 2,673.3 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,008.5 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2010 to 2012

Omaha: +12,612
Jacksonville: +14,723

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Omaha: CenturyLink Center Omaha Convention Center (2003) - 194,000  square feet
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1985) - 78,500 square feet

Connected to or across the street from Convention Center:

Omaha: Hilton Omaha Hotel - 450 rooms
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Omaha: One First National Center - 634 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Fortune 500 companies 2013 (City limits only):

Omaha: Berkshire Hathaway (5), Union Pacific (138), ConAgra Foods (209),  Peter Kiewit Sons' (243), Mutual of Omaha (394)
Jacksonville: CSX (231), Fidelity National Financial (353), Fidelity National Information Services (434)

Urban infill obstacles:

Omaha: I-480 limits accessibility between downtown and neighborhoods to the north.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Omaha: Old Market
Jacksonville: East Bay Street

Common Downtown Albatross:

Surface parking lots.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Omaha (The Old Market): 86 out of 100, according to
Jacksonville: 88 out of 100, according to

Next Page: Downtown Omaha Photo Tour

Downtown Omaha

Downtown Omaha is the central business, government and social core of the Omaha-Council Bluffs metropolitan area. The boundaries are 20th Street on the west to the Missouri River on the east and the centerline of Leavenworth Street on the south to the centerline of Chicago Street on the north, also including the CenturyLink Center Omaha. Downtown sits on the Missouri River, with commanding views from the tallest skyscrapers.

Dating almost to the city's inception, downtown has been a popular location for the headquarters of a variety of companies. The Union Pacific Railroad has been headquartered in Omaha since its establishment in 1862. Once the location of 24 historical warehouses, Jobbers Canyon Historic District was the site of many import and export businesses necessary for the settlement and development of the American West. Today dozens of companies have their national and regional headquarters in downtown Omaha.

The area is home to more than 30 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, along with two historic districts. Downtown Omaha was also the site of the Jobbers Canyon Historic District, all 24 buildings of which were demolished in 1989, representing the largest single loss of buildings to date from the National Register.










More in Common Then You Know It

Tallest Building:

Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet
Omaha: One First National Center - 634 feet

Downtown River:

Jacksonville: St. Johns River
Omaha: Missouri River

19th Century Red Light Districts:

Jacksonville: The Row (more than 60 brothels)
Omaha: The Burnt District (more than 100 brothels and 1,600 sex workers)

The existence of prostitution on this scale was justified by the Christian community as a necessary evil; it was thought the district would help protect "good" women from sexual assault like a sewer that drains moral impurity from the Christian world.

The impact of these areas contributed to heavy corruption, terrible abuse of women and children, abortions, suicides, and 30% of the men in the city of Omaha had a sexually transmitted disease. These areas existed for over 20 years before they were successfully shut down.

Railroad Headquarters in Downtown:

Jacksonville: CSX Transportation
Omaha: Union Pacific

Urban Renewal Loss:

Jacksonville: LaVilla (Florida's first urban African-American District)
Omaha: Jobbers Canyon (largest National Register Historic District to be demolished)

Environmental Cleanup and Reuse:

Jacksonville: 44-acre Jacksonville Shipyards site waiting for a new use.
Omaha: 23-acre ASARCO smeltering plant site became a 23-acre riverfront park.

Old Market


Now known as the Old Market, this historic district was originally developed to sell groceries wholesale and retail in the late-19th century. It is located next to the former Jobbers Canyon Historic District. Destroyed in 1989, the 19th century warehouse area represents the largest National Register historic district in the United States lost to date.

For more on Jobbers Canyon:

The Old Market is a neighborhood located in downtown Omaha, Nebraska, United States, and is bordered by South 10th Street. The neighborhood has many restaurants, art galleries and upscale shopping. The area retains its brick paved streets from the turn of the century, horse-drawn carriages, and covered sidewalks in some areas. It is not uncommon to see a variety of street performers, artists, and other vendors.,_Nebraska)


















North Downtown (NoDo)


CenturyLink Center is an arena and convention center facility in North Downtown. The 1.1 million-ft²  facility has an 18,975-seat arena, a 194,000-ft² exhibition hall and 62,000 ft² of meeting space.
The $291 million facility was completed in 2003.

A new mixed-use development, North Downtown extends 80 blocks, from the campus of Creighton University to the CenturyLink Center and new developments along the Missouri River. The boundaries are Seward Street on the north, I-480 on the south, 17th Street to the west and Riverfront Drive on the east.

The area comprising NoDo is central to the history of Omaha. Along the river, Miller's Landing was the site where the Lone Tree Ferry brought settlers from Iowa. The early Territorial Legislature platted Scriptown in the area. The historic neighborhood of Squatter's Row and the city's notorious prostitution alleyway, The Cribs, were located here.

Today the area includes the new Slowdown venue. The new TD Ameritrade Park opened in April 2011 near CenturyLink Center as the new home of the College World Series and Creighton University baseball. The area also includes national retail such as Urban Outfitters and American Apparel and several restaurants, bars, and coffee shops. The Hot Shops Art Center is located here where local artists have work on display. Three new hotels have recently[when?] opened; Holiday Inn, Homewood Suites, and a Hampton Inn & Suites; these are in addition to the Hilton Omaha already located across from the Qwest Center. Several buildings have also been renovated into apartments and condos. The Missouri River riverfront is the eastern boundary of NoDo where millions in redevelopment has taken place in recent years. The city has created a new boardwalk, walking trails, and the Lewis & Clark Landing which connect to the Heartland of America Park and, in-conjunction, host several of Omaha's annual festivals, like the Taste of Omaha.
A city marina has opened for Missouri River boaters and Rick's Boatyard is a nautical theme restaurant that opened on the boardwalk in November 2002. Buildings along the riverfront include the National Park Service Midwest Regional Office and Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail visitors center, The Gallup Organization operational headquarters, Gallup University Campus, and two residential towers, RiverFront Place Condos. Near these buildings is the 3,000 ft footbridge, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

The movement in Omaha to reintroduce street cars is led by former mayor Hal Daub.[9] The proposed streetcars would cost $55 million and run in a 3.5-mile (5.6 km) loop through Downtown Omaha and NoDo. The system would cost about $2 million per year to operate and would serve almost 7,000 passengers in its first year. One route would run the cars from Creighton University near 20th and Webster streets, proceeding east to 10th Street, passing by the CenturyLink Center and moving south to Jackson Street in the Old Market. After that it would then move west to 16th Street and then north to Farnam before returning to 10th Street.










Midtown Crossing at Turner Park


Midtown Crossing at Turner Park is located a few miles west of downtown Omaha in Midtown. Comprising 3.6 square miles, the Midtown area is home to 28,000 residents and 43,000 workers. It is known as a cultural, social and economically important area of Omaha's urban core.

Midtown Crossing at Turner Park is a million square-foot, seven-building, mixed-use development located in Midtown Omaha, Nebraska.

Midtown Crossing at Turner Park is one of the largest initiatives of Destination Midtown, a collaborative community partnership aimed at developing Midtown Omaha back to its original prominence. The official opening was May 19, 2010.

This new urban development combines condos and apartments with retail, dining, and entertainment all built around 6 acres (24,000 m2) of green space known as Turner Park.[4] There are over 400 total apartments and condos among four buildings. The development includes an Element by Westin Hotel, grocery store, movie cinema, fitness club, and several regional and national retail and dining establishments.

Midtown Crossing at Turner Park is owned by East Campus Realty, a subsidiary of Mutual of Omaha. It is being developed and designed by ECI Investment Advisors in conjunction with Holland Basham Architects and Cope Linder Architects.










Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Photographs by Russell Conner.

This article can be found at:

Metro Jacksonville



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