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Downtown Revitalization: Omaha

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

Published March 6, 2014 in Learning From      17 Comments    Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article


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

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March 06, 2014, 08:18:08 AM
I must say, I'm impressed by what the Old Market has become. It appears to be a more more vibrant environment than what one would find in a typical second or third tier American city. Great pictures.


March 06, 2014, 08:19:12 AM
One interesting thing about the picture labeled #1.  A few years ago those sunshades (and window ledges) on the side of the building had a problem with ice collecting on them in the winter and then when it would start to melt it would fall off in chunks and hit people passing under them.  They had to put up a covered scaffolding system to protect people on the sidewalk.  I know the window sills had some snow breakers installed on them to fix that problem but I do not know if they ever did anything about the sunshade blades


March 06, 2014, 08:27:08 AM
I worked at Creighton University for a few months back in 05. First time I have had Bison and Ostrich meat. They have a very nice aquarium and indoor rain forest built in their zoo. Seems like they have been very busy since 05. Goes to show how proper planning can change a city in a relative time frame. Great thread, info, and pics, Thanks


March 06, 2014, 08:34:33 AM
It is a shame about the Jobbers Canyon district, but at least they didn't extend that mistake to Old Market. 

It took making a lot of mistakes nationwide during the '60's, '70's and '80's before the real solutions for urban redevelopment were found and implemented. Unfortunately Jax's mindset is still stuck in 1980 something. 

Omaha was indeed impressive. If I were doing the Midtown project, I would have put more variation among all the tan brick, but otherwise it looks great.   

The Midwest really does have some great cities, Milwaukee, Indy, Minneapolis,St. Paul, Kansas City Mo, St. Louis, and of course Chicago.


March 06, 2014, 09:17:53 AM
Jobbers Caynon looked pretty interesting.

There are some other beauties Omaha has lost over the years, so Jax isn't alone in its boneheaded moves regarding preservation of existing building stock.  However, it does appear that Omaha has learned from its mistakes.


March 06, 2014, 09:19:27 AM
Omaha was indeed impressive.

Recently, much has been mentioned locally about Jax needing a "brand" or "identity". As a visitor, what was the brand or identity of Omaha?


March 06, 2014, 09:20:48 AM
Gosh these articles have just become so depressing to read as shows what incompetence our leadership is here in Jax when it comes to developing  the urban core.   All of these stories should be compiled together and SENT  directly to our council members and anyone running for city council and mayor as required reading.  And then with the question of Why is virtually none of this happening in our city??? 


March 06, 2014, 02:57:06 PM
Omaha was indeed impressive.

Recently, much has been mentioned locally about Jax needing a "brand" or "identity". As a visitor, what was the brand or identity of Omaha?

I visited Omaha for a few days this past summer.  I stayed at the Hotel Deco XV, link below, which was impressive for a 4 diamond boutique rehab of a deco building in a small city.

And I would recommend it.  There are other convenient and nice options, as well, however, the hotel will pick you up and take you to the airport in a limo, so that makes it even more convenient.

Omaha didn't seem to have a "brand" when I was there, because it's so small, however, it's definitely a prairie town with a very impressive warehouse building stock and lots of good meat offered up at all the restaurants.  There was a farmer's market, breweries, restaurants, shops, and tons of bars all concentrated in outlying warehousy areas of downtown.

I rented a bike one day with some folks and we went around the waterfront and around downtown.  It's a SUPER CLEAN city, one of the first things that struck me.  Lots of new infill construction/renovations as well (anyone visiting from Jax would be very depressed).

Downtown seemed like a pretty large party, too.  I saw pedal wagons going around town with folks playing drinking games on them, and I met up with a few Creighton students from Jax while I was there.  My honest takeaway from Omaha was that I would MUCH rather live in DT or Midtown Omaha than in any particular neighborhood in Jax, however, Jax is larger and has better weather/more convenience to more things, so I would rather live in Jax overall.

I've had very surprisingly pleasant experiences in lots of Midwestern cities.  Aside from having mom/family from Chicago and experience there, I have a good friend I visit in Milwaukee, which is easily one of my favorite cities in the country.  I've added St. Louis and Omaha to the list of smaller favorites over the past few years.


March 06, 2014, 04:12:54 PM
When I was in Omaha back in 2010 there were plenty of restaurants in the downtown area, but they weren't very crowded and there weren't many people walking around.  This was early spring so it was still a bit cool, but there was no ice or anything left. I did notice there appeared to be quite a few places to live in downtown Omaha which surprised me because I saw so few people walking to restaurants.  I walked about 6-8 blocks from my hotel to a restaurant.


March 06, 2014, 04:56:02 PM
Omaha was indeed impressive.

Recently, much has been mentioned locally about Jax needing a "brand" or "identity". As a visitor, what was the brand or identity of Omaha?
  Its identity is Berkshire Hathaway.  The city's influence is Warren Buffett.  Boo, evil money grubber.


March 06, 2014, 05:16:30 PM
To call Warren Buffett an evil moneygrubber is just rediculous. Cmon.  Moneygrubber yes, evil, no.


March 06, 2014, 05:59:39 PM
^ :D I believe Sunking was just being sarcastic from some of the comments in this thread:,20970.msg367703/topicseen.html#new


March 06, 2014, 09:40:47 PM
Omaha was indeed impressive.

Recently, much has been mentioned locally about Jax needing a "brand" or "identity". As a visitor, what was the brand or identity of Omaha?

college world series

Wacca Pilatka

March 07, 2014, 09:28:30 AM
Omaha was indeed impressive.

Recently, much has been mentioned locally about Jax needing a "brand" or "identity". As a visitor, what was the brand or identity of Omaha?

college world series

Peyton Manning.


March 07, 2014, 10:01:28 AM
Omaha was indeed impressive.

Recently, much has been mentioned locally about Jax needing a "brand" or "identity". As a visitor, what was the brand or identity of Omaha?

college world series

They just built a new stadium next to the convention center for the CWS.  Omaha seems to get its fair share of conventions as well, but I am not sure why.


March 11, 2014, 01:22:06 AM
Really enjoy your story about Omaha which brought back my memories from my visit there years ago. So much DT Jacksonville can learn from Omaha in regards to reuse, preservation, revitalization, and walkability not to mention having a clean, well-run, decently stocked, 24 hour grocery/convenience store in the middle of Old Market (then I compare that to how at least DT Jax has a nicer river and the Landing, still makes me weep).

As impressed as I was by most of what Omaha had to offer, this was one of my most impressive takeaways from my visit: South Omaha...well, in particular, the area of S. 24th St. What seems to get lost in the shuffle of all the issues and concerns brought up on MJ is the importance of having tight-knit emerging minority communities. Yes, the Mexican-American community is much more established in Omaha, but seeing not just the number of small locally owned businesses but the vibrancy and variety of offerings on that stretch of road...would have been nice if you posted some pictures from there. It would be a good model for some of Jacksonville's Asian, Latin American, West-Indian, and Eastern European communities to consider as they grow population-wise.

I have my theories on why such communities find it harder to get that kind of foothold in NE Fla, and I've had friends tell me the number of good quality ethnic offerings have improved since I've last lived there years ago. But to me, the establishment of well organized communities and organizations serving the city's many up and coming ethnic groups is just as important as preserving established historic neighborhoods, encouraging creative re-use of the city's many older properties, promoting and supporting eclectic arts and entertainment destinations, encouraging a livable urban core, and having decent transit and transport options in attracting attention, visitors, new ventures, and people from all over that would be eager and proud to make Jacksonville their home.


March 11, 2014, 02:14:07 AM
TD Ameritrade is HQ'd there in Omaha, recently found that out. They have a vague unoriginal nickname like Jax (The River City). "Gateway to the West" which is more known with St Louis.
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