Downtown Revitalization: Omaha

March 6, 2014 19 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

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

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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