Downtown Omaha plan adds streetcar, puts Mutual of Omaha into current library space

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert announced during a news conference Wednesday that the city wants to develop a streetcar route to the city’s “urban core.”
Published: Jan. 26, 2022 at 7:12 AM CST|Updated: Jan. 26, 2022 at 1:24 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha city and business leaders unveiled a plan Wednesday to reshape the downtown core and the city’s skyline in the next few years.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert announced during a news conference Wednesday that the city wants to develop a streetcar route to the city’s “urban core,” which will include a new downtown skyscraper to house the headquarters of Mutual of Omaha in the current site of the city library.

Stothert said the chamber has a funding plan for the $306 million project that doesn’t include a tax increase. She said she thinks that there would be enough Tax Increment Financing to cover the cost, but that special revenue and private placement bonds would pay for construction off the top.

“The streetcar will be built, operated, and maintained without a property tax rate increase or sales tax increase,” a release from the mayor’s office says.

It would also be free to ride.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert unveiled a plan to place a streetcar from downtown to UNMC.

Stothert said during Wednesday’s news conference that the streetcar — a city feature the mayor said is being built in 46 cities across the country — would solve the issue of available parking downtown.

“We all know parking is choking development downtown right now,” she said. “...We have to solve the parking problem.”

The city expects the streetcar would add about $3 billion in revenue over the next 15 years by way of development along the three-mile route from downtown to UNMC’s campus, traveling along Cass, Farnam, 10th, 42nd, and Harney streets. Points along the route — passing through the Capitol, Flatiron, Farnam Hill, and Blackstone districts — would include CHI Health Center arena, Gene Leahy Mall, the Old Market, the Orpheum Theater, Turner Park, and Midtown Crossing, and the Blackstone District.

(City of Omaha)

The streetcar plan allows for potential extension north, south, and west into Omaha as well as east into Council Bluffs.

The Mutual of Omaha move would be a land swap, with the city giving up the W. Dale Clark library spot to the company for its new HQ, and developer Lanoha giving the city a vacant property formerly occupied by Union Pacific — a site Mutual of Omaha considered for its new skyscraper.

“A key element of the company’s decision to pursue a downtown headquarters is the city’s commitment to a modern streetcar line,” a release from the company states.

While the streetcar plan enables the move, it wasn’t an ultimatum for the project, Mutual of Omaha CEO James Blackledge said during Wednesday’s news conference.

Wednesday’s announcement comes at a time when the City Council is dealing with various projects including the mayor’s effort to move the downtown library as Omaha’s expansive Riverfront Revitalization Project is taking shape. Stothert said there’s not another site downtown that works for the new library branch at 1401 Jones St, so “we will be moving Clark Library.”

With plans to begin demolition on the current library in December, estimated completion for the entire project is around 2025.

The company is working with an international architecture firm to determine Mutual of Omaha’s needs at the new site, which will determine how many stories the new skyscraper would be.

Mutual of Omaha employs 4,000 employees in the metro area with another 3,500 across the country.

“While we are confident the new headquarters we are envisioning will have a dramatic impact on the city’s skyline, there is still work to be done to determine the exact size and configuration of the project,” Blackledge said in the company’s release.

Meanwhile, Mutual of Omaha said it remains “heavily invested” in furthering development at and around the site of the current headquarters in Midtown and that plans call for redevelopment on Mutual of Omaha’s existing properties in that area.

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