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Business owners push for improvement district creation in historic Little Bohemia

WOWT 6 News Live at 10
Published: Feb. 8, 2022 at 10:45 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Business owners in Little Bohemia are making a push to improve safety and create more growth in the historic neighborhood on 13th St. between I-80 and downtown Omaha.

They hope to meet those goals by creating a Business Improvement District, or a BID.

“There was a lot of momentum down here and unfortunately COVID squashed everything, so many businesses were impacted here wondering if they were going to be able to keep their doors open,” says Louis Smith with the Dundee Bank in Little Bohemia. “As soon as we saw COVID started to die down a little bit, we started to really hit the ground running and that started with the business association that we implemented here probably about a year ago.”

The business association was a first step in connecting with other business owners in the area to assess wants and needs as the district continues to grow.

Smith says the next logical step in the process was to approach city council about launching the Little Bohemia Improvement Area Board, which the council approved on Tuesday.

“So what this board is, is it’s a precursor to that, to determine whether a BID would be effective down here, whether residents would want it, and further if we did get a bid established, what would we use those funds for, who would be affected, who would be impacted and why do we want to have a bid in the first place,” Smith says.

A BID creates a new tax for businesses in the area, and that money is then allocated to funding projects and improvements in the district. BIDs can also seek other public and private funding campaigns to accomplish bigger projects.

Smith and Susan Koenig of the Koenig|Dunne law firm on the corner of 13th and William St. spoke at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“Last year our law firm celebrated 20 years of having our business there,” Koenig said. “I grew up walking distance from there and it’s been thrilling to see the revitalization in the past years in the area.”

As the area continues to become more popular, there’s more foot traffic. Businesses like Smith’s and Koenig’s are hoping to improve pedestrian safety through the creation of a BID.

“Our priorities going forward would be safety first for our neighborhood, we’re also interested in promotion and beautification but safety is our number one intention. This has been a historic area for over 150 years and we would love to give it everything it needs to be able to have many generations in the future enjoy it,” Koenig added.

“This is an artery for the interstate, everyone that comes down here can notice that traffic really speeds up, that’s an unfortunate situation and I know that there have been traffic studies done but as this neighborhood continues to grow, we need to evolve and realize that there’s going to be a lot of foot traffic down here, how can we make this as safe as we can for pedestrians and traffic alike?” Smith tells 6 News.

Several council members expressed their support of the process at Tuesday’s meeting.

“I’m really excited for the work you’re putting in this, and the vested interest you have,” said Councilman Danny Begley, who oversees Little Bohemia as part of his district.

“A lot of really good things happening, this is just another step in the process, so if you’re interested and want to be involved in the process, reach out,” said Councilman Vinny Palermo, who just helped create the South Omaha BID.

Council members also emphasized the importance of the board including community members, neighbors and others invested in the area in conversations and the importance of transparency.

Smith says they hope to begin hosting open houses for everyone to share ideas, questions, comments, and concerns as the process moves forward.

“Initially what we’ll have to do is go out and see who will be affected by this, who do we want to be affected by this, likely we won’t assess any residents or nonprofits, it’s just for businesses down here, so once we have those questions answered at least on our end, that’s when we’ll open it up to the residents and neighbors so that they can have input on the process too because it’s not just five of us that are making decisions, it’s a community making one big decision so we all need to be on the same page,” Smith adds.

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