Gene Leahy Mall: Omaha celebrates grand re-opening

The Gene Leahy Mall has opened to the public
Published: Jul. 1, 2022 at 9:57 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The massive-scale Gene Leahy Mall project the city talked about doing for decades is finally done.

City officials were on hand at 10 a.m. for the official unveiling of the first phase of a massive redevelopment project in downtown Omaha. An hour later, the public was finally able to see for themselves — after the area has been closed for three years — what all the fuss has been about.

The ceremony kicked off a weekend of special events, concerts, and features like food trucks.

“This is truly an exciting moment in our city’s history,” said Roger Nixon, CEO of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, during Friday’s event. “The first phase of a transformation taking place in downtown Omaha.”

The mall’s lengthy and somewhat controversial history with the city goes back decades. In the 1970′s, it opened as the Central Park Mall. It was renamed in the 90′s after Omaha Mayor Gene Leahy.

The hope was that the park would help spur downtown Omaha into a major commercial, cultural and residential center. But the sunken park never quite lived up to its hype.

The first step to bring it back to life was hauling in tons of dirt to bring the park up to ground level.

“A major change now in terms of upgrades and welcoming people,” Omaha City Council President Pete Fetersen said. ”More interactive space, a more safe space, a space everyone can enjoy.”

But there are some rules, just like any park or public space. For starters, smoking, vaping and alcohol are no-nos, as are fishing and cooking or grilling. Don’t try to sell stuff or hand stuff out without a permit, either.

Friday night’s concert features Kristin Chenoweth, and country music star Brett Eldredge headlines Sasturday’s concert.

But those wanting to secure their spot early for the evening concerts were advised to come down to the performance pavilion no earlier than 3 p.m., according to Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority officials.

“You can bring down your blankets, your portable chairs, we just ask no plastic or tarps or stakes on our brand new event lawn.”

Bathrooms will close overnight and camping out isn’t allowed. And considering where the park sits, covering 13th to 8th streets between Douglas and Farnam, it’s a good idea to plan ahead when it comes to parking for big events like you’ll find on the holiday weekend’s schedule.

Just like most parks in the city, dogs are allowed, as long as they are leashed and curbed. Unless, of course, you turn them loose for some four-legged fun in the new dog park.

There are rules to take note of when visiting Omaha's newly renovated Gene Leahy Mall

For those looking to break the rules, we’re told the park will be patrolled by multiple security officers 24/7, with a series of security cameras already up and running throughout Gene Leahy Mall.

Watch Friday’s grand re-opening ceremony

Digital Director Gina Dvorak and Reporters Laura Sambol and Brent Weber contributed to this report.

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