OMAHA, Neb. — Music, food trucks, skateboarding and more could soon come to the Missouri River area.
A new committee backed by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce has formed to do the nitty-gritty work of implementing a bold vision for the riverfront area in Omaha and Council Bluffs.
It’s working off a blueprint developed by a group of outside experts from the Urban Land Institute.
The recommendations from those experts: Find ways to bring people to the riverfront on a daily basis, focus first on the area around the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian bridge, and aim to eventually attract a world-class event such as a festival.
The Omaha World-Herald reports (http://bit.ly/2cSB2NZ ) the new committee is headed by Donn Seidholz, a longtime advocate of riverfront development. Their first task is to raise $525,000 to pay for the costs of hiring an employee for three years devoted solely to bringing activity to the riverfront. Seidholz said he hopes to have that person in place by the beginning of next year.
The group will operate separately from a push by the powerful nonprofit Heritage Services to revitalize the riverfront, though Heritage Services’ Beth Ochsner sits on the chamber committee.
“We’re working on the activation side,” said David Brown, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce and a member of the committee, “and Heritage is working on the redevelopment part of it.”
He wants to see locals maximizing the use of what he sees as the area’s best natural resource.
“We don’t have mountains, we don’t have beaches, but we have a river,” he said. “And we think we should be able to utilize the river more aggressively than we do now.”
And Brown said he thinks attracting more people to the riverfront will eventually spur development.
“Once you start bringing more things down there, more people come down there, and that’ll light a fire under the development process,” he said.
Also serving on the committee are representatives from both cities, including Mayors Jean Stothert and Matt Walsh, as well as business leaders and others.
Omaha Parks Director Brook Bench and his Council Bluffs counterpart, Larry Foster, are in the process of assessing what, exactly, the area has to offer.
“What we’re finding as we’ve begun to put this together is there are a tremendous amount of assets on both sides of the river in terms of venues,” Foster said. “There are places for stages, there’s power, there’s parking, there’s places for bathrooms and fencing.”
After the 2014 study, experts from the Urban Land Institute said the riverfront could be a destination that draws high interest and brings together Omaha and Council Bluffs, but that the community still needed to do some work.
Since then there have been a lot of changes on the riverfront, especially on the Nebraska side. ConAgra Foods plans to vacate parts of its riverfront campus, though the company has not made public its plans for that space. ConAgra’s Chris Kircher sits on the committee. Meanwhile, Omaha officials are trying to decide what to do with the site of the former Storz Trophy Room, which is being demolished.
Committee members said they’re excited that the two cities are working so closely together.
“I think that’s the key, is that we have good relationships with everybody,” said Bench, the Omaha parks director.
Tre Brashear, a co-founder of Maha Music Festival and a member of the committee, said his dream is to see a major music festival on the riverfront.
But, he said, it could take a long time to build up the interest and the budget for such a large-scale event.
“If you want to do a world-class South by Southwest type thing, you really need to blow it out,” he said.
In the meantime, he said, he wants to see more smaller events that bring people to the riverfront regularly.
That could be a weekly concert festival, he said, or it could include other activities such as sports, food trucks or activities such as chess.
“It’s what’s really going to convince people the riverfront is active or it’s worth investing further in or that they should head down to the riverfront,” he said.
Information from: Omaha World-Herald, http://www.omaha.com
This AP Member Exchange was shared by the Omaha World-Herald.