Back in the mid-1990s, Omaha's leaders decided to give their city a facelift. “We coordinated and dreamed and developed the public-private partnerships that resulted in more than $4 billion in new capital construction and infrastructure development,” notes attorney Hal Daub, who was mayor of Nebraska's largest city from 1995 to 2001.

Much of the activity is happening along the Missouri River. “They have cleaned up about a mile of riverfront that was covered with industrial ruins—smelter, automobile wrecking yard, etc.—and replaced it with development projects and a Riverwalk,” says local developer Kim McGuire of Riverfront Partners. Several large infill projects are underway in the city center, too.

With so much development, another city might be at risk of losing its unique character. But good design is a good business in the “Gateway to the West.”

“Omaha is a hub for the building and design industries, with over 520 architects making it their home,” says AIA Omaha president John Dineen Jr. of HDR. “And three of the top 20 general building design firms—based on net fees earned—in the U.S. are headquartered here.”

  • Founded in 1854, Omaha was the eastern end of the nation's first transcontinental railroad system, completed in 1869.

    Credit: Alamy

    Founded in 1854, Omaha was the eastern end of the nation's first transcontinental railroad system, completed in 1869.

The investment in, and attention to, good design is paying off: The city made Expansion Management magazine's 2005 list of America's 50 Hottest Cities; in 2006, it ranked No. 7 on Money magazine's Best Places to Live.

Population/Growth

The population is growing 1.4 percent annually, to an estimated 466,500 in 2007. Job growth was 2.2 percent in 2006.

Office Market

Only 10 percent of the city's 7.6 million square feet of office space is unoccupied. The 2006 average asking rate for the Class A buildings was $20.80/square foot.

Residential Market

The median single-family home price is $141,500. The number of condominiums in the city's center has gone from zero to 1,000 in four years.

Market Strengths

  • Strong population growth
  • High affordability and per-capita income
  • Low cost of living and doing business

Market Concerns

  • Weak home-price appreciation
  • High energy costs
  • Slowing employment growth

Developable Land

Nearly 10,000 acres are available for development.

Development Incentives

Community development block grants offered by the state provide loans of up to 50 percent of a project's total cost (maximum: $500,000) and target projects that benefit low- to moderate-income people or eliminate/prevent blight.

Similar to tax increment financing, Nebraska's community improvement financing (CIF) funds public improvements linked to private projects in designated redevelopment areas. CIF uses the projected increase in property tax revenue from the private development to pay for improvements, repay bonds or loans, or finance some or all of the public preconstruction improvements.

Forecast

“The challenge for Omaha is to continue to do the things that are earning the city such a great reputation,” Dineen says. “Emphasis needs to remain on retaining our quality of living, affordable housing, superior education, and cultural diversity.”

Notable Projects

The Missouri River pedestrian bridge, a $22 million, 2,700-foot-long structure scheduled to be finished in 2008, will connect Omaha to Council Bluffs, Iowa. Designed by HNTB Corp.; developed by the City of Omaha.

The $250 million mixed-use Midtown Crossing project, which should be completed in 2009. Designed by Holland Basham Architects; developed by ECI Investment Advisors Inc.

The $140 million, 70-acre Aksarben Village infill master planned community; the first townhomes are expected to come online in the summer of 2008. Designed by DLR Group and others; developed by Noddle Development Co., Broadmoor Development, and Alchemy Development.

Key Developers and Builders

Riverfront Partners
Major project: The six-acre, 110-unit Riverfront Place, a mixed-use project; the first phase will be completed this month, and the second phase will start in the third quarter of 2007; architect: RDG Planning & Design and Hancock, Brückner, Eng + Wright (now IBI/HB Architects).
Riverfront Partners has developed more than two dozen projects in four states.

Noddle Development Co.
Major project: The $8.5 million, 68,000- square-foot Carl T. Curtis National Park Service Midwest Headquarters; completed in 2005, it was the first certified LEED Gold building in Nebraska; architect: Leo A Daly.
The company was named the 2005 private owner of the year by the Design-Build Institute of America.

Quantum Quality Real Estate
Major project: The $5.6 million, 14-home Hidden Creek eco-village, scheduled to be finished in 2009; architect: Randy Brown Architects.
The company's 120 Blondo building (also designed by Randy Brown Architects) is featured in the The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture.

Key Architects

HDR
Major project: The $92 million, 175,000-square-foot Holland Performing Arts Center (above), co-designed with Polshek Partnership Architects and completed in 2005; developed by the Omaha Performing Arts Society.
Major project: The $25 million, 125,000-square-foot Kroc Community Center, scheduled for completion in 2009; developed by The Salvation Army.
Founded in 1917 as the Henningson Engineering Co., the firm has 1,200 employees in 27 offices. In 2006 it reported $173.1 million in billings.

DLR Group
Major project: The $291 million, 1.1-million-square-foot Qwest Center Omaha convention and sports/entertainment venue (above), completed in 2003; co-designed with specialty consultants; developed by the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority.
Major project: The $122 million, 32-story Wall Street Towers infill office-retail-residential project, scheduled for completion in 2009; developed by Townsend Inc.
Founded in 1964 as Dana Larson Roubal, the firm has 552 employees in 13 offices. It reported 2006 billings of $88 million.

Leo A Daly
Major project: The $10 million Beebe and Runyan Furniture Showroom and Warehouse condo conversion, completed earlier this year; developed by Boca Development Co.
Major project: The $160 million, 1-million-square-foot One First National Center, completed in 2003; at 634 feet, it is the tallest building between Minneapolis and Denver; developed by First National Bank.
Founded in 1915 by Leo A. Daly Sr., the firm has 1,200 employees around the globe. It reported 2006 billings of $165 million.