- Associated Press
Sunday, December 18, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - This summer, a former two-block stretch of concrete parking stalls is to come alive with apartment dwellers, hotel guests and visitors seeking entertainment at the long-awaited Capitol District project.

Five years in the making, the $205 million development’s signature 333-room hotel and 218-apartment building, each rising 12 stories, clearly is changing the landscape of downtown Omaha.

The Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/2gMwY6L ) reports glass and exterior pieces were being installed last week on the full-service Marriott. Showers were being lifted into the market-rate apartments.

Taking form between the two structures is an outdoor plaza about the size of a football field. People should be dining and socializing there by the 2017 College World Series, perhaps catching a baseball game on a big screen or grooving to a stage performer.

While a hotel Starbucks so far is the only secured retailer, more will occupy about 90,000 square feet of entertainment-related retail space planned on the site north of Capitol Avenue between 10th and 12th streets.

Developer Mike Moylan describes the high-profile effort as one that’s taken complicated turns, but he’s looking forward to a smooth landing.

“This is something that doesn’t get done every day in Omaha,” Moylan said. “It’s come together well; we’re excited.”

Indeed, the initiative is close enough to the finish line that developers gave The World-Herald an inside look and tour.

From the top of the apartments, Moylan gazed around and said the project stands out not only as a destination dining and entertainment place but as a link between other hotspots.

To the east is the CenturyLink Center; to the north is TD Ameritrade Park; to the south and west are employer hubs.

“We’re in the middle of where everybody wants to come or already is coming,” he said.

Area real estate developers expect the energy to spawn further investment downtown. In fact, it’s sparked plans for a $25 million mixed-use apartment building kitty-corner to the new Marriott.

Owners Rodrigo and Mary Lopez of AmeriSphere Properties plan to break ground next spring on what they’ll call Capitol Place. The couple plans to live on the top floor. A skating rink currently is at the site on the southeast corner of 10th and Capitol.

“It’s such an important corner for the city,” said Rodrigo Lopez. “When the land became available, we definitely jumped on the opportunity.”

Steve Sheppard of CBRE/Mega, who matches companies with office space, sees the Capitol District as another lure to bring employers downtown.

“It creates more energy, more activity, which lends itself to more office users entertaining the idea of moving downtown.”

Such energy would be welcome, as the downtown office vacancy rate recently jumped to 15 percent (up from about 8 percent earlier in the year). Factors included Conagra shrinking its local workforce and Gavilon putting a big chunk of space up for lease. Citywide, the office vacancy rate is about 12 percent.

Even before it started, the Capitol District initiative was in the public eye, as Omaha and Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority officials sought proposals to transform what then was city-owned property.

They hoped to gain another convention center hotel to help Omaha compete for tourism. They also wanted to maximize the potential of prime property on the doorstep of the CenturyLink.

Moylan’s Shamrock Development company was picked in late 2011 over two competing bidders, pitching what began as a $176 million package with a 350-room Marriott, 280 apartments and space for offices and shops, all to be built by December 2014.

Shamrock at the time already had a footprint at the 10th and Capitol area, having redeveloped the 1009 Capitol Building and 1000 Dodge Building into condos and bars. The developer had started to market the neighborhood as the Capitol District.

Tough spells followed. Progress was slowed early on as the development team worked to find a hotelier willing to open a full-service facility, and to land financing.

The Shamrock team tapped local investors, traditional bank financing and up to $35 million in tax-increment financing. It also turned to investors in China, who contributed through a federal visa program known as EB-5. Under the program, international investors who help create jobs and development can earn U.S. green cards.

Then came a roller-coaster ride when the Omaha-based HDR engineering and architectural firm announced it would build a new corporate headquarters just south of the Capitol District project - only to switch tracks and change that spot to midtown’s Aksarben Village.

That dashed hope for hundreds of new downtown workers. Though disappointed, Moylan said his project was moving forward even before HDR’s announcement. Any adjustments to accommodate HDR parking were reversed. “We were able to switch back to our original plan,” he said.

Still in the works today is possible city approval that could make the grounds Omaha’s first entertainment district where people could openly carry alcoholic beverages in the development’s plaza, similar to Lincoln’s Haymarket district.

Moylan said his team also is refining elements of the multistory mixed-use building planned for the district’s southern edge. Another retail-focused building along the northern side will offer about 21,000 square feet on two levels, and connect via skywalk to the eight-level parking garage.


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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