Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film screenings-discussions – “The Descendants” next on tap Saturday, April 21

April 19, 2018 Leave a comment

Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film screenings-discussions–

“The Descendants” next on tap

Saturday, April 21

Join me this spring for my Metropolitan Community College Continuing Education non-credit class–

Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film

Saturday mornings @ DoSpace

Take this opportunity to explore the creative process of Indiewood filmmaker Alexander Payne through screenings and discussions of his more recent work. The book “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film” serves as an informal guide for this appreciation of the American cinema master who calls Omaha home. Don’t be surprised if some film artists drop in to share a few things about Payne and their own cinema careers.

Optional textbook available for purchase the first night of class for $25.95. If you register for all five classes, you can purchase the book at a discount for $20. Must be 18.

Register for all five classes and get one free!

The class has five weeky sessions meeting at MCC at DoSpace

Saturdays, 04/14-05/12

9:30am-12:30pm

Instructor:

Leo Adam Biga

Author of “Alexander Payne: His Journey in Film”

Alexander Payne: Paris Je t’aime, 14 Arrondissement, Hung, et cetera.

Between “Sideways” and his next feature, Payne directed two short works: “14 Arrondissement,” his installment for the omnibus film “Paris Je t’aime;” and the pilot episode for the HBO series “Hung.” He and Jim Taylor also did write-for-hire gigs on blockbuster movies (“Jurassic Park III”) and Payne produced films as well.

MCC at Do Space

Saturday, April 14

9:30a-12:30p

Alexander Payne: The Descendants

After a hiatus, Payne enjoyed a triumphant return to features with “The Descendants.” This tale of a man coping with a family crisis marked Payne’s second project with a mega-star (George Clooney) and second feature shot outside Nebraska (Hawaii). This was the filmmaker’s first experience writing a feature without Jim Taylor and his script work won him his second Oscar.

MCC at Do Space

Saturday, April 21

9:30a-12:30p

Alexander Payne: Nebraska

Many years had passed since Payne made a film in his home state and he returned to make arguably his most artful to date, “Nebraska.” Distinguished by its fine ensemble cast, rural settings, black and white photography and Oscar-nominated script by Robert Nelson, the film follows a father-son road trip of healing and discovery. The small pic didn’t do much at the box-office but it was warmly received by those who saw it.

MCC at Do Space

Saturday, April 28

9:30a-12:30p

Alexander Payne: Downsizing 

Payne ventured into new territory with “Downsizing,” his first big visual effects film. For it, he collaborated with a-name-above-the-title star in Matt Damon, who headed a large international cast, and re-teamed with old writing partner Jim Taylor. The late 2017 release filmed in Los Angeles, Omaha, Toronto, Norway and other spots has an original take on looming world crises.

MCC at Do Space

Saturday, May 5

9:30a-12:30p

Alexander Payne: Recap/Looking Ahead

Few filmmakers have accumulated a body of work of such depth and quality as Payne has in two decades. He’s given us much to think about already but he may only be at the mid-point of his career, which means there’s much more to come. It’s fun to speculate on what might come next from him. We we will screen excerpts from his films to date and discuss what Payne’s work has meant to world cinema thus far and we expect to see from him in the future.

MCC at Do Space

Saturday, May 12

9:30a-12:30p

 

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Life Itself: Six years of Omaha Magazine stories about people. their passions and their magnificent obsessions

April 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Life Itself: Six years of Omaha Magazine stories about people. their passions and their magnificent obsessions

©by Leo Adam Biga

Author-Journalist-Blogger

 

Park Avenue Revitalization & Gentrification

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As revitalization has come to diverse and densely packed Park Avenue, a tale of two neighborhoods has emerged. The north end—near 30th and Leavenworth streets and Midtown Crossing—finds a millennial haven of developer-renovated historic properties […]

Alexander Payne’s Homecoming

February 13, 2018 · Posted In: FilmOmaha MagazinePeople
Alexander Payne’s new tragicomedy Downsizing imagines the fate of an overpopulated world hanging in the balance due to depleted natural resources. When scientists find a way to miniaturize humans, adventurous souls choose going small as an […]

The State of Volleyball

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Huskers’ Winning Tradition

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Downsizing Home Cameos

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When Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne prepares a film, he not only auditions actors but locations, too. The writer-director insists on actual locations whenever possible. When he films in his hometown of Omaha, he’s extra keen […]

A Fluid Life

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Francophile

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Half a century ago, while attending Mercy High School, Anne Marie Kenny cultivated a Francophile passion. At 21, she followed it to realize a dream of being a cabaret artist in France. She went from […]

An Omaha Hockey Legend in the Making

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Former UNO hockey star Jake Guentzel left school in 2016, after junior year, to pursue his dream of playing professionally. No one expected what happened next. The boyish newcomer with the impish smile went from […]

100 Years Strong

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Baseball and Soul Food

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Mural Man

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In Their Own Words

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The Tail-Gunner’s Grandson

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Crazy Gringa Hot Sauce

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Kevin Simonson

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Kevin Simonson of Omaha realizes he occupies an unlikely position as a leading chronicler of that dark jester of American letters, the late Hunter S. Thompson. Thompson, a New Journalism exponent, gained a Grateful Dead-like […]

Austin Ortega

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How did a smallish soccer-playing Hispanic kid from sun-drenched Escondido, California, end up an ice hockey star in Nebraska? Although his profile does not fit the stereotypical hockey player, UNO Mavericks forward Austin Ortega has […]

Omaha Small Business Network

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Marlin Briscoe

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Gabrielle Union

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Actress Gabrielle Union projects her natural intelligence and feistiness in whatever role she undertakes. The Omaha native is never at a loss for words or opinions. She decries Hollywood’s male-dominated, white-centric ways and lack of […]

Location Scout and Producer Jamie Vesay

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When it comes to shooting video, Jamie Vesay of Omaha is a handler, facilitator, fixer, procurer, and—as his LinkedIn site puts it—“minutia wrangler” and “chaos killer.” He works on television commercials, music videos, and feature […]

Artist Erin Blayney

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Coding & Community

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Shonna Dorsey has merged an aptitude for technology with a desire to help others via Interface Web School, Omaha’s latest cyber-ed iteration. It’s not the first time she’s combined her entrepreneurial, networking, and community interests. […]

Talking It Out

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When Catholic Charities of Omaha looked for somebody to take over its open race and identity forum, Omaha Table Talk, it found the right host in Inclusive Communities. Formerly a chapter of the National Conference […]

The Nelson Mandela Way

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  North Omaha may be reversing five decades of capital resources leaving the community with little else but social services coming in. Emerging    business, housing, and community projects are spearheading a revitalization, and a new school[…]

Time Out

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The official name of this long-lived north Omaha business is Time Out Foods. “But Time Out Chicken is what everybody tags us as,” says owner Steve Mercer. He’s even bought that Google domain. With a […]

His Little Corner of the Sky

December 9, 2015 · Posted In: LifestyleOmaha MagazinePeoplePublications
Omaha Police Department gang intervention specialist Alberto “Beto” Gonzales grew up in a South Omaha “monster barrio” as an outsider fresh from the Texas-Mexican border. Working out of the South Omaha Precinct and South Omaha […]

Year of the Startup

November 17, 2015 · Posted In: B2B Magazine,BusinessEntrepreneursPublications
The emerging startup accelerator scene supports creative-minded risk-takers looking for an edge to follow their passion and bring their ideas to fruition. Sebastian Hunt, 25, is passionate about giving entrepreneurs like himself a nurturing space […]

Touched by Tokyo

August 26, 2016 · Posted In: LifestyleOmaha MagazinePeoplePublications
If you don’t consider Omaha a beauty-style launching pad, think again. Homegrown talents Jaime King and Gabrielle Union tear it up on screen, in photo spreads, and for the red carpet. Designer Kate Walz has […]

The Silo Crusher

The story of athletics at the University of Nebraska at Omaha has fluctuated from wild success to heartbreak (and back). All-Americans, post-season runs, and national title traditions collided with mismanagement and sparse spectator attendance. Then […]

Stephanie Kurtzuba

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Stage and screen actress Stephanie Kurtzuba has graced Hollywood red carpets and Broadway billboards, but she is most comfortable at her family’s West Lanes Bowling Center in her hometown of Omaha. The Central High School […]

Tim Christian

September 9, 2015 · Posted In: ArtLifestyleOmaha MagazinePublications
This article appears in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of Omaha Magazine. Nebraska lacks an infrastructure to support a film industry. Omaha Creighton Prep graduate Timothy Christian is trying to change that. After years away pursuing […]

Jocelyn and Deven Muhammad

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This article appears in July/August 2015 Omaha Magazine. Since coming out a few years ago, Jocelyn and Deven Muhammad have been known as “the gay siblings.” But as a LGBT Nebraskans profile put it: “That’s […]

When Hair, Makeup, and Style Become Art

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This article originally published in May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine. In 2007, hair stylist and makeup artist Omar Rodriguez left his native Puerto Rico for love. He moved to Omaha to be with his then-partner, […]

Making the Cut

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This article appears in May/June 2015 edition of Omaha Magazine. Film and video production is still a rather male-centric domain, but the realm of editing is much more gender-balanced. Omaha native Taylor Tracy, a music […]

Marc Longbrake

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Techie Marc Longbrake was in college when he lost it at the movies. Intrigued with doing something in cinema, he managed computer-aided drafting designers for his 9-to-5 but crewed on local independent film projects for […]

A Joyful Noise

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Originally published in March/April 2015 edition of 60-Plus. Electric. Eclectic. Inspired. All of those descriptors apply to Sacred Heart Catholic Church’s Freedom Choir. Home for this contemporary gospel choir is a Late Gothic Revival-style house […]

Chef Jason Hughes

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Since assuming the executive chef position at Happy Hollow Country Club in 2013 Jason Hughes has emerged as one of the city’s new culinary stars, introducing a strong farm-to-table regimen there. Not only has his […]

From the Heart

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Upon moving to Omaha in 2010, little suggested Tunette Powell would take the city by storm. She was weighted down by a heavy past and an uncertain future in a new city. But then this […]

Matinee Marriage

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The metro’s small but robust cinema community includes Film Streams and the Omaha Film Festival (see related story on page 42) along with several working industry professionals, among them Oscar-winning cinematographer Mauro Fiore (Avatar). He’s […]

Anne Thorne Weaver

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Sparring For Omaha

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Terence “Bud” Crawford grew up a multi-sport athlete in North Omaha, but street fighting most brought out his hyper-competitiveness, supreme confidence, fierce determination, and controlled fury. He long ago spoke of being a world champion. […]

Faith, Friends, and Facebook

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Having it all

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Bruce Crawford

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Tanya Cook

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Big Mama, Bigger Heart

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Mary Carrick

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Omaha Code School

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Rabbi Azriel

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Rabbi Aryeh Azriel has led Omaha’s reform Jewish congregation, Temple Israel Synagogue, since 1988. Along the way he’s become known for his social justice advocacy and for his efforts building bridges to other faith communities. […]

Ariel Roblin

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Drive-By Delight

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Alexander Payne’s new Oscar-nominated film Nebraska is stirring the pot in his home state the way his last film made here, About Schmidt, did in 2002. That earlier project’s superstar lead, Jack Nicholson, naturally dominated […]

Patique Collins Finds the Right Fit

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To Tanzania with Love

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Life-changing work by Alegent Creighton Health in Tanzania is the focus of a forthcoming documentary from a one-time Omaha television news personality. When former KMTV anchor-reporter Mary Williams and videographer Pete Soby travel to the […]

The Making of Nebraska

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When you watch Alexander Payne’s acclaimed new film Nebraska, keep in mind that each and every acting part was cast in a collaboration between the two-time Oscar-winning filmmaker and his casting director, John Jackson. Under […]

Potash Twins

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Omaha once reigned as a major live music hub where scores of legendary artists came to perform. Many resident musicians who got their chops here used Omaha as a springboard to forge fat careers on […]

Jim Flowers

August 27, 2013 · Posted In: EntertainmentLifestyleOmaha MagazinePeople
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MindMixer

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Lessons in Transforming Lives

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Iraq War Vet Jacob Hausman Battles PTSD and Finds Peace

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David Brown’s Omaha

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David Brown did his fair share of moving around before settling in Omaha in 2003 to become president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce. Before assuming that post, the Detroit native worked in his […]

Sam Mercer

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Gesu and Brother Mike

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Great Plains Theatre Conference

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Mid-Century Modern

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In post-World War II America, a contemporary design style borne of the modernist movement and emphasizing a balance of form and function came to the attention of visionary Omaha developers and architects. The resulting homes […]

Roger duRand

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The Troy Davis Story

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Ervin & Smith

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The Budge Porter Story Comes Home

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Steve Gordon

August 20, 2012 · Posted In: DowntownEncounterEntrepreneursPeopleStyle
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In Memoriam: George Eisenberg

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The late George Eisenberg, 88, appreciated the historic Old Market the way few people do because of his many relationships to it. His experience encompassed the Market’s life as a wholesale produce center and eventual […]

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/25/omahaspitchman-entrepreneur…

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/27/a-hospice-house-story-how-phil..

 

Buck O’Neil and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City offer living history lesson about national pastime from black perspective

April 10, 2018 Leave a comment

Buck O’Neil and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City offer living
history lesson about national pastime from black Perspective
©by Leo Adam Biga

Monuments of both the human and brick-and-mortar kind abound at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum (NLBM) in Kansas City, Mo., where the story of a vital but long neglected chapter in the national pastime’s history is told. The NLBM preserves a rich heritage alongside the American Jazz Museum it shares space with in a sleek modern facility of bold colors and designs. It’s only right the NLBM calls Kansas City home, as that city gave birth to the Negro leagues and for decades hosted one of the great black ball clubs — the Kansas City Monarchs.

KC is also the adopted home of Buck O’Neil, widely considered the elder statesman of the Negro leagues. An all-star player and manager with the Monarchs of the Negro National League, the 94-year-old O’Neil co-founded the museum, which opened in a much smaller facility in 1991. The present structure opened in 1997. The NLBM is located smack dab in the middle of the historic cultural hub of KC’s black community, the 18th and Vine District, a gentrified neighborhood of brick, circa-1900s buildings, that in its day featured a 24/7 promenade of people taking in the area’s many clubs, eateries and stores.

A short jaunt off the Paseo exit finds you on John Buck O’Neil Way, which traverses a mixed commercial-residential area of brownstone walk ups — the Jazz Hill Homes — and places of worship — St. Stephen Baptist Church, Paseo Baptist, Bethel AME Church — whose names signify black culture. You arrive at 18th and Vine, to find an Old Market-style environs surrounded by the Blue Room, the Historic Lincoln Building, the Gem Theatre and the Swing Shop. Like a shrine stands the combined baseball-jazz museum and its homage to the game and the music that served to unite and thrill the black community.

The last Negro leagues team folded more than 40 years ago. The color barrier that precipitated the formation of the Negro leagues fell just after World War II ended. Yet African American pioneers in baseball are very much on people’s minds these days due to the July 30 National Baseball Hall of Fame induction of 17 Negro leagues and pre-Negro leagues figures. It’s the largest group from early black baseball to be elected to the Hall at one time.

A name conspicuous by its absence from this new crop of inductees is Buck O’Neil’s. In addition to his feats as a player-manager, he’s devoted himself to ensure the history of the Negro leagues not be lost. He’s perhaps best known for his narration in Ken Burns’ acclaimed Baseball documentary. His vivid descriptions of Negro leagues lore and the rousing place players-teams enjoyed in black communities, put a face on this story as never before. Long before the film, however, he lobbied for recognition of the Negro leagues as a singular slice of history and led the drive for its stars to be inducted in Cooperstown.

“I always thought the story should have been told and I’ve been telling it for the last 50 years,” O’Neil said. “But nobody listened to me until the Ken Burns documentary. Now everybody wants to talk to Buck about it.”

NLBM Marketing Director Bob Kendrick said O’Neil knows well his place in baseball history. “He’s a very proud man. He understands the fact he’s a trailblazer. He understands what this story represents to the core and he’s doing everything in his power to make sure others will have an opportunity to know about those who made great sacrifices and were trailblazers like himself. Education has been at the forefront of his life, and we’re talking about someone who’s the grandson of a slave, who was denied the opportunity to attend public high school in Sarasota, Fla., even though his parents were tax payers, who rose above that to become this elder statesman and icon for everything that is good in this country. He has been everything to this museum. If you had to point to a single individual for the building of this institution and keeping alive the legacy of the Negro leagues, it would be Buck O’Neil.”

“And that’s why we felt so disheartened by the fact the doors to the Hall of Fame were shut on him,” Kendrick said. “It’s difficult to assess his 70-plus-year baseball career and say he wasn’t worthy of inclusion as a contributor. You know, it leaves you to wonder what their criteria were, but certainly all of us understand the remarkable contributions this man has made to the game of baseball, across the board. Fans across the country were not just disappointed but outraged because he is the face of the Negro leagues now. Just as Satchel (Paige) was during his heyday, Buck has become the face of the Negro leagues. He is the reason people care about the Negro leagues. There’s no question about it.”

Ever the diplomat, O’Neil downplays the Hall’s snub. “I had an idea I had a chance” to be elected, “but having been on the Veterans Hall of Fame Committee for 20 years I knew what could happen.” He prefers to take the high road. “We’re fixing to put 17 more in there at the end of July. Isn’t that wonderful?” Kendrick doesn’t rule out O’Neil might one day still get in, but he only hopes it’s not too late. “We hope Buck will get this coronation at some point in time, but the thing is we hope that it comes in his lifetime.”

Hall or no Hall his name’s soon to grace the planned Buck O’Neil Education and Research Center that will mark the NLBM’s largest expansion project in a decade. The center will be housed in the nearby Paseo YMCA, a National Historic Landmark regarded as the birthplace of the Negro leagues. A $15 million rehab will provide state-of-the-art facilities for the museum’s oral history and archival work.

The museum O’Neil’s dedicated the past 16 years of his life to charts, in words and images, the rise and fall of the Negro leagues. A “Field of Legends,” complete with life-sized bronze statues of Negro league greats arrayed on a mock diamond, puts you right there in the action. If there’s a recurring theme, it’s that these teams and players made it possible for future generations of blacks to enter major league baseball (MLB).  Without the Negro leagues, equal rights for blacks in baseball and other aspects of society might well have waited another generation.

“As Buck so eloquently puts it,” Kendrick said, “it’s nice sometimes we celebrate those who built the bridge as opposed to those who crossed over the bridge. That’s what we’re doing here — we’re celebrating the bridge builders.”

Kendrick said major league players who visit the museum come away awe-struck.

What most captivates people are the stories, told in interactive exhibits, that make this living history come alive. That’s especially true if you’re lucky enough to be there when O’Neil happens by to regale anyone within ear shot with tales of those halcyon times. The much-beloved O’Neil is a familiar figure there. An ebullient man, whose bright attire reflects his sunny disposition, he chats up visitors and staff, charming everyone he greets.

For a recent Legends Luncheon held at the Madrid Theatre in KC, a program that raises funds for the NLBM, O’Neil made the rounds at each table to welcome attendees — “Good to see you guys” —  to sign autographs and to pose for pics. During an auction of baseball memorabilia, he worked the crowd, imploring and cajoling them to up their bids. “We’re going to start this off at $40. Forty, who’s going to say 40 for Buck? Fifty? Who’s going to give me 55? C’mon, bro. Thank you, brother. Who’s going to give me $60? What do you say, sugar? There you go, love. Going once, going twice…I’ve got to let her have it,” and with that he saunters to the woman, embraces her and plants a kiss on her cheek.

“The man has never met a stranger in his life,” said Kendrick, who often travels with O’Neil to spread the gospel of the museum’s mission. “I’ll tell you what, he’s the most charismatic individual I’ve ever encountered. The energy he exerts at 94, it’s just amazing to me how he does it. Just his sheer love of humanity, his love of life. When you meet Buck O’Neil, you’ve just got to be on his team.”

O’Neil loved being a Negro leaguer. The way of life it afforded him. The people it allowed him to meet. The game he loved it enabled him to play.

“The only experience I would have traded it for would have been to have done it in  the major leagues,” said O’Neil, the prime of whose playing career came before the color barrier fell. “Yeah, that’s the only thing.”

Until the color barrier was broken in 1947, the Negro leagues offered black ballplayers, coaches and managers the next best thing. It was their major leagues.
The warm embrace blacks once extended to the game is in sharp contrast to their low participation in it today. Where blacks used to identify with baseball, it’s now largely seen as a white or Latino or even Asian sport. But not so long ago black-is-beautiful and baseball went hand in hand. The Negro leagues constituted a cultural institution that fostered black pride and generated black commerce.

“The painful images of blacks are pretty much out there — the images of slavery, the struggle of the civil rights movement — but very rarely are our success stories celebrated, and this is a success story” Kendrick said. “Blacks succeeded at the highest level you can succeed playing this game and went on to spark social change in this country. I think it’s an inspirational illustration of what blacks were able to accomplish in the face of tremendous adversity.

“It was an economic stimulus for black businesses. It created a sense of pride in the African American community because while this was shared by others, it still was intrinsically ours. It had been born, anchored and become successful” in the black community, He said. “Negro leagues baseball brought tremendous joy to African Americans during a time that was very difficult for blacks in this country.”

“I always share with our visitors that the story of the Negro leagues embodies the American spirit unlike any other,” Kendrick said, “because in it is everything we pride ourselves in being Americans. It’s a story of courage. It’s a story of men who flat out refused to accept the notion they were unfit to play America’s co-called national pastime. They created leagues of their own that actually rose to rival, and in many cities across this country, surpass the major leagues in popularity and attendance. They were determined, they persevered, they did whatever they had to do to prove to the world they could play this game as well as anyone. That is the prevailing American spirit.”

During an era when a “gentlemen’s agreement” among major league owners and commissioners kept blacks off the field, African Americans created their own baseball universe. In 1920, Andrew “Rube” Foster — “the father of black baseball” — held a meeting with other black team owners at KC’s Paseo YMCA and the result was the Negro National League, the first organized black pro league. Other leagues followed. The hope was the big leagues would eventually take-in one team from each main Negro league. It never happened.

Instead, it took another 27 years before the majors let in blacks. In the meantime, the Negro leagues continued to prosper. The first Colored World Series was held in 1924. New leagues followed. The boom was from 1933 to 1947, with teams in KC, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Birmingham, Memphis, Baltimore, New York, et cetera.

The Negro leagues featured comparable talent as the majors and, as the museum highlights, offered innovations, such as night baseball, years ahead of the bigs. A period poster on display called the attraction “the greatest drawing card outside the major leagues.” Also documented, in box scores and anecdotes, is the fact Negro league teams fared well against major league teams in exhibitions. One only imagines how the record books would be rewritten had greats “Cool Papa” Bell, Judy Johnson, Buck Leonard or Josh Gibson played in the majors. Or if pitcher Satchel Paige made it there in his prime rather than at the tail end of his career.

The museum provides a glimpse into what’s called a “parallel” baseball experience, but one relegated to the back pages of white newspapers and to the shadows of mainstream history. Yet this other world of professional baseball enjoyed every bit the cache and support among black fans the major leagues did among white fans.

Black baseball also attracted white fans, particularly when Negro league teams like the Monarchs barnstormed to play exhibitions versus local town teams or major league clubs. Fans flocked to see the Monarchs at Western League Park and Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha and American Legion Baseball Park in Council Bluffs.

The high times of being part of this unique experience is what O’Neil recalls.

“All you needed was a bus and I’ll tell you what, we traveled in some of the best money could buy during that period. And actually we stayed in some of the best hotels in the country — they just happened to be black owned and operated. We ate in some of the best restaurants in the country. Of course, during that time, the best cooks in the world were black,” said O’Neil his sing-song patios swelled with the solemnity of a preacher and the jive of a hipster. “In that bus you’d have 20 of the best athletes that ever lived. To be able to play, to participate, to compete with these type of athletes, oh, it was outstanding. As a young man from Florida, yeah, up north here in Kansas City playing baseball, outstanding really.”

Black athletes and musicians were THE celebrities in black communities and they socialized together. In KC, they stayed at the Streets Hotel, right down from where the museum stands today.

“At the Streets Hotel I might come down for breakfast and Duke Ellington and them might be there and say, ‘Come over and have breakfast with us this morning.” Or Sarah Vaughn. You’re talking about jazz and baseball. That was here, that was Kansas City,” said O’Neil, whose plaintive voice rises and falls like a soft riff.

When the Monarchs were in town, it was news. “Yeah, we were very well respected,” he said. “I’ll tell you how much — I courted a preacher’s daughter.”

Churches heeded their presence. “Sunday, 11 o’clock service, but when the Monarchs were in town, service started at 10 o’clock so that they (churchgoers) could get to the ball park. And then they would come looking good — dressed to kill. It was actually not only a ball game, it was a social event. The Monarchs, this was the thing. You saw everybody that was somebody there at the ball park. People would hobnob with their friends. Yeah, mmmm…hmmm.” Or as Henry “Pistol” Mason, a Monarchs pitcher O’Neil signed and managed, said, “We had a different brand of baseball. People wanted to see our brand of baseball, with its action and enthusiasm, running and bunting. It was more festive when we played. Going to the ballpark was just like going to a picnic. We had something to prove too — that we were good enough to play in the major leagues.”

Amen, said O’Neil, who feels this extra motivation explains why Negro leagues teams often beat major league teams in exhibitions. “We wanted to prove to the world they weren’t superior because they were major leaguers and we weren’t inferiors because we were Negro leaguers,” he said. Besides, he said, major leaguers “couldn’t afford to twist an ankle or break a finger in an exhibition ball game.”

Home or away, O’Neil said he and his fellow Negro leaguers felt the passion of fans.

“Oh, man, listen, the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. at his Abyssinian Baptist Church
in Harlem, New York, preached a baseball sermon for the New York Cubans, the New York Black Yankees, the Kansas City Monarchs and the Memphis Red Sox before a four-team doubleheader at Yankee Stadium,” he said. “He preached that sermon, and man, the church was full. They followed us to the ball park. We had 40,000 at Yankee Stadium. We played over at Branch Rickey’s place” — Ebbets Field, home to general manager Rickey’s Brooklyn Dodgers — “and we had 20,000 there.”

It was Rickey who signed Jackie Robinson away from the Monarchs in 1945 and brought him to the majors in 1947. Robinson was one of five blacks called up to the majors that year. O’Neil said Rickey’s enlightened move to buck the system made sound business sense. “Branch Rickey, the astute businessman that he was, saw this as a brand new clientele” to be mined, O’Neil said.

O’Neil emphasizes the men who broke baseball’s color barrier helped to spark a social revolution. “When Branch Rickey signed Jackie (Robinson) to that contract that was the beginning of the civil rights movement,” he said. “That was before Brown versus Board of Education. That was before sister Rosa Parks said, ‘I won’t go to the back of the bus today.’ Martin Luther King, Jr. was just a sophomore at Morehouse (College). Jackie started the ball rolling right there in baseball.”

In O’Neil’s opinion, “What kept us out of the major leagues was in fact not the fans, but the owners. See, the baseball fans, all they ever asked — Could you play?”

Robinson’s success and the success of players like Larry Doby proved, once and for all, blacks belonged on the same field, paving the way for others to follow. With integration underway, MLB increasingly tapped the Negro leagues’ deep talent pool. Sadly, many greats were deemed too old to invest in and thus never played in the bigs. Even Negro leagues teams began to prefer young prospects, whose contracts they could sell, over old veterans. Devoid of their stars, Negro leagues teams folded and then entire leagues disbanded. The last survived into the early 1960s. By then, blacks were regarded as essential cogs to any successful MLB franchise with the exception of a few hold outs (most notably the Boston Red Sox),

The impact black players had on the majors is undeniable. From the inception of the Rookie of the Year Award in 1949, seven of the first 10 winners were black. From 1949 to 1959, nine of 11 National League MVPs were former Negro leaguers. Future legends and Hall of Famers Robinson, Doby, Monte Irvin, Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, among others, all came out of the Negro leagues. Besides their talent, they brought a livelier style of play — the hit-and-run, stretching a single into a double or a double into a triple, stealing home.

As a teen, Omaha’s own baseball icon, Bob Gibson, turned down a Monarchs offer to sign with the St. Louis Cardinals. By then, blacks were established in the majors while the Negro leagues were on their way out.

In a 33-year Chicago Cubs scouting career, O’Neil brought great black talent to the bigs, signing, among others, future Hall of Famers Ernie Banks and Lou Brock. He became MLB’s first black coach with the Cubs. He later scouted for the Royals.

He doesn’t think much about his own place in history. He’s too busy “running all over the country raising money” for the museum. “But, you see, I’m 94 and I ain’t going to live but 20 more years,” he said, smiling. “After I’m gone I want this to be here forever. That’s why we need an endowment.” To garner that support he meets with everyone from MLB superstars to commissioner Bud Selig to billionaires Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to Hollywood celebs to ordinary fans.

What makes him a great ambassador for the Negro leagues and for the game itself is his ability to engage folks from every walk of life. He said he’d like to be remembered as “a spokesman for the Negro leagues — to keep this memory alive.”
To close the Legends Luncheon he did what he usually does at his public appearances — he invited people to join hands and sing along with him a melody from an old song that best expresses the way he feels about baseball and its fans.

“The greatest thing, in all my life, is loving you. Thank you, folks.” Thank you, Buck.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. For details about the museum, its permanent and traveling exhibits and its many educational programs, check out the web site www.nlbm.com or call toll-free at (888) 221-NLBM.

Categories: Uncategorized

Rosales’ worldwide spiritual journey intersects with Nebraska


Rosales’ worldwide spiritual journey intersects with Nebraska

©by Leo Adam Biga, Origially appeared in El Perico (el-perico.com)

Victoria Rosales is a seeker.  At 27, the Houston, Texas native is well-traveled in search of self-improvement and greater meaning. She’s dedicating her life to sharing what she knows about healthy living practices. Her journey’s already taken her to Ireland, England, Kosovo, Vietnam, Alaska, Mexico and Costa Rica.

From her Salt Lake City home, she handles communications for Omaha-based Gravity Center for Contemplative Activism. Its husband-wife team, Chris and Phileena Heuretz, lead workshops and retreats and author books. Rosales met them at the 2012 Urbana student missions conference in St. Louis. She took their contemplative activism workshop and participated in retreats at the Benedictine Center in Schuyler, Nebraska. The experiences enhanced her spiritual quest.

“I remember writing in my journal, ‘I love their message and mission and I would really love to do the work these people do.’ And now – here I am,” Rosales said.

Meditation came into her life at a crucial juncture.

“I was in a season where the idea of resting in the presence of God was all that I longed for.”

A few years earlier she’d left her east Texas family to chart a new path.

“I am a first-generation high school and college graduate. I’m carving my own path, but for the better – by doing things a little bit differently. In that way, I definitely see myself as a trailblazer for family to come.”

She grew up an Evangelical Christian and attended a small private Christian college in Michigan, where she studied literature, rhetoric and storytelling.

“The idea of telling a story and telling it well and of being careful in the articulation of the story really began to come alive for me. I began to pursue avenues of self-expression in terms of word choice and dialect.”

As a child enamored with words, the tales told by her charismatic grandmother made an impression.

“I was heavily influenced by my grandmother. She captivated an audience with her storytelling. I was raised on stories of her childhood coming out of Mexico. It was very much instilled in me. I see it as a huge gift in my life.”

But Rosales didn’t always see it that way.

“Growing up, it was like, ‘Here goes grandma again in Spanish. Okay, grandma, we’re in America’ – shutting her down. When she passed away, reconciling those prejudices became a huge part of my journey. I moved to Mexico for that very purpose and spent time living with my distant relatives, mostly in Monterey, to truly embrace what it means to be this beautiful, powerful, sensual Latina and honor that part of who I am.

“Part of creating a safe place for others to show up as who they are is feeling safe in my own skin and appreciating the richness of my Hispanic heritage.”

Self-awareness led her to find a niche for her passion.

“It started with me being really honest about telling my story with all of the hurts and traumas. I could then invite in light and life, healing and redemption.”

Her work today involves assisting folks “sift through the overarching stories of their life and to reframe those narratives in ways more conducive to personal well-being.” She added, “It’s moving from victim mentalities into stances of empowerment through how different life experiences are articulated. I developed my own practice to help people journey through that.”

She calls her practice Holistic Narrative Therapy. It marries well with meditation and yoga. She’s learned the value of “silence, solitude and stillness” through meditation and centering prayer.

“In silence you take time to sit and listen to find the still small voice within, the rhyme and reason in all the chaos and loud noise. In stillness you learn to sit through discomfort. In solitude you learn to remove yourself from the influences of culture, society, family and expectation and to be comfortable with who you show up as when no one else is watching. Those are the roots and fruits of the contemplative life.”

Doing yoga, she believes, “is the embodied expression of dance with the divine.” After attending a yoga resort-health spa in Costa Rica, the owners hired her to conduct Holistic Narrative Therapy sessions. She said everything about the setting invited restoration – “the lush jungles, the pristine beaches, the blue waters, the food that grows there, the music, the vibe.”

After that idyll. she roughed it by working as a wilderness therapy guide in Utah with youth struggling with anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation.

“Being one with the elements provides a lot of space for growth. I was just naturally attracted to that. That was a great experience.”

En route to starting that job she was driving through Zion National Park when she took her eyes off the road and her SUV tumbled down a cliff. She escaped unharmed but chastened. This heady, strong, independent woman needed bringing down a notch.

“I was falling into a trap of playing God in my own life. You don’t want to take rolling over a cliff to learn a lesson, but I guess I needed to be knocked off my center to re-land on something fortified and true.”

She now works for a Salt Lake youth therapy program.

“My dream is to open a community center for people to come and experience restoration and what it means to be fully alive, fully human.”

She rarely makes it back to Neb., but she did come for Gravity’s March Deepening Retreat in Schuyler.

“I am a firm believer we can only extend the love to the world we have for ourselves. That’s truly what these retreats are for me – to fill my own tank so that I can go out and serve the world to the best of my abilities.”

Visit http://www.facebook.com/public/Victoria-Rosales.

 

Filmmaker Alexander Payne and his father George remember the family’s Virginia Cafe


Filmmaker Alexander Payne and his father George remember the family’s Virginia Cafe

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

It’s nearly 40 years since filmmaker Alexander Payne‘s family owned and operated the Virginia Cafe, a restaurant that for generations held a niche in the city’s downtown dining market. Recently, the filmmaker’s father, George Payne, shared some history and memories of the place and the family with The Reader.

George’s immigrant father, Nicholas (Papadopoulos) Payne, was founder and proprietor of the Virginia.  Nick, as the patriarch was called, came to America in 1910, learning the confectionery trade from an uncle, John Birbilis, who helped Nick and brother Peter open the Palace of Sweets in Council Bluffs. In 1920 Nick, with cousin Fred Schizas and two other partners, bought the Calumet, a large, busy, around-the-clock food joint at 1413 Douglas Street that dated back to 1893. They remodeled it, renamed it the Virginia and kept it one of Omaha’s few 24-7 operations, George said. The other partners eventually dropped out.

According to George the Virginia served strictly American fare — steaks, chops, sandwiches, salads, a full breakfast line, daily lunch and dinner specials and traditional holiday favorites. The cafe housed its own bakery, had its own butcher and stocked a freezer with eight kinds of ice cream.

At its peak, he said, the popular cafe kept a payroll of 85 employees on three different shifts and served up to 3,000 diners a day.

George joined his father in the family business in the early ’50s. An Omaha Central High, Dartmouth and Northwestern University grad, George is a World War II vet who worked on the war production board in Washington D.C., where he met his wife, Peggy. He and Peggy settled in Omaha, where the youngest of their three sons, Alexander, fell in love with movies.

The future filmmaker was only 9 when a fire destroyed the Virginia but he has fond memories of the cafe.

“People loved that place,” Alexander Payne said by phone. “There was no key to the front door. They didn’t need one — they never closed. I used to like to go back to the kitchen and watch the chefs work. I remember all the wait staff and cashiers were so nice to me because, of course, I was the owner’s son. Our family ritual was dinner there every Thursday night.”

The Paynes ordered right off the menu.

While no Greek food was on the menu, the restaurant embodied Nick Payne’s classic immigrant made-good success story. Like many newcomers he went out of his way to be a super patriot. He sold millions of dollars worth of government Liberty Bonds during the Second World War, said George Payne, who added his father landed “quite a coup” when he inked a contract to feed all area military enlistees. From WWII through Vietnam, the Virginia served “last meals” to wide-eyed recruits en route to basic training.

“Those are the kinds of things that are a little unique from the Virginia,” the dapper George Payne said. There’s more. The cafe played a part in a tense chapter of Omaha history when a 1935 streetcar strike erupted in violence. George was 20 then and working part-time in the restaurant. Martial law was declared and more than 1,000 National Guard troops sent in to restore order. “That was serious stuff,” George recalled. The Virginia, located right on the streetcar line, was near the conflict between strikers and strikebreakers. The soldiers’ presence quelled the rioting. The cafe was commandeered into serving three meals a day to the troops.

“They came in and took over our business,” said George, who remembers the first guardsmen tromping in with their boots and packs and hanging their rifles on coat hooks attached to the fine mahogany wainscoting, which sent his father into a fit. From that point on the soldiers stacked their weapons safely out of harm’s way.

The Virginia was justly proud of its decor. Its glorious neon signage, plate glass windows, decorative tile-fronted exterior and rich mahogany interior with white table cloth covered tables and booths were straight out of an Edward Hopper painting. Distinctive murals of the American landscape and fine renderings of all 50 state seals adorned the lounge and dining room and the massive cross-section of a redwood tree was mounted in the party room.

“There wasn’t a restaurant in town that had that kind of atmosphere at all,” George said. “It was very well done. My dad had vision.”

This eclectic design reflected the diverse customers the Virginia catered to  — professionals, office workers, politicos, housewives, clerks, stock boys, cabbies, crack-of-dawn delivery men, night owls and bar crawlers.

Up front, right at the door greeting customers, was Nick, trademark cigar in hand, dressed impeccably in a suit and tie and kibitzing with the line of people that formed at lunchtime. If anyone tired of the wait and started to leave George said Nick would coax them to stay with, “‘Don’t go. You know you’ll be back in five minutes. Where you going to go?’ He had a way with people.”

The cafe enjoyed a brisk trade before it went up in flames in 1969. Neither Nick nor George were there when the fire broke out on a Sunday night. They were awakened with the news and came down to see a burned out shell. After two full days of being hosed down, George said, the building collapsed in on itself. It was a total loss. George salvaged a few mementos and artifacts. There was talk of reopening at another spot but the family opted to walk away. The site of the Virginia was sold to the city, which built the W. Dale Clark Library near there.

“I really didn’t quite know what I was going to do…” George said. He wound up with the Sheraton Hotels group and then the U.S. Department of Commerce’s International Trade Administration — posts that took him around the world.

Nick Payne left a rich legacy that George has carried on. The elder Payne helped found the Omaha Restaurant Association, which his son presided over as president, as he did the Nebraska Restaurant Association. In 1956 American Restaurant Association Magazine inducted Nick into its Hall of Fame. The father was heavily involved with St. John Greek Orthodox Church. Nick Payne died in 1989. George Payne, now 92, has continued, with Peggy, his father’s support of the church.

The family retains close ties to Greece and has made periodic trips to their ancestral homeland. Alexander Payne one day intends to shoot a film there.

Urban planner Marty Shukert takes long view of Omaha development

March 28, 2018 Leave a comment

Urban planner Marty Shukert takes long view of Omaha development

©By Leo Adam Biga
©For MorningSky Omaha
Read the entire story @

Marty Shukert has seen his own hometown grow from his expert urban planning
designer’s perspective. The 70-something former Omaha City Planning director,
now a principal at RDG Planning & Design, grew up in Benson. That
community, like much of Omaha, has metamorphosed in his lifetime.


Photo courtesy of Visit Omaha’s Facebook.


Marty Shukert has seen his own hometown grow from his expert urban planning designer’s

perspective.

The 70-something former Omaha City Planning director, now a principal at RDG Planning

& Design, grew up in Benson. That community, like much of Omaha, has metamorphosed

in his lifetime.

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Marty Shukert. Photo courtesy of RDG.

Shukert, an Omaha By Design consultant, is impressed by the local construction boom whose infill and renovation is revitalizing the urban core.

When he began his professional career in the early 1970s, Omaha was much smaller. The westernmost city reaches stopped at the Westroads. Boys Town was in the country. Downtown was dying, the Old Market was a fledgling experiment. By the 80s, neighborhood business districts were struggling.

In and out of city employ, he’s seen Omaha make horrendous mistakes (North Freeway) and cultivate unqualified successes (Old Market). He witnessed $2 billion in riverfront and downtown redevelopment. He saw an abandoned tract of prime land repurposed as Aksarben Village and the entire Midtown reactivated. After years of decline, he saw South Omaha remake its old industrial and business districts. After years of neglect, he’s seeing North Omaha revitalized.

His old stomping grounds, Benson, is one of several historic named neighborhoods enjoying a renaissance after going stagnant or suffering reversals.

After decades of suburban sprawl, Omaha’s recast its gaze inward. Shukert is taken aback by the multi-billion dollar resurgence transforming Old Omaha.

“I don’t think there’s any question about” the dynamic development space Omaha’s in,

he said.

Just the housing slice alone of this big pie is impressive.

“The number of in-city or central city housing settings being built is dramatic,” Shukert

said. “We’re building that density.”

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After years wondering why developers weren’t doing mixed-use commercial-residential

projects in the urban core, they’ve become plentiful, including the Greenhouse where

RDG offices, and the Tip-Top.

“The other thing that’s interesting to see is the flowering of neighborhood business districts.

When you look at something like Vinton Street or South Omaha or Benson or Dundee or

Old Town Elkhorn or Florence or the 13th Street Corridor or a number of other places,

they’ve really become interesting little innovation centers.

“There’s now the Maker neighborhood developing.”

He said a few district stakeholders kept them going when times got hard.

“Then they got an infusion of activity in the 1980s. Dundee kept going with a few blips.

Benson sort of took a dip. And then a funny thing happened in that a new generation of

people – younger Genxers and millenials – discovered these areas were kind of cool.

They’d traveled and seen other things and they saw the space was cheap and said, “Why

not?”

Designated Business Improvement Districts, TIF and historical credits opened funding

streams and tax breaks.

“So now you see this flowering of these areas. You see what Benson has become. Where

20 years ago it would be a desert on Saturday night, now you can’t find a parking place.

Jay Lund and Matt Dwyer in Blackstone District, with the impetus of the Nebraska Medical

Center’s investment and status, had the vision to not just talk about what could happen

there but actually went out and bought buildings and made it happen.

“Latinos and others have made South Omaha and Vinton Street a real center for business

enterprise.

“All these forces came together and found fertile ground in these neighborhood business

districts, and that’s a very exciting thing to see.”

The momentum extends well beyond the urban core. Old Elkhorn is enjoying a renaissance.

“There’s nothing wrong with West Omaha having its own version of the Old Market,” Shukert

said of this historic district filled with eateries and galleries.

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West Farm development rendering.

“We’ll see what happens with West Omaha’s own version of Aksarben Village,” he said,

referring to Noddle Companies’ mammoth West Farm development.

In North Omaha, the historic 24th Street business district is reemerging after years of

disruption and disinvestment. Florence is enjoying a comeback. North 30th Street is

seeing pockets of major development (the Metropolitan Community College Fort Omaha

campus and the Highlander project), but the Ames Avenue to Cuming Street Corridor is

still ripe for new investment.

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The Highlander.


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.

That’s a very interesting development corridor because of the nearness to Creighton

University, the Nebraska Medical Center and Metro Community College, another key

player

in that area, and to NuStyle’s redevelopment of the old Creighton Medical Center. So

that becomes a very important and vital development corridor.”

Shukert applauds recent gains made by North Omaha African-Americans in employment,

education and other areas of disparity that a decade ago made this populace among this

nation’s poorest. New data show great progress. These socio-economic strides coincide

with the area’s rebound and reflect the work of many change agents, including the

Empowerment Network, plus projects and programs to increase home ownership,

improve neighborhoods and reduce crime.

“Some of the stuff done over the decades has really begun to take root. It’s a slow process.

It all doesn’t happen at once. But for the first time we’re really seeing quantifiable progress

and reversals happening in North Omaha, and that’s all really good. You really do get the

sense the ship has turned and it’s taken the efforts of many people over a number of years

to get there.

“The momentum now is clearly there.”

Something that hindered North O progress, he said, was the North Freeway, a 1970s Urban

Renewal project he called “a monumental mistake.” It effectively severed a community and

its “damaging” impact lives on today.

“It shouldn’t have been built. Now that it’s a fact of life, we’ve got to figure out what to do with

it. One thing that is an expensive but creative solution is to cap part of it or put bridges or

parks or development over it. I really think that needs to happen.”

Moving from the macro to micro, he said, “One of my pet peeves is the environment under

interstates. These are just dismal environments. Barren concrete. Broken up sidewalks. Dim.

Unsafe looking. They’re not what a city of our aspirations should have. And this gets to

another of my pet peeves – the condition of some of these routine environments” –

distressed sidewalks, curbs, streets, stairs – “we pass every day and anesthetize ourselves to.”

Growing Omaha is experiencing more traffic congestion. This once 15-minute trip city is

25-minutes today. The federally-funded Bus Rapid Transit or BRT system slated to start

running in 2018 and a possible streetcar system may relieve jams and better connect people

to jobs, shopping, arts and entertainment.

“I think transportation is a really important issue. We honestly don’t have the density or even

the space to build a rail transit system here. Transit and transportation modes are really

fundamental to building the density we need. The BRT idea has gotten popular because its

a way of accomplishing some of those purposes affordably. The BRT is not cheap. It’s a

$30 million proposition. But compared to rail – estimated at $130 million – it’s really cheap.”

 


 

 

 

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Omaha’s Old Market

 

The Mercer family did preserve and activate an adjacent former produce district as the

Old Market.

“Had they not had the vision to start and sustain the Old Market, nothing would have

happened,” Shukert said. “We wouldn’t be here talking about how good downtown is

without them, Their work over the years has been just fundamental. The Old Market

really kept people coming here after hours, and if you don’t have that, you don’t have

a contemporary city center.

“Now it’s interesting to see that sort of momentum spreading out around the city in

these neighborhoods that have been up again and down again and now they’re very

much up again as urban settings.”

He wishes developers and planners would approach more downtown projects the

way the Mercers did.

“What’s always been terrific about the Old Market is it’s incrementalism – it was not

all done at once – and its scale. There’s not any space that’s over-scaled.”

In downtown, he said, “the big projects are nice but the scale sometimes is too big or

they’re done as super blocks or separated from their environment and don’t have

much in the way of spin-off effects, and the finer grain projects are what really add

life to the place.”

He described the Hilton and First National Tower structures as “introverted projects

that don’t have much surface area,” adding, “I’m not criticizing those projects

because they’re creatures of their time.”

“I think we’ve always had a problem in Omaha of building very good individual projects

and not building the fabric that links those together. We’ve not built a public environment

that gets people out of buildings. You can look at downtown Omaha at noon and go,

where are all the people? It’s a function of that introversion – of these big projects that

tend to keep their people captured inside.”

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The Capitol District.

Mike Moylan’s (Shamrock Development) mixed-use Capitol District is designed with connectivity in mind.

“It’ll be interesting to see how Capitol District develops because it aims to create a private-public space that isn’t just sort of ornamental but actually is activated by things around its edges.”

Shukert embraces public spaces that engage. “We don’t have that kind of a plaza or space in downtown.” He said if Capitol District is to fulfill that, “it will depend on how it’s programmed and subdivided and detailed. If these spaces surrounding it are filled with shops and they’re all leased and doing well and there are people out here at noon eating outside, it will work. And if not, it will feel pretty empty.”

“First National Bank has built some really nice outdoor public spaces that are private property and they’re very nice gifts to downtown,” he said, “but they’re not active spaces. They’ve tended to be more

ornamental because they’re not surrounded by things.”

Despite misfires, he believes Omaha’s “generally done open space well.” The

Gene Leahy Mall included. “I think the Mall is looking its age and is going to be

going through at least a second high-end, high-art designer look at it. But it was

a revelation when it opened. It was full of people. Heartland of America is a really

nice space with the connection to the riverfront and all those things within their

constraints.” He also likes the space at the foot of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

Two central city projects offer contrasting public spaces.

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Aksarben Village’s Stinson Park.

“Aksarben Village has been very successful and a contribution to that success is Stinson Park. That park works not because it’s monumental, even though it’s a good-sized space, but because it’s got trail connection, playground and kids-oriented stuff, space for concerts, smaller areas along the street where you don’t have to deal with the rest of it. Turner Park has the same kind of relationship to Midtown Crossing, but I don’t think it’s as successful. It’s a nice space, but it doesn’t have the same relationship to the things around it.”

The site of the recently razed Civic Auditorium offers a unique development opportunity downtown.

“Omaha, like most cities undergoing downtown renaissance, is building a lot of apartments and rental

settings for empty-nesters on both sides of the age spectrum. But it’s not

building a neighborhood. The important thing we ought to be doing, rather than

always the same model culture of five-story or greater apartment buildings, is

high density but still largely single-family urban neighborhoods. Let’s make this

a place where families will live.

“Another opportunity like that is where Enron Center isn’t. There’s one building

that Physicians Mutual has, but there’s still the rest of that site over there on the

west side of 24th Street (and Dodge) that’s never really developed.”

 

Master developer Jay Noddle and his Noddle Companies transform Omaha

March 28, 2018 Leave a comment

Master developer Jay Noddle and his Noddle Companies transform Omaha

©By Leo Adam Biga
©For MorningSky Omaha
Read the entire story @

Jay Noddle is a master developer and the president and CEO of Noddle Companies,

an Omaha-based transforming the city by uniting its leaders and bringing visions to fruition.

We sat down with Jay to  discuss his biggest projects on the horizon, and figure out how he’s

keeping pace.

Jay Noddle

Times change. Values don’t need to.

In 1971, the late Harlan Noddle founded Noddle Companies, an Omaha-based real estate

development company that would soon play a key role in in the city’s changing fabric.

Since its inception, Noddle Companies has assembled more than 150 office, retail and

mixed-use developments across 17 states. The firm also manages a portfolio of properties

totaling more than 8 million square feet, making Noddle one of the Midwest’s largest

developers of community shopping centers and office buildings.

Today, Harlan’s son Jay Noddle is driving the ship. After years in the industry, he became

president and CEO in 2003.

Leading the vision

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Jay Noddle, right, speaks to a crowd that’s gathered to witness the groundbreaking of HDR’s new headquarters office at Aksarben Village. On the left, outgoing HDR CEO George Little.

Much has changed over five decades, especially the use of digital technology in building design and project planning. The company has strategically grown into a master developer for ever larger scale projects posing complex live-work-environmental impacts.

“Our company has developed a particular expertise as a master developer – in being the group that sees an opportunity, identifies and rallies the stakeholders, builds a team both externally and internally, and guides a process of visioning and implementation,” Noddle said. “Subsequent to that, we lead the effort for zoning and entitlements, oversee the design and delivery of the infrastructure and take responsibility for making deals with developers to bring their specialty uses to a place.”

Master developer expertise was arrived at “not by accident,” he said “but out of necessity.”

“We wanted to grow and so we had to find ways to sell our services. In a lot of cases we had to figure out what the industry needs,” Noddle said.

What hasn’t changed is the firm’s basic drive beyond bottom line success to make a

positive difference where it works. That community focus, paired with business ethics,

is derived in large part from Noddle’s father.

“My values of honesty and integrity are certainly ones he helped shape. A sense of

community and a desire and commitment to put back into the community – I got a lot of that

from him. We try really hard to do the right thing for the communities we work in and

Omaha’s the most special of the communities because it’s home.”

A guiding framework is key.

“Our approach is shaped by a sense of direction. What does the community need from an

economic development perspective? Because that’s the business we’re in;We’re in the

economic development business, which is jobs and tax base and what I call

offerings-opportunities for business and entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes to grow.”

None of it happens without an intentional process.

“It requires being more inclusive, transparent, patient and tolerant in the equation. It requires

reaching out and having a group to help you shape and form a project and thinking about it

from a place-making perspective.

“Place-making is really pretty simple, if you let it be,” he continues. “That was another thing

my dad focused on:keeping it simple. You can do the most complicated project in the world,

but keep the process simple. Those might sound like mutually exclusive concepts, but they’re

really not.”

Regarding projects as community assets is central.

“The goal of creating a community asset is a simple pathway of following what a community

wants and needs, what it will use and what makes sense,” he said. “Then it becomes pretty

clear.”

Aksarben Village

Aksarben Village: The epitome of collaboration

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HDR’s new headquarters is currently under construction at Aksarben Village.

Among Noddle’s signature master developer projects is Aksarben Village, whose buildout will be complete once the coveted HDR world corporate headquarters tower is erected in 2019.

With $800 million worth of mixed-use investments on track to reach a billion, Aksarben Village is a model of cooperative interests.

“I would submit to you Aksarben Village is becoming known as one of the best examples of collaboration in the industry anywhere in the country.”

The site was once a popular destination with a thoroughbred horse racing track and civic-sports-arts coliseum. Once both venues were closed and razed, the prime piece of real estate begged for a new life.

“When we started dreaming about what it could be, one of our guiding principles was to create a community asset that would become as important and meaningful for the community for the next century as the previous uses were for the prior century,” Noddle explained. “We developed a group of stakeholders, brought them together, and they represented community, academia,

business,and it’s been pretty remarkable to see what has happened.”

UNO adopted The Village as its south campus, with ever expanding dorms, offices,

classrooms, and the adjacent Baxter Arena. Aksarben Cinema is a busy multiplex. Stinson

Park is a well-used recreation and event space. Food, health, technology, insurance, and

engineering-architectural businesses operate in the Village.

“It’s been very gratifying to be in the middle of it,” Noddle said from his company’s on-site

office.” There are 15,000 people active here on a daily basis, so the activity in this part of

the city has picked back up. It’s a total reactivation.”

Many players came together to give the the Village’s diverse tenant roster a chic, tidy,

unified look. In fact, fourteen different individual development projects have been built using

the same set of comprehensive design guidelines and principles, Noddle said.

“It’s the same methodology we’re using for our River’s Edge project in Council Bluffs. It’s the

city, the state, the county, Iowa West Foundation and several developers and we’re working

through it just fine. The same methodology will be used for West Farm.”

WF Render

West Farm: A $1.2B “once in a lifetime” project

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Once Noddle Companies proved its master developer stripes, others came calling. Today, Noddle Companies is taking the lead role as master developer for two new mixed-use projects, including the River’s Edge project in Council Bluffs, and the $1.2 billion West Farm project in Boys Town.

“When Council Bluffs and State of Iowa leadership saw what we were doing at Aksarben Village, they sought us out,” he said. “The West Farm project came about in a very similar way. In need of a

new campus, Applied Underwriters sought us out.”

He continues: “What’s been remarkable is that our first meeting was the first week in

February 2016; By July 2017, that land has been acquired, completely planned, zoned,

entitled. The infrastructure’s been designed. It’s out for bid. We’re grading the property.

There are businesses of all shapes and forms making commitments for investment there

of one style or another: the City of Omaha, the State of Nebraska, Douglas County, the

Village of Boys Town, the NRD. We got it done in record time with a lot of collaboration.”

The 500-acre West Farm will encompass a broad mix of residential, office-retail, green

spaces, trails and gathering spots. It’s the latest iteration of partnering to create a lasting

cityscape imprint.

Noddle describes West Farm as “a once in a lifetime opportunity in the life of a

development company”and “a once in a few generations opportunity for a community.”

“The land is great ground. It’s a fabulous location. The infrastructure’s essentially in place.

There’s great neighborhoods all the way around,” Noddle said. “It truly is the hole in the

neighborhood, but it’s big enough to build a whole community. We believe there’ll be about

a 15,000 to 18,000 resident population there when we get done.”

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West Farms rendering

It’s apt a company whose projects helped Omaha blossom will again grow the city’s horizons.

Creating and sustaining community assets remains paramount.

Teamwork makes the dream work

Collaboration and communication make it all work.

“You can look around the metro Omaha landscape and see a lot of larger projects that required

collaboration and coordination by a lot of players,” he said, noting a slew of projects including the

riverfront redevelopment, the Gallup campus, the National Park Service regional headquarters, the

First National Business Park, One Pacific Place, the FBI’s new regional headquarters, and Kiewit

University, to name a few.

With that track record, Noddle said, Applied Underwriters had faith Noddle Companies

would deliver.

“Applied’s leadership said, ‘Let’s develop this together,’ and they had the patience, the

means, and most importantly the vision and desire to do it. And so they are a client, a

partner, and what I call a sponsor, and it’s a great relationship.”

Other decision makers also bought into Noddle Companies proven track record.

“When we looked at the various organizations, entities, and boards that needed to

provide an approval, there was a high level of trust there.”

Having a longtime partner in First National Bank helps.

“We were a borrower and then the master developer of its business park,” Noddle said.

“We built their building and garage. That led to us assembling all the land and relocating all

the businesses for the First National Tower,parking structures and child development center.

“What’s neat about it is that we’re a vendor and a client. We have a few of those relationships,

but none quite as significant or as strong as First. You learn a lot about somebody when they

make a presentation in the boardroom and advise you to think through a project.”

Noddle said it’s no accident these deeply rooted relationships extend over decades.

“It’s common cultures, business philosophies, ethics, commitment to the community – all of

the above.”

“I think our (company) culture and philosophy is fundamentally the same. The types of

projects we work on and the conditions under which we work are so much different than

before. But we’ve been able to maintain our fundamentals: our desire to own things

long-term,to make a difference in the community, to do business with our neighbors and to

take a lot of pride in our work.

“Particularly the mixed-use or larger projects are places for the community to use and live,

work, play, learn. And so you’re looking beyond just a simple investment, and well beyond

just one building. You’re looking at an entire area and what can it be, what can it do and how

can it serve the community.”

He concedes his lean team is in an enviable position.

“We’re really lucky to work on, partly own, and continue our involvement with projects that I

think truly have changed how we live and work in this community.

“And all the while, we have an operating portfolio in 11 states, so we’re busy everywhere.”

Wherever new growth opportunities emerge, Noddle Companies stays poised and nimble to

act.

“We keep our eyes open.”

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