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Urban planner Marty Shukert takes long view of Omaha development

March 28, 2018 1 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.”

 

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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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