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Omaha Land: Making Neighborhoods Stronger

January 12, 2019 Leave a comment

Omaha Land: Making Neighborhoods Stronger

Story by Leo Adam Biga

Photography by Midland Pictures & Omaha Land bank

Published in the January-February 2019 issue of Omaha Magazine)(http://omahamagazine.com/

 

Cities around the United States experience problems with blighted neighborhoods, in which certain houses and lots go from assets to deficits. Such sites often become magnets for vandals and vagrants.

Locally, some of these problems found an answer with the creation of the Omaha Municipal Land Bank in 2014. The nonprofit is funded in part by donations.

“The Land Bank was created for the City of Omaha by the Nebraska Legislature to be a catalyst for community development,” says OMLB Executive Director Marty Barnhart. “Our role is to address these distressed properties. Folks can donate properties to the Land Bank they no longer want to care for, or are no longer able to take care of.”

OMLB matches properties with buyers who demonstrate the vision and means to redevelop sites. Buyers get nine months to renovate a home, or two years to build on a vacant lot. The hope is that revitalization encourages neighbors to improve their own places. 

The first step is to acquire the properties, and that project takes time and money, especially when it comes to clearing a title on properties whose owners can’t be reached. As a subdivision of local government, OMLB has the power to cancel taxes and municipal liens levied against properties. It can bypass red tape to make purchasing and redevelopment go much quicker. It can also sell properties at lower prices, thus reducing the burden on purchasers to establish equity, borrow money, or make improvements.

“If you think about the city and the county, they could do the kind of things we do, but it would take ordinances, public meetings, and a lot of things to put through their boards,” Barnhart says. “It would take a whole lot longer than the Land Bank with our statuary authority.”

OMLB began selling property in early 2017. The available inventory is listed on its website. The 50-plus properties sold through last October went to “a variety of different individuals and partners,” Barnhart says. “We’ve seen single-family houses transformed and reoccupied.”

He acknowledges the sample size is too small yet to show ripple effects in neighborhoods. But there’s no doubt a long-abandoned house at 2002 Country Club Ave. that was an unsafe eyesore got saved from the rubble heap, redone, and reoccupied.

Country Club property-Before

“It was one of the first big success stories of the Land Bank,” says Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, who serves District 1 where the house is located. “That had been a problem for that street for 20 years. We couldn’t find the owner. It was condemned. There were holes in the roof. Animals were in there. It never quite made the list, though, to be demolished. Eventually we did get it onto the list, not wanting to demolish it if we didn’t have to because it was otherwise a very nice property. But it was headed towards demolition until the Land Bank stepped in and finally got a response from the property owner, who was very grateful to sell.

“The Land Bank listed it for a fair, reasonable price and a young couple was able to buy it and rehab it. It’s in great shape today.”

Other transformations are in progress.

An OMLB presentation at their church convinced Carol Windrum and Tim Fickenscher to take on a single-family house redevelopment at 3155 Meredith Ave. Motivated to reverse blight, they used the Land Bank as a social entrepreneurship tool. They purchased the century-old property in January 2018 for $12,500. OMLB shepherded them through the makeover process—the couple’s first time renovating. That included helping find a contractor, who, at the couple’s behest, used as many recycled and reclaimed materials as possible.

The house listed for $77,500 last fall, and Family Housing Advisory Services and mortgage lender Omaha 100 are helping identify prospective low-income candidates to get it sold.

In the Park Avenue area, Brenda and Kurt Robinson seized a chance to prevent another “hole” in the neighborhood when, courtesy of OMLB, they rescued a two-story, 130-year-old house at 2911 Woolworth Ave. for $25,000.

If not for their action, this house might have faced the same fate as others torn down in the area.

“It’s a great structure—super sound. There’s very little we had to do except extra bracing here and there. It’s got a lot of cool exterior features—corbels and fascia we’re working hard to keep. Previous owners maintained all the original woodwork, including cased openings. They were pretty sensitive to the original architecture—thank goodness,” says Brenda, who likes having OMLB as a partner.

“The Land Bank has a mission I can get behind, keeping sturdy old houses alive as really cool places of history as well as homes for the future,” she says.

For greater impact, OMLB targets areas by assembling multiple properties and lots for development. That’s what the organization is doing in the area around 40th and Hamilton streets.

This once-picturesque neighborhood struggled with crime, litter, debris, high turnover, and ill-kept rentals. Since a slumlord relinquished problem properties there and new businesses went in, things have stabilized, says Walnut Hill Neighborhood Association President Murray Hayes. But vacant lots are still an issue.

Walnut Hill is also a focal point due to the Walnut Hill Reservoir, a 16-acre parcel owned by Metropolitan Utilities District. The Land Bank is asking MUD to donate the inactive site for redevelopment. MUD’s weighing what to do.

Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray (District 2), who serves on the Land Bank’s board, says OMLB is ideally suited to be a player in the reservoir’s remaking because the nonprofit’s rules prevent a developer from letting it sit idle.

Barnhart feels OMLB could give a developer a deal that doesn’t require tax increment financing. By assembling and holding properties for developers with the right plans, he says, OMLB protects against speculators.

Gray adds that OMLB is well-poised to address Omaha’s affordable housing shortage in areas of need like this.

“We know we can get nonprofits to do affordable housing, but we’re trying to assemble enough property to entice private developers,” he says. “We’re working on creating solutions to help meet the financing burden developers might face trying to do affordable housing. If we leave it with nonprofits, we’re only going to get so many houses. If we can include the private development community, it increases our ability to get that done at scale.”

Festersen says a proposed city ordinance would create a new relationship whereby the city law department will foreclose on those liens. That will allow the Land Bank to get it back into productive reuse, and on the tax rolls, by purchasing the property. That, and the measures the Land Bank have already taken, are the reasons Gray says, “I think you’re going to see some major developments through the Land Bank in the next two to three years.”


Visit omahalandbank.org for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe._

Woolworth Ave. property

Life Itself XVI:  Social justice, civil rights, human services, human rights, community development stories

August 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Life Itself XVI: 

Social justice, civil rights, human services, human rights, community development stories

 

Unequal Justice: Juvenile detention numbers are down, but bias persists

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/09/unequal-justice-…ut-bias-persists

To vote or not to vote

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/06/01/to-vote-or-not-to-vote/

North Omaha rupture at center of PlayFest drama

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/30/north-omaha-rupt…f-playfest-drama/

Her mother’s daughter: Charlene Butts Ligon carries on civil rights legacy of her late mother Evelyn Thomas Butts

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/01/28/her-mothers-daug…lyn-thomas-butts/

Brenda Council: A public servant’s life

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/06/26/brenda-council-a…ic-servants-life

The Urban League movement lives strong in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/11/17/the-urban-league…-strong-in-omaha/

Park Avenue Revitalization and Gentrification: InCommon Focuses on Urban Neighborhood

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/02/25/park-avenue-revi…ban-neighborhood/

Health and healing through culture and community

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/11/17/health-and-heali…re-and-community

Syed Mohiuddin: A pillar of the Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/09/01/syed-mohiuddin-a…tiative-in-omaha

Re-entry prepares current and former incarcerated individuals for work and life success on the outside

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/01/10/re-entry-prepare…s-on-the-outside/

 

 

Frank LaMere: A good man’s work is never done

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/07/11/frank-lamere-a-g…rk-is-never-done

Behind the Vision: Othello Meadows of 75 North Revitalization Corp.

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/06/27/behind-the-visio…italization-corp

North Omaha beckons investment, combats gentrification

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/25/north-omaha-beck…s-gentrification

SAFE HARBOR: Activists working to create Omaha Area Sanctuary Network as refuge for undocumented persons in danger of arrest-deportation

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/06/29/safe-harbor-acti…rest-deportation

Heartland Dreamers have their say in nation’s capitol

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/24/heartland-dreame…-nations-capitol/

Of Dreamers and doers, and one nation indivisible under…

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/02/21/of-dreamers-and-…ndivisible-under/

 

 


 

 

Refugees and asylees follow pathways to freedom, safety and new starts

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/02/21/refugees-and-asy…y-and-new-starts

Coming to America: Immigrant-Refugee mosaic unfolds in new ways and old ways in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/10/coming-to-americ…ld-ways-in-omaha

History in the making: $65M Tri-Faith Initiative bridges religious, social, political gaps

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/25/history-in-the-m…l-political-gaps

A systems approach to addressing food insecurity in North Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/08/11/a-systems-approa…y-in-north-omaha

No More Empty Pots Intent on Ending North Omaha Food Desert

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/08/13/no-more-empty-po…t-in-north-omaha

 

 

Poverty in Omaha: 

Breaking the cycle and the high cost of being poor

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/01/03/poverty-in-omaha…st-of-being-poor/

Down and out but not done in Omaha: Documentary surveys the poverty landscape

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/11/03/down-and-out-but…overty-landscape

Struggles of single moms subject of film and discussion; Local women can relate to living paycheck to paycheck

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/10/24/the-struggles-of…heck-to-paycheck

Aisha’s Adventures: A story of inspiration and transformation; homelessness didn’t stop entrepreneurial missionary Aisha Okudi from pursuing her goals

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/07/10/aisha-okudis-sto…rsuing-her-goals

Omaha Community Foundation project assesses the Omaha landscape with the goal of affecting needed change

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/05/10/omaha-community-…ng-needed-change/

Nelson Mandela School Adds Another Building Block to North Omaha’s Future

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/01/24/nelson-mandela-s…th-omahas-future

Partnership 4 Kids – Building Bridges and Breaking Barriers

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/06/03/partnership-4-ki…reaking-barriers

 

NelsonMandelaSchool1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Changing One Life at a Time: Mentoring Takes Center Stage as Individuals and Organizations Make Mentoring Count

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/01/05/changing-one-lif…-mentoring-count/

Where Love Resides: Celebrating Ty and Terri Schenzel

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/02/where-love-resid…d-terri-schenzel/

North Omaha: Voices and Visions for Change

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/29/north-omaha-voic…sions-for-change

Black Lives Matter: Omaha activists view social movement as platform for advocating-making change

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/08/26/black-lives-matt…ng-making-change

 

Black Lives Matter showcase

SARAH HOFFMAN/THE WORLD-HERALD

 

 

Change in North Omaha: It’s been a long time coming for northeast Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/08/01/change-in-north-…-northeast-omaha/

Girls Inc. makes big statement with addition to renamed North Omaha center

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/23/girls-inc-makes-…rth-omaha-center

NorthStar encourages inner city kids to fly high; Boys-only after-school and summer camp put members through their paces

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/06/17/northstar-encour…ough-their-paces/ 

Big Mama, Bigger Heart: Serving Up Soul Food and Second Chances

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/10/17/big-mama-bigger-…d-second-chances/

 

20140731-6C1A9276

 

When a building isn’t just a building: LaFern Williams South YMCA facelift reinvigorates community

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/03/when-a-building-…-just-a-building/

Identity gets new platform through RavelUnravel

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/20/identity-gets-a-…ugh-ravelunravel/ 

Where Hope Lives, Hope Center for Kids in North Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/04/where-hope-lives…s-in-north-omaha/

 

 

Ty Schenzel

 

 

Crime and punishment questions still surround 1970 killing that sent Omaha Two to life in prison

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/30/crime-and-punish…o-life-in-prison/

A WASP’s racial tightrope resulted in enduring book partially set in 1960s Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/28/a-wasps-racial-t…t-in-1960s-omaha/

Gabriela Martinez: 

A heart for humanity and justice for all

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/08/16878

Father Ken Vavrina’s new book “Crossing Bridges” charts his life serving others

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/29/father-ken-vavri…e-serving-others/

Wounded Knee still battleground for some per new book by journalist-author Stew Magnuson

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/04/20/wounded-knee-sti…or-stew-magnuson

 

Ed Poindexter and David Rice in 1970, North Omaha, Nebraska

 

‘Bless Me, Ultima’: Chicano identity at core of book, movie, movement

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/09/14/bless-me-ultima-…k-movie-movement

Finding Normal: Schalisha Walker’s journey finding normal after foster care sheds light on service needs

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/07/18/finding-normal-s…on-service-needs/

Dick Holland remembered for generous giving and warm friendship that improved organizations and lives

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/02/08/dick-holland-rem…ations-and-lives/

Justice champion Samuel Walker calls It as he sees it

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/05/30/justice-champion…it-as-he-sees-it

[© Ellen Lake]

Photo caption:

Walker on far left of porch of a Freedom Summer

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

El Puente: Attempting to bridge divide between grassroots community and the system

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/22/el-puente-attemp…y-and-the-system

All Abide: Abide applies holistic approach to building community; Josh Dotzler now heads nonprofit started by his parents

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/12/05/all-abide-abide-…d-by-his-parents/

Making Community: Apostle Vanessa Ward Raises Up Her North Omaha Neighborhood and Builds Community

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/08/13/making-community…builds-community/

 

 

Better Together

 

 

Collaboration and diversity matter to Inclusive Communities: Nonprofit teaches tools and skills for valuing human differences

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/05/09/collaboration-an…uman-differences

Talking it out: Inclusive Communities makes hard conversations the featured menu item at Omaha Table Talk

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/02/talking-it-out-i…omaha-table-talk/

Everyone’s welcome at Table Talk, where food for thought and sustainable race relations happen over breaking bread together

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/16/everyones-welcom…g-bread-together/

Feeding the world, nourishing our neighbors, far and near: Howard G. Buffett Foundation and Omaha nonprofits take on hunger and food insecurity

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/11/22/feeding-the-worl…-food-insecurity

Miles Main Event2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rabbi Azriel: Legacy as social progressive and interfaith champion secure

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/05/15/rabbi-azriel-leg…-champion-secure

Rabbi Azriel’s neighborhood welcomes all, unlike what he saw on recent Middle East trip; Social justice activist and interfaith advocate optimistic about Tri-Faith campus

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/09/06/rabbi-azriels-ne…tri-faith-campus/

azriel web

Ferial Pearson, award-winning educator dedicated to inclusion and social justice, helps students publish the stories of their lives

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/25/ferial-pearson-a…s-of-their-lives/

Upon This Rock: Husband and Wife Pastors John and Liz Backus Forge Dynamic Ministry Team at Trinity Lutheran

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/02/upon-this-rock-h…trinity-lutheran/

Gravitas – Gravity Center for Contemplative Activism founders Christopher and Phileena Heuertz create place of healing for healers

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/04/01/gravitas-gravity…ling-for-healers/

Art imitates life for “Having Our Say” stars, sisters Camille Metoyer Moten and Lanette Metoyer Moore, and their brother Ray Metoyer

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/05/art-imitates-lif…ther-ray-metoyer

Color-blind love:

Five interracial couples share their stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/06/color-blind-love…re-their-stories

A Decent House for Everyone: Jesuit Brother Mike Wilmot builds affordable homes for the working poor through Gesu Housing

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/09/a-decent-house-f…ugh-gesu-housing

Bro. Mike Wilmot and Gesu Housing: Building Neighborhoods and Community, One House at a Time

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/04/27/bro-mike-wilmot-…-house-at-a-time/

 

 

 

 

Omaha native Steve Marantz looks back at city’s ’68 racial divide through prism of hoops in new book, “The Rhythm Boys of Omaha Central”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/01/omaha-native-ste…of-omaha-central/

 

Anti-Drug War manifesto documentary frames discussion: 

Cost of criminalizing nonviolent offenders comes home

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/02/01/an-anti-drug-war…nders-comes-home

Documentary shines light on civil rights powerbroker Whitney Young: Producer Bonnie Boswell to discuss film and Young

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/03/21/documentary-shin…e-film-and-young

Civil rights veteran Tommie Wilson still fighting the good fight

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/07/civil-rights-vet…g-the-good-fight

Rev. Everett Reynolds Gave Voice to the Voiceless

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/18/rev-everett-reyn…to-the-voiceless/

Lela Knox Shanks: Woman of conscience, advocate for change, civil rights and social justice champion

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/04/lela-knox-shanks…ocate-for-change

Omahans recall historic 1963 march on Washington

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/08/12/omahans-recall-h…ch-on-washington

Lela Shanks

 

 

Psychiatrist-Public Health Educator Mindy Thompson Fullilove Maps the Root Causes of America’s Inner City Decline and Paths to Restoration

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/04/psychiatrist-pub…s-to-restoration/

A force of nature named Evie:

Still a maverick social justice advocate at 100

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/16/a-force-of-natur…e-advocate-at-99

 

Home is where the heart Is for activist attorney Rita Melgares

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/20/home-is-where-th…ey-rita-melgares/

Free Radical Ernie Chambers subject of new biography by author Tekla Agbala Ali Johnson

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/12/05/free-radical-ern…bala-ali-johnson

 

Carolina Quezada leading rebound of Latino Center of the Midlands

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/05/03/carolina-quezada…-of-the-midlands/

Returning To Society: New community collaboration, research and federal funding fight to hold the costs of criminal recidivism down

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/02/returning-to-soc…-recidivism-down

Getting Straight: Compassion in Action expands work serving men, women and children touched by the judicial and penal system

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/05/22/getting-straight…and-penal-system

  

    

 

 

OneWorld Community Health: Caring, affordable services for a multicultural world in need

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/09/oneworld-communi…al-world-in-need

Dick Holland responds to far-reaching needs in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/04/dick-holland-res…g-needs-in-omaha/

Gender equity in sports has come a long way, baby; Title IX activists-advocates who fought for change see much progress and the need for more

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/11/gender-equity-in…he-need-for-more/

Giving kids a fighting chance: Carl Washington and his CW Boxing Club and Youth Resource Center

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/12/03/giving-kids-a-fi…-resource-center/ 

 

 

 

Beto’s way: Gang intervention specialist tries a little tenderness

http://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/28/betos-way-gang-i…ittle-tenderness/

Saving one kid at a time is Beto’s life work

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/01/24/saving-one-kid-a…-betos-life-work

Community trumps gang in Fr. Greg Boyle’s Homeboy model

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/21/community-trumps…es-homeboy-model/

Born again ex-gangbanger and pugilist, now minister, Servando Perales makes Victory Boxing Club his mission church for saving youth from the streets

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/19/born-again-ex-ga…from-the-streets/

Turning kids away from gangs and toward teams in South Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/17/turning-kids-awa…s-in-south-omaha/ 

“Paco” proves you can come home again

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/09/paco-proves-you-…-come-home-again

 

Beto reaching out to kids, ©d2center.org

 

Two graduating seniors fired by dreams and memories, also saddened by closing of  school, St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey High

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/11/two-graduating-s…igh-in-omaha-neb/

St. Peter Claver Cristo Rey High: A school where dreams matriculate

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/29/st-peter-claver-…eams-matriculate/

Open Invitation: Rev. Tom Fangman engages all who seek or need at Sacred Heart Catholic Church

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/09/an-open-invitati…-catholic-church/

Outward Bound Omaha uses experiential education to challenge and inspire youth

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/26/outward-bound-om…nd-inspire-youth

After steep decline, the Wesley House rises under Paul Bryant to become youth academy of excellence in the inner city

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/27/after-a-steep-de…n-the-inner-city

 


 

Freedom riders: A get on the bus inauguration diary

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/21/get-on-the-bus-a…-ride-to-freedom/

The Great Migration comes home: Deep South exiles living in Omaha participated in the movement author Isabel Wilkerson writes about in her book, “The Warmth of Other Suns”

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/31/the-great-migrat…th-of-other-suns/

When New Horizons dawned for African-Americans seeking homes in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/01/17/when-new-horizon…ericans-in-omaha/

Good Shepherds of North Omaha: Ministers and churches making a difference in area of great need

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/04/the-shepherds-of…ea-of-great-need

Academy Award-nominated documentary “A Time for Burning” captured church and community struggle with racism

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/12/15/a-time-for-burni…ggle-with-racism/

 

Cover of

 

Letting 1,000 Flowers Bloom: The Black Scholar’s Robert Chrisman Looks Back at a Life in the Maelstrom

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/08/letting-1000-flo…in-the-maelstrom

Coloring History:

A long, hard road for UNO Black Studies

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/25/coloring-history…no-black-studies

Two Part Series: After Decades of Walking Behind to Freedom, Omaha’s African-American Community Tries Picking Up the Pace Through Self-Empowered Networking

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/13/two-part-series-…wered-networking

Power Players, Ben Gray and Other Omaha African-American Leaders Try Improvement Through Self-Empowered Networking

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/09/power-players-be…wered-networking/

Native Omahans Take Stock of the African-American Experience in Their Hometown

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/04/native-omahans-t…n-their-hometown

Overarching plan for North Omaha development now in place: Disinvested community hopeful long promised change follows

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/29/overarching-plan…d-change-follows/

Standing on Faith, Sadie Bankston Continues One-Woman Vigil for Homicide Victim Families

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/29/standing-on-fait…-victim-families/

Forget Me Not Memorial Wall

 

North Omaha champion Frank Brown fights the good fight

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/15/north-omaha-cham…s-the-good-fight/

Man on fire: Activist Ben Gray’s flame burns bright

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/09/02/ben-gray-man-on-fire/

Strong, Smart and Bold, A Girls Inc. Success Story

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/29/strong-smart-and…-girls-inc-story

What happens to a dream deferred?

John Beasley Theater revisits Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun”

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/14/what-happens-to-…aisin-in-the-sun

Brown v. Board of Education: 

Educate with an Even Hand and Carry a Big Stick

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/07/brown-v-board-of…arry-a-big-stick/

 

photo

North 24th Street, photo by lachance (Andrew Lachance)

Fast times at Omaha’s Liberty Elementary: Evolution of a school

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/05/fast-times-at-om…tion-of-a-school/

New school ringing in Liberty for students

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/06/new-school-ringi…rty-for-students

Nancy Oberst: Pied Piper of Liberty Elementary School

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/06/nancy-oberst-the…lementary-school/

Tender Mercies Minister to Omaha’s Poverty Stricken

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/tender-mercies-m…poverty-stricken/

Community and coffee at Omaha’s Perk Avenue Cafe

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/04/community-and-co…perk-avenue-cafe/ 

Whatsoever You Do to the Least of My Brothers, that You Do Unto Me: Mike Saklar and the Siena/Francis House Provide Tender Mercies to the Homeless

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/01/whatsoever-you-d…t-you-do-unto-me/

Gimme Shelter: Sacred Heart Catholic Church Offers a Haven for Searchers

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/gimme-shelter-sa…en-for-searchers

UNO wrestling dynasty built on tide of social change

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/17/uno-wrestling-dy…-social-change-2

 

Image result for don benning omaha uno

A brief history of Omaha’s civil rights struggle distilled in black and white by photographer Rudy Smith

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/05/02/a-brief-history-…apher-rudy-smith/

Hidden In plain view: Rudy Smith’s camera and memory fix on critical time in struggle for equality

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/29/hidden-in-plain-…gle-for-equality/

Small but mighty group proves harmony can be forged amidst differences

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/11/14/small-but-mighty…idst-differences/

Winners Circle: Couple’s journey of self-discovery ends up helping thousands of at-risk kids through early intervention educational program

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/couples-journey-…-of-at-risk-kids

A Mentoring We Will Go

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/a-mentoring-we-will-go

Abe Sass: A mensch for all seasons

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/05/02/abe-sass-a-mensch-for-all-seasons

Shirley Goldstein: Cream of the Crop – one woman’s remarkable journey in the Free Soviet Jewry movement

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/05/shirley-goldstei…t-jewry-movement/

Flanagan-Monsky example of social justice and interfaith harmony still shows the way seven decades later

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/flanagan-monsky-…y-60-years-later/

A Contrary Path to Social Justice: The De Porres Club and the fight for equality in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/01/a-contrary-path-…quality-in-omaha/

Hey, you, get off of my cloud! Doug Paterson is acolyte of Theatre of the Oppressed founder Augusto Boal and advocate of art as social action

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/03/hey-you-get-off-…as-social-action/

Doing time on death row: Creighton University theater gives life to “Dead Man Walking”

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/10/doing-time-on-de…dead-man-walking/

“Walking Behind to Freedom” – A musical theater examination of race

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/walking-behind-t…mination-of-race/

Bertha’s Battle: Bertha Calloway, the Grand Lady of Lake Street, struggles to keep the Great Plains Black History Museum afloat

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/berthas-battle

Leonard Thiessen social justice triptych deserves wider audience

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/01/21/leonard-thiessen…s-wider-audience/

North Omaha rupture at center of PlayFest drama

April 30, 2018 4 comments

 

North Omaha rupture at center of PlayFest drama

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the May 2018 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

In her original one-act More Than Neighbors, playwright Denise Chapman examines a four-decades old rupture to Omaha’s African-American community still felt today.

North Freeway construction gouged Omaha’s Near North Side in the 1970s-1980s. Residents got displaced,homes and businesses razed, tight-knit neighborhoods separated. The concrete swath further depopulated and drained the life of a district already reeling from riots and the loss of meatpacking-railroading jobs. The disruptive freeway has remained both a tangible and figurative barrier to community continuity ever since.

Chapman’s socially-tinged piece about the changed nature of community makes its world premiere Thursday, May 31 at 7:30 p.m. as part of the Great Plains Theatre Conference’s PlayFest.

The site of the performance, The Venue at The Highlander, 2112 North 30th Street, carries symbolic weight. The organization behind the purpose-built Highlander Village is 75 North. The nonprofit is named for U.S. Highway 75, whose North Freeway portion severed the area. The nonprofit’s mixed-use development overlooks it and is meant to restore the sense of community lost when the freeway went in.

The North Freeway and other Urban Renewal projects forced upon American inner cities only further isolated already marginalized communities.

“Historically, in city after city, you see the trend of civil unrest, red lining, white flight, ghettoizing of areas and freeway projects cutting right through the heart of these communities,” Chapman said.

Such transportation projects, she said, rammed through “disenfranchised neighborhoods lacking the political power and dollars” to halt or reroute roads in the face of federal-state power land grabs that effectively said, “We’re just going to move you out of the way.”

By designating the target areas “blighted” and promoting public good and economic development, eminent domain was used to clear the way.

“You had to get out,” said Chapman, adding, “I talked to some people who weren’t given adequate time to pack all their belongings. They had to leave behind a lot of things.” In at least one case, she was told an excavation crew ripped out an interior staircase of a home still occupied to force removal-compliance.

With each succeeding hit taken by North O, things were never the same again

“There was a shift of how we understand community as each of those things happened,” she said. “With the North Freeway, there was a physical separation. What happens when someone literally tears down your house and puts a freeway in the middle of a neighborhood and people who once had a physical connection no longer do? What does that do to the definition of community? It feels like it tears it apart.

“That’s really what the play explores.”

Dramatizing this where it all went down only adds to the intense feelings around it.

“As I learned about what 75 North was doing at the Highlander it just made perfect sense to do the play there. To share a story in a place working to revitalize and redefine community is really special. It’s the only way this work really works.”

Neighbors features an Omaha cast of veterans and newcomers directed by Chicagoan Carla Stillwell.

The African-American diaspora drama resonates with Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun and August Wilson’s Jitney with its themes of family and community assailed by outside forces but resiliently holding on.

Three generations of family are at the heart of Chapman’s play, whose characters’ experiences are informed by stories she heard from individuals personally impacted by the freeway’s violent imposition.

Faithful Miss Essie keeps family and community together with love and food. Her bitter middle-class daughter Thelma, who left The Hood, now opposes her own daughter Alexandra, who’s eager to assert her blackness, moving there. David, raised by Essie as “claimed family,” and his buddy Teddy are conflicted about toiling on the freeway. David’s aspirational wife, Mae, is expecting.

Through it all – love, loss, hope, opportunity, despair, dislocation and reunion – family and home endure.

“I think it really goes back to black people in America coming out of slavery, which should have destroyed them, but it didn’t,” Chapman said. “Through our taking care of each other and understanding of community and coming together we continue to survive. We just keep on living. There are ups and downs in our community but at the end of the day we keep redefining communityhopefully in positive ways.”

“What makes Denise’s story so warm and beautiful is that it does end with hope,” director Carla Stillwell said.

Past and present commingle in the nonlinear narrative.

“One of the brilliant things about her piece is that memory works in the play in the way it works in life by triggering emotions. To get the audience to experience those feelings with the characters is my goal.”

Feelings run deep at PlayFest’s Neighborhood Tapestries series, which alternates productions about North and South Omaha.

“The response from the audience is unlike any response you see at just kind of a standard theater production,” GPTC producing artistic director Kevin Lawler said, “because people are seeing their lives or their community’s lives up on stage. It’s very powerful and I don’t expect anything different this time.”

 

Neighbors is Chapman’s latest North O work after 2016’s Northside Carnation about the late community matriarch, Omaha Star publisher Mildred Brown. That earlier play is set in the hours before the 1969 riot that undid North 24th Street. Just as Northside found a home close to Brown and her community at the Elk’s Lodge, Neighbors unfolds where bittersweet events are still fresh in people’s minds.

“The placement of the performance at the Highlander becomes so important,” said Chapman, “because it helps to strengthen that message that we as a community are more and greater than the sum of the travesties and the tragedies.

“Within the middle of all the chaos there are still flowers growing and a whole new community blossoming right there on 30th street in a place that used to not be a great place – partly because they put a freeway in the middle of it.”

Chapman sees clear resonance between what the characters in her play do and what 75 North is doing “to develop the concept of community holistically.”

“It’s housing, food, education and work opportunities and community spaces for people to come together block by block. It’s really exciting to be a part of that.”

ChapMan is sure that Neighbors will evoke memories the same way Northside did.

“For some folks it was like coming home and sharing their stories.”

Additional PlayFest shows feature a full-stage production of previous GPTC Playlab favorite In the City in the City in the City by guest playwright Matthew Capodicasa and a “homage collage” to the work of this year’s honored playwright, Sarah Ruhl, a MacArthur Fellowship recipient. Two of Ruhl’s plays have been finalists for the Pulitzer Prize.

Capodicasa uses a couple’s visit to the mythical city-state of Mastavia as the prism for exploring what we take from a place.

“It’s about how when you’re traveling, you inevitably experience the place through the lens of the people you’re with and how that place is actually this other version of itself – one altered by your presence or curated for your tourist experience,” he said.

In the City gets its world premiere at the Blue Barn Theatre on Tuesday, May 29 at 7:30 p.m. Producing artistic director Susan Clement-Toberer said the piece is “a perfect engine” for the theater’s season-long theme of “connect” because of its own exploration of human connections.” She also appreciates theopen-ended nature of the script. “It’s evocative and compelling without being overly prescriptive. The play can be done in as many ways as there are cities and we are thrilled to bring it to life for the first time.”

You Want to Love Strangers: An Evening in Letters, Lullabies, Essays and Clear Soup celebrates what its director Amy Lane calls Ruhl’s “poetic, magical, lush” playwriting. “Her plays are often like stepping into a fairytale where the unexpected can and does happen. Her work is filled with theatre magic, a childlike sense of wonder, playfulness, mystery. We’ve put together a short collage that includes monologues, scenes and songs from some of her best known works.”

The Ruhl tribute will be staged at the 40th Street Theatre on Friday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m.

All PlayFest performances are free. For details and other festival info, visit http://www.gptcplays.com.

Park Avenue Revitalization and Gentrification: InCommon Focuses on Urban Neighborhood

February 25, 2018 2 comments

 

Park Avenue Revitalization & Gentrification: InCommon Focuses on Urban Neighborhood

Appears in March-April 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com)

©Story by Leo Adam Biga

©Photos by Bill Sitzmann

 

As revitalization has come to diverse, densely-packed, Park Avenue, a tale of two neighborhoods has emerged. The north end, near 30th and Leavenworth and Midtown, finds a millennial haven of developer-renovated historic properties and shiny new projects on once vacant lots.. The south end, bordering Hanscom Park, is plagued by remnants of drug activity and prostitution. In place of chic urban digs are public housing towers. Amid this transience, reinvestment lags.

Meanwhile, nonprofit InCommon Community Development bridges unchecked development and vulnerable immigrant and refugee populations. Its proactive, grassroots approach to alleviate poverty invests in residents. As a gentrification buffer, InCommon’s purchased two apartment buildings with below market rents to maintain affordable housing options to preserve a mixed-income neighborhood.

“It’s crucial to really involve people in their own work of transformation,” executive director Christian Gray says. “We have a very specific assets-based community development process for doing that. It’s a methodology or mindset that says, we’re not going to do for others, and residents themselves are the experts.

“It’s slower, patient but sustainable work because then you have people with buy-in and trust collaborating together for that change. The iron rule is never do for others what they can do for themselves. We made a commitment when we moved in the neighborhood to set the right first impression. We said, ‘We’re not here to save you or to give away stuff for free. We’re here to listen – to get to know you. We want to hear your ideas about change and be the facilitators of that.’ I think that’s made the difference.”

The faith-based organization “starts with the idea people want to be able to provide for themselves and their families,” he says. “We help them build their own capacity and then start building relationships. Then comes leadership development. As we get to know people, we identify their talents-gifts. We talk about how they can apply those into developing and strengthening the neighborhood. The ultimate goal is neighborhood transformation. We want them to see themselves as the neighborhood change agents.”

A hub for InCommon’s work is the Park Avenue Commons community center opened in 2013. It hosts GED, ESL, literacy, citizenship, job readiness and financial education classes, first-time home-buying workshops, community health programs and zumba.

“If someone walks out of there with their GED, better English proficiency or better able to provide for their family, we’re pleased,” Gray says.

The center’s also where InCommon hosts neighborhood meetings and an after-school drop-in space, conducts listening sessions, identifies neighborhood concerns and interests and activates residents’ civic engagement.

“One of our shining examples is Arturo Mejia. He’s super passionate about the neighborhood. He started getting involved with the organization and eventually became a staff member. He leads our ESL and GED programming. He also does community organizing.”

 

Mejia, a Mexican immigrant, says what he’s found with InCommon mirrors other residents’ experiences.

“InCommon’s invested in me in many ways,” he says. “It’s helped me to use my full potential in my work for the Latino community of this neighborhood. InCommon has found the goodness this neighborhood has. When shown the assets, instead of the negatives, residents find encouragement and empowerment enough to keep reaching their goals.”

The community center resulted from feedback gathered from residents like Mejla. The zumba class was initiated by a woman living there.

“Adults come through the workforce channel. Kids come through the after-school channel,” Gray says.

At an InCommon community visioning process last fall, a group of young men shared the need for a new neighborhood soccer field and with InCommon’s guidance they’re working with the city on getting one. InCommon’s gala last fall recognized area superheroes like them and Mejia.

Besides the center, InCommon’s imprints include a pocket park, a community garden and artist Watie White’s mural of neighborhood leaders.

The first wave of redevelopment there, Gray says, “saw “empty buildings activated and populated and it actually brought an infusion of new people, energy and resources – the positive elements of gentrification.”

“It’s certainly cleaned up – but a lot of the problems remain here – they’re just beneath the surface now.”

As more development occurs, the concern is the people InCommon serves “will be displaced.” That’s where the low income housing come in. The Bristol, fully occupied and awaiting renovation, features 64 studio apartments. The Georgia Row, currently closed and undergoing repairs, will feature 10 or 11 multi-family units.

InCommon is investing $10 million in refurbishmentd. Local and state historic tax credits and tax increment financing monies, plus expected low income housing tax credits, are making it possible.

“As a landlord we’re not only able to preserve affordable housing. but we can integrate individual capacity building services directly on-site with residents,” Gray says.

He looks to solidify InCommon’s work in this and other “opportunity neighborhoods” poised for redevelopment.

“Right now, redevelopment is like a tidal wave people get drowned in. We are interested in getting people to withstand and actually surf that wave and leverage it. People have to have some wherewithal to be able to make their own decisions and not be co-opted into other people’s plans. We’ve started looking at how do we get residents more involved in directing how they want their neighborhoods to grow, so none of this happens in ad hoc form. In this more thoughtful approach to creating neighborhoods, there’d be a vision for what residents want Park Avenue or Walnut Hill to look like.

“The goal isn’t to come up with a plan for them, it’s to facilitate the process so neighbors and stakeholders come up with the plan together.”

Visit incommoncd.org.

A series commemorating Black History Month – North Omaha stories Part II

February 8, 2018 Leave a comment

 
Commemorating Black History Month
Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018.
Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, faith, family, community, business, politics. education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera
 
A weekly four-part series
This week: Part II –  Faith, family, community, business, politics

 

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/11/16/interfaith-journ…rfaith-walk-work/

Good Shepherds of North Omaha: Ministers and Churches Making a …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/the-shepherds-of-northomahaministers-and- churches-making-a-difference-in-area-of-great-need/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/30/two-blended-hous…houses-unidvided

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/11/14/small-but-mighty…idst-differences

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/16/everyones-welcom…g-bread-together/

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/02/02/upon-this-rock-h…trinity-lutheran/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/31/gimme-shelter-sa…en-for-searchers

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/09/an-open-invitati…-catholic-church

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/15/everything-old-i…-church-in-omaha/

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/10/the-sweet-sounds…ts-freedom-choir/

Sacred Heart Freedom Choir | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/tag/sacred-heart-freedom-choir/‎

Salem’s Voices of Victory Gospel Choir Gets Justified with the Lord …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/salems-voices-of-victory-gospel-choir-gets- justified-with-the-lord/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/the-myers-legacy…ng-and-community/

A Homecoming Like No Other – The Reader

http://thereader.com/news/a-homecoming-like-no-other/

Native Omaha Days: A Black is Beautiful Celebration, Now, and All …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/nativeomahadays-a-black-is-beautiful- celebration-now-and-all-the-days-gone-by/

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/11/back-in-the-day-…party-all-in-one

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/05/how-one-family-d…-during-the-days/

Bryant-Fisher | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/bryant-fisher/.

A Family Thing – The Reader | Omaha, Nebraska

http://thereader.com/news/a_family_thing/.

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/11/big-mama’s-keeps…ve-ins-and-dives/

Big Mama, Bigger Heart | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/big-mama-bigger-heart/

Entrepreneur and craftsman John Hargiss invests in North Omaha …

http://thereader.com/visual-art/entrepreneur_and_craftsman_john_hargiss_invests_in_north_omaha/

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/30/creative-to-the-…s-handmade-world/

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/09/27/minne-lusa-house…on-and-community/

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/10/22/a-culinary-horti…ommunity-college/

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/28/revival-of-benso…estination-place

A Mentoring We Will Go | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/18/a-mentoring-we-will-go

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/01/08/tech-maven-lasho…past-stereotypes/

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/08/22/omaha-small-busi…rs-entrepreneurs

Omaha Northwest Radial Hwy | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/tag/omaha-northwest-radial-hwy/

Isabel Wilkerson | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/tag/isabel-wilkerson/

The Great Migration comes home – The Reader

http://thereader.com/visual-art/the_great_migration_comes_home/.

Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barber Shop – Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside …

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/goodwins-spencer-street-barbershop-we-cut-heads-and-broaden-minds-too/.

Free Radical Ernie ChambersThe Reader

http://www.thereader.com/post/free_radical_ernie_chambers

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/15/deadeye-marcus-m…t-shooter-at-100/

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/15/north-omaha-cham…s-the-good-fight

North’s Star: Gene Haynes builds legacy as education leader with …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/norths-star-gene-haynes-builds-legacy-as- education-leader-with-omaha-public-schools-and-north-high-school…

Brenda Council: A public servant’s life | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside …

https://leoadambiga.com/…/brenda-council-a-public-servants-life/‎

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/04/17/carole-woods-har…ess-and-politics/

Radio One Queen Cathy Hughes Rules By Keeping It Real …

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/radio-one-queen-cathy-hughes…

Miss Leola Says Goodbye | Leo Adam Biga’s My Inside Stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/01/miss-leola-says-goodbye/.

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/02/leola-keeps-the-…-side-music-shop/

Aisha Okudi’s story of inspiration and transformation …

http://thereader.com/news/aisha_okudis_story_of_inspiration_and_transformation/

Alesia Lester: A Conversation in the Gossip Salon | Leo …

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/03/09/alesia-lester-a-conversation-in…

Viv Ewing | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/viv-ewing/

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/02/11/sex-talk-comes-w…rri-nared-brooks/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/29/strong-smart-and…-girls-inc-story/

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/13/omaha-couple-exp…ica-in-many-ways

Parenting the Second Time Around Holds Challenges and …

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/11/25/parenting-the-second-time…

Pamela Jo Berry brings art fest to North Omaha – The Reader

http://thereader.com/visual-art/pamela_jo_berry_brings_art_fest_to_north_omaha/

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/06/its-a-hoops-cult…asketball-league/

Tunette Powell | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/tunette-powell/

Finding Her Voice: Tunette Powell Comes Out of the Dark …

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/01/24/finding-her-voice-tunette..

Shonna Dorsey | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/shonna-dorsey/

Finding Normal: Schalisha Walker’s journey finding normal …

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/07/18/finding-normal-schalisha-walker..

Patique Collins | Omaha Magazine

http://omahamagazine.com/articles/tag/patique-collins/

Finding home: David Catalan finds community service niche in adopted hometown of Omaha

February 1, 2018 2 comments

Finding home: David Catalan finds community service niche in adopted hometown of Omaha

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon appearing in El Perico

David Catalan long searched for a place to call home before finding it in Omaha four decades ago.

Born in San Diego, Calif. and raised in Arizona, the former business executive turned consultant has served on many nonprofit boards. It’s hard to imagine this sophisticate who is so adroit in corporate and art circles once labored in the migrant fields with his Mexican immigrant parents. It’s surprising, too, someone so involved in community affairs once lived a rootless life.

“My whole life had been like a gypsy. I was a vagabond because traveling from place to place and never really having a fixed home – until I came to Omaha with Union Pacific in 1980.. I chose to stay even after I left U.P. because I really felt at home here and still do after all those years wandering around.”

Vagabundo, a book of his own free-style verse, describes his coming-of-age.

Catalan, 76, grew up in a Tucson barrio immediately after World War II. His father worked in the copper mines. When Catalan was about 13, his family began making the migrant worker circuit, leaving each spring-summer for Calif, to pick tomatoes, figs, peaches and grapes and then returning home for the fall-winter.

“I didn’t really feel I wanted to get stuck in that kind of a destiny,” he said. “Maybe escape is too rough a word, but I had to get away from that environment if I was going to do anything differently, and so I left and went to live with a sister in the Merced (Calif.) area.”

He finished high school there and received a scholarship to UCLA,

“I was the only one in the family that actually completed high school, let alone college.”

He’d long before fallen in love with books.

“That led me to realize there was more I could accomplish.”

While at UCLA, a U.S. Army recruiter sensed his wanderlust and got him to enlist. He served in Germany and France. He stayed-on two years in Paris, where an American couple introduced him to the arts.

“It was a big awakening for me,” he said.

Back in the U.S., he settled in Salt Lake City, where he was briefly married. Then he joined U.P., which paid for his MBA  studies at Pepperdine University. Then U.P. transferred him from Los Angeles to Omaha.

“I never had a sense of knowing my neighbors, having some continuity in terms of schools and experiences, so I felt like I had missed out by not having had that identity with place and community. When I came to Omaha, I loved it, and U.P. really promoted employees getting involved in community service.

“Doing community service, being on nonprofit boards  became an identity for myself.”

Upon taking early retirement, he worked at Metropolitan Community College, in the cabinet of Mayor Hal Daub and as executive director of the Omaha Press Club and the Nonprofit Association of the Midlands.

“I threw myself into the nonprofit world.”

He’s served on the Opera Omaha, Omaha Symphony and Nebraska Arts Council boards.

He cofounded SNAP! Productions, a small but mighty theater company originally formed to support the Nebraska AIDS Project.

“Omaha was the first place I saw a couple friends die of AIDS and that was a real revelation for me. That got me working to do some fundraising.”

SNAP! emerged from that work.

“I was the producer for almost every production the first few seasons. The audience base for SNAP! is a very accepting part of the community. It was gratifying. It’s been very successful.”

His interests led him to South Omaha, where he helped found El Museo Latino. More recently, he helped get the South Omaha Museum started. He also served as president of the South Omaha Business Association.

“I got involved with a lot of economic development.”

He wrote and published Rule of Thumb: A Guide to Small Business Marketing.

He’s “very proud” both SNAP! and El Museo Latino, whose vision of Magdalena Garcia he caught, “are still going strong and still serving the community.”

Each time he gets involved, he said, “it isn’t planned – the need arises and I’m there willing to help work to make it happen.”

“Doing all this work helps me feel I am a part of a dynamic community. That’s what really drives me, motivates me and makes me feel very positive.”

He’s involved in a new project that dreams of building a 300-foot tall Nebraska landmark destination to be called “Tower of Courage” at the intersection of 13th and I-80 across from the Henry Doorly Zoo.

“We’re in the process of trying to acquire the land. It’ll be a place for culture-history exhibits all focused on the rich cultural and historical history of Neb. and the region.”

Meanwhile Catalan has his own consulting company helping nonprofit and small business clients with strategic planning and grant-writing.

He’s also active in the Optimist Club.

“I’ve lived a full life. I’ve met so many wonderful people. I can navigate around many communities because of the the work I’ve done and the people I’ve met.”

He’s doing research for what may be his third book: weaving the story of a pioneering Jesuit priest from the same Sonora. Mexico hometown Catalan’s mother was born in and near where his father was from, with the history of area Indian tribes and his own family.

He’s traveling this winter to Sonora – not to escape his roots but to discover more about them.

He’s written about his family in Vagabundo and in poems published in the literary journal, Fine Lines.

“I think I’m creating a David Catalan space of my own I never had growing up.”

A series commemorating Black History Month: North Omaha stories

January 31, 2018 Leave a comment

Commemorating Black History Month
Links to North Omaha stories from 1998 through 2018.
Articles on social justice, civil rights, race, history, family, community, faith, education, art, music, theater, film, culture, et cetera
 
A weekly four-part series
This week: Part I
Redevelopment, vision, advocacy. protest and empowerment
 
https://leoadambiga.com/…/when-omahas-north-24th-street-brought-together -jews-and-blacks-in-a-melting-pot-marketplace-that-is-no-more/‎
https://leoadambiga.com/…/art-as-revolution-brigitte-mcqueens-union-for- contemporary-art-reimagines-whats-possible-in-north-omaha/
https://leoadambiga.com/…/brigitte-mcqueen-shews-union-of-art-and- community-uses-new-blue-lion-digs-to-expand-community-engage…
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One plus one equals three for White Lotus Group


One plus one equals three for White Lotus Group

by Leo Adam Biga
leoadam.biga@morningsky.com

White Lotus Group CEO Arun Agarwal likes to say his Omaha real estate development company has a simple business plan:

“One plus one equals three.”

This win-win-win, sum-greater-than-parts philosophy works for the vertically integrated firm that optimizes design, financing, implementation, delivery and operation of complex or re-purposed real estate assets.

The growing company does projects in various business segments, from the downtown signature hospitality project that is Hotel Deco to the Nebraska Realty’s corporate headquarters office at 17117 Burt Street. Its portfolio of mixed-used projects in five states focuses on value adds fulfilling social-community needs.

30 Metro Place is an example. The $20 million development on the former site of a beloved Omaha eatery, Mr. C’s, will serve the Metropolitan Community College Fort Omaha campus, where three new buildings have risen across the street. Together with MCC’s $90 million buildout and the $88 million Highlander Village taking shape a mile south, Metro Place is woven into the North O redevelopment fabric.

The five-story, 113,000-square-foot mixed-use Metro Place will feature 110 affordable apartment units, a retail space, a health and wellness component and connectivity hubs. The City of Omaha stamped its approval on $1 million in tax increment financing for the project.

“What we’ve really tried to do is make this consistent with the college,” Agarwal said. “It’s really meant to be a stakeholders building in the sense it should work for the college as the major anchor in the area, and of course, still be a site utilized by the rest of the community. So we wanted to blend it in as much as we possibly could.”

With a projected spring 2018 delivery, Metro Place’s rectangle box structure will pop once the “prominent exterior rainfall system” panels are installed. The multi-colored fiber cement panels are “a very expensive and forward thinking product,” Agarwal said. “It’s going to be a very complimentary look to what the college is doing. Partly because our building is so big and long, we didn’t want it to be very flat looking.”

White Lotus Group’s Brad Brooks did the conceptual plan. BVH Architecture implemented the full architectural and engineering. Ronco Construction is doing the hard hat.

Metro Place is among several North O projects for WLG. The $25 million, 16.5-acre mixed-use Sorenson Place is taking shape at 58th and Sorenson Parkway after unexpected delays from buried concrete debris.

“That’s a very challenging project,” Aragwal said. “It’s definitely taken a fair amount of time to kind of figure out what the best path is. We eventually came up with an idea to excavate the concrete, crush it onsite and then use it as base for sewer separation projects or other concrete road projects.

“The project’s infrastructure for the most part is in.”

The site will feature 120 senior apartments that could start construction by mid-October. An adjoining Family Dollar store and Armor Storage self-storage facility are both now under construction.

The final acre is out for development or sale, a slice of land that has piqued the interest of a national retail chain.

The senior living component responds to what Agarwal called “a dearth of affordable senior apartment living.

The site’s close proximity to Immanuel Communities and CHI Health Immanuel hospital provides “good complimentary services needed and available to us.”

For the affordable senior housing feature, he said, White Lotus is aiming at HUD (U.S. Housing and Urban Development) financing.

Fakler Architects and Ronco Construction are helping realize the project.

Three projects north of Sorenson Place along the Ames Ave. corridor further exemplify WLG’s approach.

The former Ames Plaza indoor mall has been given new life as a mixed commercial space.

“It’s a great example of a building that many expected to be thrown away, so to speak. The significance or success we find is seeing something that other people can’t see. When we came to the Plaza we saw the skeleton of a building we thought we could resurrect, repurpose and complete an adaptive reuse of.

“Sure enough, an 80,000-square-foot structure slated to be demolished is now not only repurposed, but 100 percent occupied. Heartland Workforce Solutions recently renewed for 10 years. They’re a fantastic community partner.”

Planet Fitness and Amor Storage are other tenants.

“We used tax increment financing on Ames Plaza. The city was the participant there,” Agarwal said.

WLG will next develop a vacant acre-and-a half parcel that came with the Plaza’s acquisition. Praxis and Quarter will develop 12 units of senior housing at 58th and Fowler in what’s dubbed the Ames Row Houses.

Affordable tax credits will be used.

Adjacent to the Plaza is another recent acquisition – the long vacant Ames Bowling center – envisioned as home to employers of 200 to 250 next generation jobs.

“We have a vision of creating the Googlesque Ames Innovation Center there. It’s 43,000 square feet on a single-story, on-grade site. We’ll cut open the ceiling, put an atrium in there and make it very bright. Brad Brooks in our office recently did a refacing or facade improvement plan so that we can do either call center or IT help technology positions. Neighboring Heartland Workforce Solutions would be a huge partner.”

It’s a $5 million development.

Projects like these, he said, have a better investment return than some others “because there’s a lot less competition and for that reason I think your margins are better,” adding, “But they take a lot longer and they’re a lot hairier, so the risk-reward is a different ratio.”

Beyond the financials, he said he’s motivated “to do social good; There’s a need for it.” He said, “You feel good doing it because you know you’re delivering something that is a need, and it’s good professionally from an economic standpoint because you know it’s meeting an unmet demand. So that’s just good business. But there’s such a social need as well. We’re really passionate about this Ames Innovation Center because we think we can create as many jobs as the Walmart on 50th and Ames.”

“I think we can create a state-of-the-art satellite facility in the North Omaha community that brings jobs there,” he said. “We’re working the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce to identify employers to provide the jobs. We’re working with Heartland and Metro Community College to provide the training.”

For the plan to work, it has to make business sense.

“Our construction team and design team is working really hard to make it cost effective so that it’s a compelling case for a West Omaha company to do business in North Omaha,” Agarwal said. “I don’t expect anyone to do us a favor by occupying the building. That doesn’t work to us – that’s bad business if we’re begging for somebody to come here.

“To me, if you have double-digit unemployment in North Omaha and you need help desk, customer service, call center, tech jobs that are trainable, then there’s no reason not to cultivate that there and make sure we have a mechanism to train for the jobs we need. It’s going to take a commitment by all parties.”

His company’s applied for Community Block Grant funding and may apply for TIF funds.

“I’m assuming we will apply for other programs as available and as appropriate.”

White Lotus likes working in the urban core space.

“It’s significant to us. Deals in the urban market are tougher to source because there’s a lot of prideful ownership, as there should be, so it’s really hard to assemble properties.”

Agarwal is a licensed real estate agent but works with local brokerage houses, like Investors Realty and The Lund Company, for their expertise.

The group’s Park Plaza conversion reignited a Midtown building and it’s nearing completion of the Turner Park Apartments east of there at 30th and Dodge Streets.

“We really like being adjacent to the Creighton campus. Any collegiate, really – 30 Metro Place being a prime example – we like. We do stuff around the University of Nebraska Medical Center. We’re partners with Green Slate Development and Clarity Development on projects in that UNMC-Blackstone area.”

Millennials are a coveted demographic.

“In the Old Market we’re working on a collaborative co-lab facility in a former Kraft Creamery at 1401 Jones Street,” he said.

The brick structure was among the last available warehouses in that historic district.

“Very few opportunities exist to be a part of downtown. We are excited our project will have a wide appeal taking the best of other Tier 1 cities into a new state-of-the-art model. I’m passionate about the look and feel and the architecture of these buildings. This one looks like its bland from the outside, but it’s actually quite beautiful. We will be pursuing historic tax credits.”

The $5 million project is envisioned as a 43,000-square-foot mixed-use, entrepreneurial shared space for new creativity and new companies, whether in tech, food, marketing or manufacturing.

“We would augment that creative environment with a test kitchen or a brewery. We just finished conceptual planning and are moving into schematic plans.”

WLG has a secret asset on-staff: painter-muralist-sculptor Justin Queal.

“Art is a huge component of our projects,” Agarwal said. “We add cultural art and custom art to all of our projects through installations, paintings, sculptures and custom furniture. We have our own wood shop.

Queal did extensive work for Hotel Deco, A mural he did for the historical J.F. Bloom Building in Omaha’s North Downtown (NoDo district) celebrating the College World Series was featured on ESPN.

Agarwal and his team also engage in suburban projects.

A $150 million 140-acre industrial park is slated for Sarpy County. A planned Northwest Omaha housing subdivision off of 180th and Fort would encompass 110 new homes.

“We have a lot going on. Our team is burning the midnight oil. I’m appreciative of their work.”

Experts weigh-in:

Brett Posten
Principal, Highline Partners
One of the biggest challenges facing a visionary developer like White Lotus Group is that big ideas tend to get lost, diluted and turned into mediocre projects as more and more organizations get involved.

Their vertically integrated model is one of the best ways to make sure everyone is aligned from start to finish. We need more developers who think this big and who can execute it to the end.

30 Metropolitan Place is a real stake in the ground.

Chris Nielsen
Associate Broker and Development, DP Management LLC
The senior living component is interesting as the baby boomers will start to fill in the existing projects. The gap in market rate and low income senior housing as well as regular housing will begin to stress existing supply. With the increase in the cost of construction and decrease in skilled labor, the emphasis the Governor has put on tech schools and Metro’s commitment to providing education will help rebuild this once thriving area by providing jobs, training and projects in North Omaha. Time will only tell as this area must commit to the catalyst and continue the progress.

Chris Nielsen
Associate Broker and Development, DP Management LLC
I think that if there are economic incentives such as TIF and HUD financing, projects like these can thrive. The state has been reviewing the use of TIF and it has it’s uses in metro areas as well as rural communities, both trying to drive economic growth in changing climates that the rest of the world left behind.

When states review the use of TIF, this use is different for urban versus rural, but should not discount developers trying to solve the same problem, bringing projects to the underserved while also trying to cover debt service so that these economic hubs don’t become a flash in the pan. White Lotus should be commended for its efforts as it’s easier to build something with a fresh canvas in the sprawling burbs, rather than work through the nuances of redevelopment and struggle to finance while finding investors with similar visions.

http://www.morningsky.com/

North Omaha beckons investment, combats gentrification

May 25, 2017 1 comment

North Omaha Development roundup
I am reporting for a new media company in town called MorningSky/Omaha that covers commercial development and real estate news in the metro. My first story for the service appeared a few weeks ago and examined some of the major North Omaha development projects underway, soon to be completed and in the planning stages. We try to look at subjects beyond the construction and desgn details to explore the social-cultural context around them.

Here is an excerpt from the North O story.

North Omaha beckons investment, combats gentrification

A $1.5 billion North Omaha revitalization effort is underway, earmarked as the catalyst for overturning decades of neglect.

 

 

After a stagnant half-century, northeast Omaha is finally seeing concerted redevelopment.

No significant investment followed in the wake of late 1960s civil unrest, white flight, disruptive urban renewal efforts, and job losses. The ensuing decades brought generational poverty and crime issues as vacant buildings and lots sat dormant.

But now hundreds of millions of dollars in new construction projects are underway. These follow on the heels of a new Walmart, the NorthStar Foundation facility, a Girls Inc. addition, two early childhood learning centers and a pair of church-school campuses given new uses. More developments are in the works.

Many projects are mixed-use. The investments are funded by traditional lenders, tax increment financing and philanthropy. The players involved range from educational institutions to real estate development companies to nonprofit community organizations to foundations to individual entrepreneurs.

It’s part of a $1.5 billion North Omaha revitalization effort earmarked as the catalyst for overturning decades of neglect. Combined with a massive sewer separation project rebuilding aging infrastructure, more capital is being infused in northeast Omaha than ever before. Some development is near major North Downtown revitalization, including the new CHI Healthmedical center under construction and the proposed mixed-used redo of the soon-to-be-vacated Creighton Medical Center. As NoDo investments have increased, the city has intensified its look northward to create greater synergy between northeast Omaha and downtown. The goal is realizing a seamless, interconnected landscape of thriving neighborhoods, arts-culture districts and business nodes, all of which would complement each other.

Highlander Courtyard HousingMeanwhile, a new North O is rising up, most visibly with the $88 million Highlander purpose-built village on North 30th Street and the $90 million Metropolitan Community College trio of buildings running along 30th from Sorenson Parkway to Fort Street. On the historic corner of 24th and Lake, a multi-million dollar renovation of the Blue Lion Center has made it the new home of the Union for Contemporary Art. The nearby North 24th Fair Deal Village Marketplace has added a restaurant and grocery store and given micro businesses an innovative home via corrugated shipping containers. At 26th and Lake, a century-old streetcar barn has been saved from demolition and will house a jobs-generating new owner.

All of it has the potential for attracting more commerce.

Nothing, however, is simple in North Omaha. Even as the emerging new facade offers tangible evidence of physical transformation, concerns exist about disenfranchising current residents and businesses. There are also concerns about addressing internal structural issues. Specifically, education, transportation and employment gaps must be filled to prepare people for and link them to living-wage jobs.

Now that progress is finally here, nobody wants it halted, only that it be mindful and inclusive.

Omaha Economic Development Corporation receives part of the credit for revitalizing $60 million in North O projects.

“I think thing are moving on a good track but we always have to be vigilant and diligent,” OEDC President Michael Maroney said. “We certainly don’t want to stop or dictate progress, we just want to make sure it works for the community. There’s a great deal of pride but there’s also a great deal of concern and the two go hand-in-hand. There’s nothing wrong with feeling good about what’s happening but we also want to be cautious about how it’s happening and accelerating.”

Maroney knew North O’s day was coming.

“I knew it would – I didn’t know when,” he said. “The reality is we’re basically five minutes from downtown, 10 minutes from the airport. We’re in a very strategic area. A city can only grow out so much and then you have to grow from within and therein lies some of the challenges and concerns we’re faced with. How do we grow within?”

Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce strategic development plan served as an early redevelopment guide.

“It identified nodes of opportunity and to really focus in on key areas within the broad swath of North Omaha, so if things would happen in those areas they would have the best likelihood of succeeding,” he said.

That strategic study led to the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan, which “basically took those nodes and gave more clarity as to what they could begin to look like, I think that began to shape people’s thoughts and attitudes. The need for mixed income housing and more commercial development was loud and clear, and to some degree those kinds of things are bubbling up.”

A driving force and facilitator in getting change-agents to the table is theEmpowerment Network. Maroney works with community partners like it to fashion projects that generate housing, commerce and jobs.

Kristine Gerber, executive director of Restoration Exchange Omaha, likes the transformation she’s seeing in the Blue Lion renovation the Sherwood Foundation funded and the Fair Deal Marketplace OEDC developed.

“Twenty-fourth and Lake is looking really great right now,” Gerber said. “I mean, it’s great that you can go there and find several food, entertainment and shopping choices. I’d love to see that development continue north because there are some great smaller buildings in that area.”

To read the entire story, visit–

http://bit.ly/n-omaha

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