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Opportunity and vision create distinct event spaces from Omaha’s old buildings

October 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Another of my new MorningSky feature stories. This one highlights some of the more interesting event spaces in town, including venues in historic buildings that have been repurposed or rediscovered for public gathering uses. Each one of these sites has a story to tell in its own right. Each is an example of opportunity and vision meeting to create distinct spaces.

Every old building contains a story and reimagined spaces are writing new ones. Developers and business owners are capitalizing on character and history to craft new event spaces from Omaha’s aging structures.

Omaha developers and property owners are finding ways to preserve their buildings’ rich history and unique ambiance by converting these spaces into hot new gathering spots for meetings, business functions, and fun parties.

These event spaces run the gamut from auditoriums holding thousands, to intimate venues offering a hint of grandeur. Some of the most fascinating Omaha properties boast a certain character, age and history that make the stand apart from the rest.

 

Starlight Chateau

From secluded monastery to enlivened gathering space

Take the home of Starlight Chateau. The 35,000 square foot brick building at 1410 North 29th Street was constructed in 1903 as a Poor Clare Sisters monastery. The cloistered order restricts contact with the outside world. The nuns rang a bell to alert neighbors they needed something. When the whole works – enclosed chapel, living quarters, kitchen, plus outdoor courtyard – was bought by the Good Shepherd Sisters in 1971, it remained a private space the next two decades.

That inaccessibility and shroud of mystery continued once Covenant Life Fellowship Church acquired the building as a worship center. After being off-limits for most of its life, the structure turned event space in 2012 when real estate broker and developer Dave Paladino (Landmark Group) bought it, renovated it and leased it to Starlight Chateau owner Cynthia Jones.

Now, a building and grounds long reserved as a quiet sanctuary for prayer, meditation, Mass, work and sacrifice, is the site of weddings, graduations and parties filled with dancing, drinking and the sounds of raised voices and popular music.

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/opportunity-and-vision-create-distinct-event- spaces-from-omahas-old

 

40th Street Theatre:

Store-workshop-theater emerges from neglect

John Hargiss has recovered and reactivated a nearly intact former vaudeville house turned movie theater he didn’t even know he possessed when he purchased a block of buildings along Hamilton Street in 2012. He’d relocated his Hargiss Stringed Instruments in the former Martin’s Bakery at 40th and Hamilton and discovered in an adjacent building the long closed, covered-over theater, circa 1905, preserved, as-if-in glass.

“It was well disguised for about 60 years – hidden behind walls, beams, tied up in the drop ceilings of about 10 feet,” he said.

Dump-truck loads of debris and detritus were hauled out of the buildings.

He and girlfriend Mary Thorsteinson applied sweat equity to reclaim the theater and an adjoining outdoor courtyard. The spaces now host weddings, parties, meetings. As a nod to its past and his own arts bent, he also leases the theater for concerts, plays, burlesque and magic shows.

“I’m a part of the arts, there’s no doubt about it,” he said.

“Being a craftsman, being a musician, it truly does complement one another.”

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/opportunity-and-vision-create-distinct-event- spaces-from-omahas-old

 

Gallery 1516: 

Former livery stable gets new life after $1.7M renovation

South Downtown’s home to the hottest new space in the burgeoning Leavenworth arts corridor in Gallery 1516. The 10,000 foot venue emerged from the bellows of an 1883 livery stable courtesy a $1.7 million renovation. Local and national architects collaborated to create what founder-director Patrick Drickey said internationally renown designer Cedric Hartman of Omaha described as “industrial elegance at its best.” High praise indeed for a space previously leased by Avis car rental before its hidden potential got released.

Drickey’s owned the building and two connecting ones for some time. He knew when he bought the 1516 it contained elaborate wood trusses installed in 1925 by International Harvester. The interlocking span of full growth Douglas firs was obscured by false ceilings added by subsequent owners. He knew exposing the trusses would create a stunning open space, He used part of it as his commercial photography studio. It wasn’t until Avis left this lifelong art collector went all in on  converting it into a gallery devoted to the exhibition of Nebraska artists. Because he’s also a music lover and the space just happens to have fine acoustics, he’s  made it a center for music, lectures, readings. The space can accommodate 200 guests. A retractable door opens to let the gallery meet the bustling street-scape. He and wife Karen reside in an attached loft apartment.

BVH Architects of Omaha, along with Jim Olson of  Olson Kundig in Seattle, headed the main design team, Paul Schlachter of Apollo Design Studio in Seattle fashioned the new facade. DeMarco Bros. Co of Omaha put in the new terrazzo floor. Ronco Construction of Omaha did the remaining build-out.

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/opportunity-and-vision-create-distinct-event- spaces-from-omahas-old

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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/

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