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Urban planner Marty Shukert takes long view of Omaha development

March 28, 2018 1 comment

Urban planner Marty Shukert takes long view of Omaha development

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

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


Photo courtesy of Visit Omaha’s Facebook.


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

perspective.

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

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

in his lifetime.

title
Marty Shukert. Photo courtesy of RDG.

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

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

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

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

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

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

he said.

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

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

said. “We’re building that density.”

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

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

RDG offices, and the Tip-Top.

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

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

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

they’ve really become interesting little innovation centers.

“There’s now the Maker neighborhood developing.”

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

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

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

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

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

not?”

Designated Business Improvement Districts, TIF and historical credits opened funding

streams and tax breaks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

enterprise.

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

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

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

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

said of this historic district filled with eateries and galleries.

title
West Farm development rendering.

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

referring to Noddle Companies’ mammoth West Farm development.

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

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

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

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

still ripe for new investment.

title
The Highlander.


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.

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

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

player

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

that becomes a very important and vital development corridor.”

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

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

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

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

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

improve neighborhoods and reduce crime.

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

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

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

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

to get there.

“The momentum now is clearly there.”

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

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

its “damaging” impact lives on today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

to jobs, shopping, arts and entertainment.

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

 

 

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Omaha’s Old Market

 

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

Old Market.

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

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

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

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

a contemporary city center.

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

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

much up again as urban settings.”

He wishes developers and planners would approach more downtown projects the

way the Mercers did.

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

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

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

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

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

life to the place.”

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

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

because they’re creatures of their time.”

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

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

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

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

tend to keep their people captured inside.”

title
The Capitol District.

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

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

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

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

ornamental because they’re not surrounded by things.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two central city projects offer contrasting public spaces.

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Aksarben Village’s Stinson Park.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

a place where families will live.

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

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

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

 

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Urban planner Marty Shukert takes long view of Omaha development

October 24, 2017 Leave a comment

My latest MorningSky feature story picks the brain of veteran Omaha urban planner Marty Shukert, who takes a long view of Omaha Development.

 

Urban planner Marty Shukert takes long view of Omaha development

©by Leo Adam Biga

MorningSky Omaha

 

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

The 70-something former Omaha City Planning director, now a principal at RDG Planning & Design, grew up in Benson. That community, like much of Omaha, has metamorphosed in his lifetime.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The number of in-city or central city housing settings being built is dramatic,” Shukert said. “We’re building that density.”

After years wondering why developers weren’t doing mixed-use commercial-residential projects in the urban core, they’ve become plentiful, including the Greenhouse where RDG offices, and the Tip-Top.

“The other thing that’s interesting to see is the flowering of neighborhood business districts. When you look at something like Vinton Street or South Omaha or Benson or Dundee or Old Town Elkhorn or Florence or the 13th Street Corridor or a number of other places, they’ve really become interesting little innovation centers.

“There’s now the Maker neighborhood developing.”

READ the rest of the story at–

https://morningsky.com/…/urban-planner-marty-shukert-takes-long-view-of- omaha-development

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