Downtown Omaha is about to get a new skyline.
For the past 40 years, a pair of iconic brick high-rises have towered west of Gene Leahy Mall, serving not only as twin office buildings but also as a postcard-pretty background for camera shots.
Now another business tower — stretching 17 stories and covered in glass — is to be wedged between the original two buildings that make up Central Park Plaza at 15th and Douglas streets.
The new addition will rise a couple of floors higher than the towers on either side and will link them all together, in effect creating a unified structure with larger floor plates that the owner believes will attract more tenants.
The overall office complex will grow about 80,000 square feet to about 570,000 square feet. In addition, systems and existing building space are to be updated. New landscaping and sidewalk features would surround the complex. At least one street-level retailer will be added, along with an upper-floor lounge.
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The complex will be renamed the Apex.
“It’s right at the point of everything in downtown,” said Chris Erickson of City+Ventures, the real estate developer that owns the building. “It’s at the end of the big new park project. It’s close to so many great entertainment experiences. We’re trying to build the best office experience in the metro.”
To help defray some costs of the almost $105 million project, the owner seeks city approval for tax-increment financing of about $18 million.
When City+Ventures bought the struggling plaza in 2020, the conglomerate became the first local owner of the property since it was built for ConAgra in 1982. The purchase included the attached ParkFair Mall, constructed in 1984. Together, the structures cover a city block bounded by Farnam, Douglas, 15th and 16th streets.
At the time, co-owners and founders Erickson and Danny White said their company, which develops real estate and other business ventures, jumped on the chance and viewed the purchase as a civic responsibility. They knew that the property was in need of a major revamp to return to its glory.
Situated just west of the ongoing $400 million tri-park project, the business complex is in key position to contribute to the physical transformation of the downtown central business district. While today considered a Class B office campus with 27% vacancy, City+Ventures said the overhaul should boost the facility to top-notch office space.
Designed by Leo A Daly, the original two towers are in a V-formation facing east. Fast-growing City+Ventures has its headquarters in the complex.
Erickson expects the new and remodeled space to attract more companies that see an opportunity to grow within the downtown campus.
In its TIF application, City+Ventures said about 750,000 square feet of downtown office space has been converted to apartments over the past decade. Erickson said that, at the same time, most new construction has been for single corporate headquarters, leaving a void for Class A multiple tenant-focused space.
“The redeveloped Central Park Plaza will fill that void,” he said.
Erickson said the renovated complex would be able to hold more than 2,000 full-time employees. It will continue to have ground-floor retailers Starbucks and Sullivan’s Steakhouse.
Soon a third major retailer, likely a restaurant, is to fill a ground-floor bay occupied by a bank years ago at the corner of 15th and Douglas streets, Erickson said.
Plans for the third tower include a 16th-floor bar, lounge and events space that, at times, may be open to the public, he said. A fitness room will be added, and the street level is to feature a two-story central lobby with gathering and meeting spaces for tenants.
Separately, City+Ventures is working with city officials on a reconfiguration of the former ParkFair Mall space that currently serves as parking. Erickson said parking would remain the primary use, but the group is looking at how to create more stalls, including for the public.
If all goes as planned, construction and renovation of the office towers could begin next spring and be completed by 2024. Omaha-based TACKarchitects is working with City+Ventures on the design.
This won’t be the first TIF assist for the property. An earlier loan was paid off in 2015.
Under the TIF incentive program, the developer of a city-approved project takes out a loan to help cover eligible redevelopment expenses. The loan is paid back (in this case, over a 20-year period) by using the increased property taxes generated on the new development. Normally, property tax payments go to support schools, city and county government and other local tax-reliant bodies.
During the TIF period, the property owner continues to pay property taxes to local governments based on the portion of the valuation that existed before the redevelopment, while the taxes paid on the additional valuation are used to repay the loan. Once the TIF loan is repaid, property taxes collected on the additional valuation start flowing to those local governments.
To be eligible for TIF, a property must be in an area designated “blighted,” and the owner must make a case that the project would not move forward without the incentive.
Currently, the assessed value of Central Park Plaza is $14.7 million, and last year, the owner paid about $300,000 in property taxes. Erickson said the value would rise to about $80 million after the renovation.