October 20, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Twelve years ago, Billy Coburn moved to Omaha and settled in the Old Market near 15th and Jones streets. He would often look across the street at two sturdy long-lived buildings being used as warehouses and think how perfect they would be if renovated into lofts.

“I had my eye on them for almost seven years,” said Coburn. He was one of the first in line to buy when renovation began on combining the two buildings into 31 new lofts.

Coburn in his loft.

Coburn in his loft.

Coburn is now not only a resident in Kimball Lofts—he also handles the project for Prudential Real Estate. The man who calls himself an urban and eco-modern specialist has sold more than 65,000 square feet of living space in Downtown Omaha, the equivalent of almost 1.5 acres.

The two buildings combined to create Kimball Lofts each have a story. The Graham Ice Cream building built in the 1890s holds a place in national history. The Eskimo Pie was created there. After Russell Stover saw chocolate-dipped ice cream at the Iowa State Fair, he brought the idea to Omaha. Stover later went on to become a well-known candy maker. The second building is the Kimball Laundry that was constructed in the late 1920s.

Coburn and Boris, his easy-going English bulldog, live in a 1,100-square-foot airy loft that has one large bedroom and two baths. Exposed concrete walls give the loft an “urban grit” feel. You can’t tell it from his mournful face, but Boris is one happy pooch. Sculptor John Lajba has invited loft residents to use a fenced-in area near his studio across the street as a dog park. It’s the only dog park in the Old Market, added Coburn.

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A 360-degree view from the rooftop terrace awaits tenants for informal gatherings. On the first level, a community room with a kitchenette is often used for cook-offs called “downtown throw-downs.” Homeowner meetings are also held there. Underground and outdoor parking is available.

Coburn said neighbors in his building have a great communal spirit. “Tenants argue over who will watch my dog when I’m gone. One woman who lives here had a stroke. The tenants rallied around her.”

A compact kitchen provides ample storage space in Coburn’s loft. Counters are marble; granite also is available. The kitchen is open to the living space and shares a view through large windows.

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A small deck has room for two chairs for contemplating the Old Market view. “But I rarely sit there,” he said. “I live downtown to be downtown. Sitting isolated isn’t as appealing as the rooftop or Starbucks. Urban living is about the street scene and the community of like-minded people sharing sports, arts, theatre, concerts, coffee and drinks, food, and life experiences in a way that cannot happen in a suburban setting. The beauty for urban commuters is that once you’re home for the weekend, you never have to get in your car again.”

An exercise room sits ready for tenants. An enthusiastic bicyclist, Coburn rarely has time to ride outdoors. Instead, he teaches indoor cycling at Prairie Life Fitness at Midtown six times a week.

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Boris hangs out in the small guest bath. The master bath has two sinks, a granite countertop, and a walk-in shower with glass doors. A large walk-in closet goes well with the spacious bedroom.

Removing an old elevator shaft and moving the new shaft created room for a three-story atrium with skylights, which provide light for windows in all the lofts. In fact, the light is so bright that Coburn installed shades for the bedroom window so he can sleep.

Originally from Guthrie, Okla., Coburn has lived in Denver and Phoenix. He uses his creative talents to help some of his Prudential customers design the interiors of their homes. Coburn’s interest in art has resulted in a colorful and interesting collection in his loft. “One of Omaha’s great assets is its art community. I try to support that,” he said.

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He describes his style as Mid-Century modern, “shades of the ’50s and ’60s,” and the décor of his loft as Mid-Century, urban reflected in the pottery, chairs, bubble lamps, and bar stools.

Coburn noted that many people in the Old Market have second homes there. “They come from Hebron, Norfolk, Fremont, and Kansas City. They come to the city for weekend events or on business.

“I make it my mission to help introduce people to people and people to places throughout the downtown area,” he said. “One of my clients lovingly referred to me as the ‘friend-cupid’ because of the significant relationships she and her husband built through introductions of like-minded friends.”

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