June 10, 2014 by
Photography by Andrew J. Baran

What do Doug McDermott and the Omaha Press Club, local fashion designers, brides, corporations, and churchgoers have in common?

Congratulations if you said Omar Arts & Events, in the Omar Building at 43rd and Nicholas. All of the above have had events there since it opened almost 18 months ago.

Executive Director/Partner Mark O’Leary says most local venues of comparable size are unlikely to display the character of Omar Arts & Events.

“It’s completely modern but simultaneously has all the charm and character of an old industrial building,” he says.

Ray Trimble, owner of the Omar Building which originally opened in 1923 to house the Omar Baking Co., is an architect himself whose sense of precision guided the space’s renovation.

The Omar Arts & Events space is bright, airy, well-equipped, and, like the building as a whole, a beautiful hybrid of old and new. Omar flour sacks and other artifacts hang in O’Leary’s office.

Original fire doors remain. The gorgeous exterior brick has been sandblasted back to immaculate condition. On-premises parking is ample and free.

“We have the feel of a downtown venue, but you don’t have to go downtown,” says O’Leary.
Most spaces in the Omar Building are arts-related, including the John Beasley Theater, a dance studio, web design firm, photographers, and filmmakers. It also houses a fitness center, law offices, Project Interfaith, and more, garnering comparisons to Downtown’s Mastercraft Building.

“It’s proved to be a really popular building,” says O’Leary. “It’s like it was just kind of waiting to be born so all these people could get in here.”

The event space was the last project completed, but has already hosted Opera Omaha’s gala, Omaha Fashion Week, the Omaha Press Club’s Face on the Barroom Floor for Doug McDermott, and a host of weddings, seminars, sales meetings, and other events.

Omaha Fashion Week had higher attendance than previous such events at other venues, and organizers swiftly signed on again for 2015. Citylight Church has a five-year contract to use the space for Sunday worship, when they hold two services to accommodate their diverse, inclusive congregation of 1,400-plus.

“It’s been remarkable,” says O’Leary. “We thought our first year would be slow, because for this size venue people are usually booked a year in advance. But as you see on that calendar behind you, every one of those X’s is an event for this year, and we’re still adding one to two a day.”

Suffice to say, X marks many spots on O’Leary’s wall calendar.

“We’re trying to bring back midtown and the Omar Building has become kind of a center point in that,” he says, adding that it’s gratifying to watch the neighborhood he grew up in revitalize around him. “It’s really a quiet, safe little neighborhood, and it’s got great access.”

“I’m a midtown guy and I just like to see these older parts of the city come back,” says O’Leary, who also owns the Cornerstone Mansion and has worked as a producer, actor, event planner, and photographer. “The neighborhood has been completely positive. They’ve loved that there’s some life here and a legitimate business investing in their neighborhood. We work to stay a cut above, and people have responded to that. Plus, we’re one of a kind. There’s just not another venue like us in town.”

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