This article appears in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of Omaha Magazine.
Brandeis-Millard House owner Mark Maser moved to the Blackstone neighborhood more than 25 years ago, drawn to its “old houses and quiet streets.” Recent growth dotting the area’s periphery—and now in its very heart—has made the Blackstone neighborhood a destination hot spot and a hip new (in the “old is new again” way) place to live and work.
“Nationally, there is a movement towards moving back to the urban areas of cities,” says Rhonda Stuberg, Blackstone Neighborhood Association president and member of the Blackstone District board. “A new generation has arrived who seems to think that old buildings are pretty cool and likes living where a lot is going on in a smaller area.”
Indeed. Blackstone, which encompasses Leavenworth to Dodge streets and 36th Street to Saddle Creek Road, may be small in terms of square miles, but it teems with activity and attractions. Consider these highlights: a former historic hotel credited with creating the rueben, the headquarters to one of Omaha’s Fortune 500 companies, a craft beer lover’s dream strip, several stately mansions renovated for both private use and public events, a nationally-ranked hospital, and an old-time business strip newly resuscitated by a handful of young entrepreneurs. This is a mere surface scratch.
Stuberg and her husband moved to the neighborhood in 2007 when they discovered Creighton University put an historic home in its possession up for sale. Fans of old neighborhoods (“neither of us has ever lived west of 72nd Street”), the Stubergs decided to buy and restore the home.
“When we moved in, we had no idea that Midtown Crossing was being built or that the Blackstone District would resurge like it has,” Stuberg confesses.
Resurged it has.
Maser attributes the new growth, in part, to the Nebraska Medical Center’s investment in the area and the Midtown Crossing development, both of which created an exciting ripple effect of restoration. GreenSlate Development is at the forefront. Partners Jay Lund and Matt Dwyer steered the reinvention of the west Farnam corridor at the corner of 40th and Farnam streets. A mix of retail, service, and dining businesses, not one chain store lies in the mix. “It is all about locally owned and operated businesses, most of which are completely original concepts,” states Lund. “These business owners decided to take a chance on our [GreenSlate’s] vision, and the result has been an organic resurgence of this neighborhood that has exceeded all my expectations.”
Grab a New York-style slice at Noli’s Pizza for lunch, then pop next door for a quick trim at The Surly Chap Barbers. Or try a tequila and taco at Mula. Settle into one of the seats at Archetype Coffee with your laptop and a cup of joe. Want to relax with a pint of beer or glass of wine post-work? Consider Scriptown Brewing or the Corkscrew’s newest location along Farnam.
The corner of 40th and Farnam has historically been a hub of commerce. Lund feels its latest reinvention is just another life cycle in a strip that once housed such long-time notable businesses as the Admiral Theater and Kaufmann’s Pastry Shoppe.
Kleveland Clothing shop owner Katie McLeay Cleveland says her mom remembers popping into Kaufmann’s when she was a child. Now the daughter is the next generation of shop owners along Farnam. Kleveland Clothing carries a mix of eclectic, affordable, new and vintage clothing and accessories. Local artists create much of the jewelry available.
The boutique’s unique merchandise fits the non-homogenized Blackstone vibe. “My store needed a specialty location,” says Cleveland. “It’s not a strip mall business. And the developers are invested in the neighborhood to make it work.”
“Development that is in context with the overall neighborhood” is what Lund, also president of the Blackstone Business Improvement District, feels the area needs. That means converting old row houses into updated townhomes or incorporating new construction seamlessly into its environs. It also means attracting young, forward-thinking business owners who have the energy and vision to make something old new again.
Thus far the Blackstone neighborhood has balanced revitalization with regard for the past. As Maser puts it, “The houses are still old and the streets quiet, but now, with more retail shops and restaurants flourishing, we have all the excitement of a modern city within walking distance. It’s the best of both worlds.”