May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

As a child, Terri Sanders visited the original Fair Deal Cafe on 24th Street with her father to eat breakfast or lunch, and experience a vibrant North Omaha.

Sanders says the cafe, known from the ’40s to ’70s as Omaha’s “Black City Hall,” was a popular meeting spot for politicians and local African-American leaders.

Now community leaders say the Fair Deal Village MarketPlace, a recently completed $2.4 million economic development project built on the footprint of the café, will increase commuter traffic and dramatically change the North 24th Street business corridor.

“The businesses are successful, and again—it’s a revitalization,” says Sanders, 59, a member of the Omaha Economic Development Corp. and the development’s site manager. “You never return to what it was, but you can certainly revitalize it and go forward into the future.”

OEDC partnered with Omaha-based architecture firm Alley Poyner Macchietto for the project, which was built between March 22 and Dec. 3, 2016. OEDC is a nonprofit that benefits North Omaha, which has a history of poverty and other socio-economic hardships.

Officials also are branding the development, located at 2118 N. 24th St., as an entertainment and arts district. In addition to a reinvented Fair Deal Cafe, the development includes the Fair Deal Grocery Market and eight Omaha-based artisanal businesses. The grocery store, which focuses on healthy foods, is open seven days a week, and the Fair Deal Cafe is closed on Mondays.

“It brings positive [change] to the corridor,” Sanders says. “These businesses provide not just economic development for the business owners, but it also provides jobs to support them.”

The other eight tenants include: Hand of Gold, a nail salon; Fashun Freak, a women’s clothing and accessory store; ABE (All Black Everything), a men’s contemporary clothing store; LikNu Boutique, a women’s clothing and accessory store; Mike’s Custom Creations, a custom shoe and cleaning business; Divine Nspirations, a Christian gift shop; It’z Poppin, a gourmet popcorn shop; and D-Marie Hair Boutique, a hair salon.

“I think by virtue of the businesses located there, it’s an artist area,” Sanders says. “It’s a historical district—first of all—and arts and culture are a part of that.”

But here’s the twist:

The majority of the development, just south of 24th and Burdette streets, is constructed via an arrangement of shipping containers. The seemingly unusual approach to building the structure is becoming a popular trend across the world.

“I think the container concept, in itself, is unique. We’re the first [commercial] container site in the State of Nebraska,” Sanders says. “It’s an economical way to provide retail spaces to businesses that were either home-based or internet-based on a consistent basis.”

More than 50 commercial spaces created from containers exist across the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, and even Australia. Experts say the model effectively ups foot traffic. The alternative structure serves as a cost-effective and durable approach to community redevelopment.

Each container at the Omaha marketplace is fitted with heating and air conditioning, Sanders says. Six of them are 8-by-20 feet, and two are 16-by-20 feet. She also says the visual appeal of the development has increased foot traffic on North 24th Street.

“I noticed when there are activities at the Union [for Contemporary Arts], there are people that come down to the Fair Deal to eat and shop,” she says.

James Thele, planning director with the City of Omaha, describes the project as a solid foundation for future economic development along North 24th Street.

“We envisioned, as a community, North 24th Street as being an arts and entertainment center,” says Thele, who pointed to the nearby Union for Contemporary Arts.

The city’s contributions to the project included a $370,000 federal community development block grant and $195,000 in tax increment financing—or TIF, a common incentive that allows developers to use a portion of future property taxes to cover initial costs.

City officials also acquired an adjacent property to the marketplace, which will be converted into a parking lot connected to the new entertainment district.

Edward Dantzler, a city development section manager, says the 35-space lot will include two handicap accessible stalls. In total, the lot will cost $370,000, with completion in May.

“The parking lot and stalls will be reserved for the Fair Deal project,” Dantzler says.

Thele says while it’s “hard to argue” about the benefits of jobs and new business in North Omaha, it is important to see other prospects of the development.

“It attracts attention,” Thele says. “It creates a buzz, and that’s important.”

Sanders says further revitalization on 24th Street will help North Omaha continue to grow and become a destination for visitors throughout the city.

“And even though we’ve not been open six months, I’m starting to see that vibrance returning to the community,” she says.

Visit oedc.info for more information.

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of B2B.