Tag Archives: Aksarben Village

Encounter Destinations (Nov./Dec.)

November 6, 2017 by
Photography by Debra S. Kaplan

Kelly Newell had a great idea—a consignment-style retail store—and needed a great location for it. She whittled her options to two bays, one in well-established Dundee, the other in Omaha’s redeveloping north downtown. “That was really promising,” Newell says of the latter choice. “Lots of potential.”

She climbed into her car one night by herself and drove between the two sites. Somehow, the choice became clear for where she would launch Scout: Dry Goods & Trade. “Dundee was hands-down the winner,” she says. “These are my people. There was already a community established, and I felt great movements could really be started here. There are so many innovative people here—and the walkability of the neighborhood and how pretty it is—and so much a thriving neighborhood.”

That was 10 years ago. Now, Scout is thriving right in the midst of its beloved home. “We just finished up our best summer ever and are really excited about the future,” says Newell, whose store has been named best clothing consignment shop in the Best of Omaha contest each year since 2012.

Scout (5018 Underwood Ave.) isn’t strictly a consignment store, but pretty close to one. The store buys modern and vintage men’s and women’s clothes and accessories from its customers, paying them in cash or store credit on the spot. That means no waiting for items to sell.

It took a while to get the concept rolling. “It was pretty bare-bones when we first opened,” Newell says. “I just had clothes from friends of mine. Pretty sparse.”

Now, Dundee and folks from throughout Omaha have embraced the store, as evidenced by the more than 23,000 Facebook and 15,000 Instagram followers (Newell does all her own social media) and the long lines that form outside the store most Sundays for its popular “Dollar Sale.”

“There’s so much more of a community built up around it,” Newell says. “To have so many people have knowledge about Scout and really love Scout. It’s just really people taking it into their lives. That means a lot.”

ilovescout.com


AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Don’t be that guy—the one who waits for Christmas Eve to start his Christmas shopping. Rather, get it done early at Aksarben Village when it hosts the annual Physicians Mutual and WOWT Omaha Holiday Market Dec. 2 and 3 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. The family-oriented, German-inspired outdoor market will feature 50-plus vendors and local artisans hawking gourmet jams and jellies, cheeses and baked goods, jewelry, arts and crafts, and more. That includes holiday tunes, gobs of seasonal eats, and you-know-who visiting Dec. 3 from 2-4 p.m.

aksarbenvillage.com

BENSON

Yeah, Benson rocks on the weekends. But they can crush weeknights, too. That’s especially so at Reverb Lounge (6121 Military Ave.), which hosts its next Music Crush Wednesday, Nov. 18 (admission $10). Held three times each year, Crush puts the spotlight on up-and-coming singers, rappers, and producers. Fresh sounds on a weeknight—nice.

reverblounge.com

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

The Blackstone District might have a great history, but its future is looking even better. That much was clear in late summer when GreenSlate Development and Clarity Development announced they were bringing more growth to the district—the $22 million Blackstone Corner apartments and shops at 3618 Farnam St. The six-level structure will include 112 apartments, underground parking, and street retail space, all ready by 2019. That’s one year after two other big projects should be complete. First to the finish line this spring should be GreenSlate’s $2.2 million Blackstone Knoll with lofts and retail/office space at 39th and Farnam. Later in 2018 comes the $8.3 million Blackstone Depot, a GreenSlate/Clarity project featuring 56 new apartments, mostly studios and one-bedroom units, near 38th and Harney.

greenslatedevelopment.com

CAPITOL DISTRICT

There are 333 rooms in the Capitol District’s brand-spanking-new Marriott Hotel, but at least two don’t require an overnight stay to enjoy the first full-service hotel to be built downtown in 10 years—Society 1854 and Burdock + Bitters. The former, led by executive chef Brent Hockenberry, offers a regionally inspired menu featuring American cuisine with frothy goodness on tap from local breweries. The latter is Marriott’s bar and lounge with a lineup featuring an international collection of whiskey, seasonal and local beers, and handcrafted cocktails. Who knows? After all that fun, you might need a room after all.

downtownomahamarriott.com

DUNDEE

When does anything these days happen ahead of schedule—let alone on time? Well, it’s happening at Dundee Theater, the 92-year-old icon Film Streams has been renovating all year. According to plan, the doors should open before 2017 says adieu. The next generation of Dundee moviegoers will be treated to numerous updates: state-of-the-art projection and sound technology; a second entrance on the theater’s north side with an outdoor gathering space; a 25-seat screening room; and a community-centered lobby featuring delicious fare from Kitchen Table.

filmstreams.org

MIDTOWN CROSSING

The new art at Midtown Crossing’s optometrist Definitive Vision is getting lots of second looks—especially from those who see the world in black and white, so to speak. A Midtown centerpiece since 2011, Definitive Vision renovated and doubled its space at 3157 Farnam St. this year. The new digs were unveiled Aug. 1 at a grand reopening bash. The highlight was the debut of a large-scale version of a functional Ishihara Color Test plate, used to determine if someone is color blind. Omaha artist/illustrator Joe Nicholson created the mural and now Definitive Vision GM Dan Florence is checking with Guinness World Records to see if it’s the world’s largest such eye test at more than 10 feet in diameter. “I don’t want people to just go to the eye doctor,” Florence says. “I want them to have an optical experience.” Seeing is believing.

mydefinitivevision.com

NODO

Want to score BIG with your art-loving friend or family member this year? Get the oh-my-gosh-it’s-perfect-for-them gift at the Hot Shops Art Center’s 17th Annual Winter Open House Dec. 2 (Noon to 8 p.m.) and Dec. 3 (Noon to 5 p.m.). More than 80 artists will be on hand and at work pouring bronze, working clay, forging iron, and blowing glass in the 56 studios and shops. Drawings, paintings, sculptures, pottery, and much more will be on sale. See more in person at 1301 Nicholas St.

hotshopsartcenter.com

NORTH OMAHA/
24TH & LAKE DISTRICT

The future of the 24th and Lake District is bright—but it will be just a bit brighter Saturday, Dec. 2, thanks to the holiday lights making for a very festive Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake. Now in its seventh year, the holiday tradition and community celebration is presented by the Empowerment Network, OEDC, North Omaha Arts Alliance, Family Housing Advisory Services, and Love’s Jazz and Arts Center, in partnership with more than 80 organizations, businesses, ministries, and community groups.

empoweromaha.com

OLD MARKET

Jumpstart your holidays the best way we know how—with a Thanksgiving night kickoff to the annual Holiday Lights Festival featuring more than 40 blocks lighting up Downtown Omaha. The fun begins at Gene Leahy Mall, 14th & Farnam.

holidaylightsfestival.org

SOUTH OMAHA/
VINTON STREET

Gallery 72 is still going strong after 45 years. Now located in the heart of the Vinton Street Art District, the gallery was launched in 1972 by Roberta and Robert Rogers. It exhibits and represents established and emerging artists, offering a wide range of contemporary art and fine-art prints in 1,800 square feet of gallery space under state-of-the-art lighting. Visit Gallery 72 in person at 1806 Vinton St.

gallery72.com

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Encounter.

2017 November/December Family & More

Photography by contributed

Reinert-Alumni Library WWI Lecture Series, Nov. 2 in Heider Hall at Creighton University, 2500 California Place. Two Nebraska authors discuss their books related to events during WWI in Nebraska. Karen Gettert Shoemaker, author of The Meaning of Names, and Ted Wheeler, author of Kings of Broken Things, will read from and discuss their books. 7 p.m. 402-280-4756.
humanitiesnebraska.org

UNO Native Film Festival, Nov. 4-5 at Roskens Hall, 6005 University Drive North. The fifth annual UNO Native Film Festival highlights films by Native American directors, producers, and actors. Among the films to be screened is Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, a new documentary about Native Americans in popular music history. Screening times TBD. Admission: free. 402-554-2248.
unomaha.edu/student-life/inclusion/multicultural-affairs

2018 US Olympic Curling Trails, Nov. 11-18 at Baxter Arena, 2425 S. 67th St. Omaha will host the Olympic Curling Trials for the first time. Athletes will compete for the chance to attend the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Tickets: $70-$100 for all sessions, $30-$45 for the championships only. 402-554-6200.
baxterarena.com

Teen Poetry Workshop, Featuring Louder than a Bomb Artists, Nov. 11 at the South Omaha Library, 2808 Q St. These workshops for both novice and seasoned slam poets will be held by Nebraska Writers Collective’s Louder Than A Bomb coaches and other experts. The event will build up to the Teen Poetry Bash in December. 1:30 p.m. Admission: free. 402-444-4850.
omahapubliclibrary.org

Junktoberfest Holiday Edition at Southroads Mall

Junktoberfest Holiday Edition, Nov. 18-19 at Southroads Mall, 1001 Fort Crook Road North, Bellevue. This vintage and artisan market features collectibles, gifts, hand-made or repurposed furniture, and home décor. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $5 for both days. 402-669-6975.
facebook.com/junktoberfest

Holiday Lights Festival NRG Energy Ice Rink,Nov. 21-Feb. 14 at 10th St. and Capitol Ave. Portion of proceeds will go toward the Shine the Light on Hunger campaign which supports the Food Bank for the Heartland. Bring the whole family and create memories while supporting the community this holiday season. Admission: $8 (includes skate rental). 402-341-3700.
holidaylightsfestival.com

Thanksgiving Lighting Ceremony and Making Spirits Bright Concert, Nov. 23 at Gene Leahy Mall, 14th and Farnam streets. This community-wide celebration held in Gene Leahy Mall culminates with the illumination of the 2017 holiday lights. The lighting display will blanket the Mall and surrounding area with more than 1 million white lights. Following the ceremony, head over to the Holland Center for Making Spirits Bright Holiday with Drew Duncan and the Nebraska Wind Symphony. 6 p.m. lighting ceremony, 7 p.m. concert. Admission: free. 402-345-5401.
holidaylightsfestival.org

Holiday Poinsettia Show at Lauritzen Gardens

Holiday Poinsettia Show, Nov. 24-Jan. 4 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. This floral display features a 20-foot- tall poinsettia tree, model trains, and other nostalgic decorations. On select dates (Nov. 24-25; Dec. 2, 3, 9, 10, 15-23, and 26-30; and Jan. 2-3) Lauritzen Gardens will be open until 8 p.m. and the gardens will be enhanced with lights in the evening. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $10 adults, $5 children (6-12), free to Lauritzen garden members and children under 6. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Christmas at Union Station’s Tree Lighting Ceremony, Nov. 24 at The Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St. Kick off the holiday season with cookie decorating and holiday crafts while listening to live music. Santa Claus will be on hand to help turn on the lights on Omaha’s largest Christmas tree. 4-8 p.m., with the tree lighting at 7 p.m. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors (60+), $7 children (3-12), free for children under 3 and members. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

Lights of Aksarben, Nov. 24 and Dec. 1, 8, 15 at Aksarben Village, 67th and Center streets. Enjoy complimentary coffee, hot cocoa, and cookies, and view all of the lights throughout the park. Events include music, face painting, horse and carriage rides, and visits from Santa and Mrs. Claus. Countdown to the lighting begins at 6 p.m. Admission: free. 402-496-1616.
aksarbenvillage.com

Ethnic Holiday Festival, Dec. 1 at The Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St. Learn how the world celebrates this joyful time of year. More than 20 local cultural organizations display crafts and traditional dress, while musicians and dancers perform throughout the evening. 5-9 p.m. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors (60+), $7 children (3-12), free for children under 3 and members. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

Wizard’s Yule Ball 2017, Dec. 2 at Omaha Comfort Inn & Suites Central, 7007 Grover St. A wizarding event for the whole family. Dress up as a Harry Potter character and enjoy music, food, dancing, prizes, live owls, and more. 6 p.m. Tickets: $15 adults, $5 children (4-10). 402-934-4900.
britishfest.com

Ira Glass at the Holland Dec. 2

Seven Things I’ve Learned: An Evening with Ira Glass, Dec. 2 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. Creator, producer, and host of NPR’s This American Life, Ira Glass talks about his life and the stories he’s collected over almost 40 years of working for NPR. During his presentation, Glass will mix stories live onstage and help his audience better follow his creative process. 8 p.m. Tickets: $20-$48. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Holiday Market, Dec. 2-3 at Aksarben Village, 67th and Center streets. This German-inspired outdoor market features more than 55 local artisans, who will offer seasonal goods and activities. Santa will come to the market on Sunday from 2-4 p.m. Please leave pets at home during this event. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. 402-345-5401.
omahafarmersmarket.com

Holiday Lights Fun Run, Dec. 10 in downtown Omaha. View the holiday lights in this four-mile fun run. The event starts at 10th and Harney streets, and participants are encouraged to wear jingle bells and other festive clothing. Hot cocoa and cookies will be served after the run.
All paces welcome. 6 p.m. Admission: free.
omaharun.org

Penguins and Pancakes at Henry Doorly Zoo.

Penguins and Pancakes, Dec. 26-30 at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St. Eat breakfast with some lovable “tuxedo-clad” animals during this annual event, which includes pancakes from The Pancake Man, crafts, and visits from the African penguins. The cost includes a breakfast, a plush penguin toy, and admission to the zoo. Reservations required. 9 a.m. Admission: $25 for adults, $20 for children (ages 3-11), and free to children 2 and under. Members receive a $5 discount. 402-733-8401.
omahazoo.com

Noon Year’s Eve, Dec. 30 at The Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St. This Noon Year’s party includes live music, special crafts, and activities, culminating in a celebratory bubble wrap stomp and balloon drop at noon in the Suzanne and Walter Scott Great Hall. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors (62+), $7 children (3-12), free for children under 3 and members. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

Noon Year’s Eve, Dec. 31 at Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St. Join the zoo animals at this event, which includes activities, entertainment, and a beach ball drop at noon. 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission: $14.95 adults (ages 12 and over), $9.95 children (ages 3-11), and free to children (2 and under). $1 discount to seniors (65+), members of the military, and children of military members. 402-733-8401.
omahazoo.com

Noon Year’s Eve at Durham

New Year’s Eve Bash, Dec. 30 at Omaha Children’s Museum, 500 S. 20th St. Families can ring in the new year with kid-friendly activities at Omaha Children’s Museum. 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tickets will be available for purchase closer to the event. 402-342-6164.
ocm.org

New Year’s Eve Fireworks Spectacular, Dec. 31 at Gene Leahy Mall, 14th and Farnam streets.One of Omaha’s favorite New Year’s traditions, the fireworks are choreographed to open on cue to a musical score developed specifically for this event. Spectators are encouraged to tune in to Star 104.5 for the full effect. 7 p.m. Admission: free. 402-345-5401.
holidaylightsfestival.org

Event times and details may change. Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

This calendar was printed in the November/December edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Louder Together

August 17, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lauren Martin was a small-town farm girl from McCook, Nebraska. She loved country music and never expected she would one day lead Maha—Nebraska’s pre-eminent annual music festival.

On Aug. 19, Martin oversees one of Maha’s boldest lineups ever. Headlined by the controversial hip-hop group Run The Jewels, Maha 2017 is poised to be one huge spectacle that promises to bring together a diverse group of concert-goers.

That kind of unity through music drives Martin, who got her first taste of it when she was a college student working on the campus program council at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “All of the sudden, I realized my favorite thing was to bring people together around experiences,” says Martin, who was named Maha’s first executive director in 2015.

While attending UNL, Martin helped bring such performers as singer-songwriter Jason Mraz and comedian Kathy Griffin to the university. After graduating, she wanted to continue exploring a career of booking musical talent.  Martin interned at Omaha-based Saddle Creek Records in 2007. The following summer, she found herself working at Live Nation, a global entertainment company in St. Louis. However, the Great Recession of 2008 cut her career plans short, forcing her to move back home and assess her future in the music industry.

“I came back to Omaha and felt like a dog with my tail between my legs because I failed—or because I couldn’t hack it—whatever it was” Martin says.

In 2009, Maha was born, and Martin took interest. Over the next few years, she wore many hats, including working as a house manager at Omaha Performing Arts and as programming director at Hear Nebraska. In 2012, she was given the reins to Maha’s social media accounts. She was also named to Maha’s board of directors that same year, eventually serving as vice president.

As she continued to work with Maha, Martin’s view of music changed, especially how it can affect people and bring them together. This feeling and sense of community is something she continues to incorporate into Maha.

“Now I realize music is something we all share, and it has a power to connect. It’s everything from a release, to a way to express yourself,” she says. “And while I myself am not a musician, I find that music helps me process things. It helps me connect with other people. It’s a passion in a way that music is an avenue for my fulfillment.”

Martin also worked in communications at the Omaha Community Foundation, where she helped implement Omaha Gives!, a 24-hour charity event aimed at raising money
for nonprofits.

Then, in 2015, something big happened—Maha sold out for the first time, thanks in large part to a phenomenal lineup that included Modest Mouse and Purity Ring.

“It caused everyone involved with Maha to realize that, if we want the event to continue and really be sustainable and see what even further impact we could have on the community, we needed someone full-time. That’s when I became the executive director,” Martin says.

She also emphasized that the popular festival, currently held at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, is much more than music. The event serves as a medium for other nonprofits to receive attention.

“It’s about raising awareness,” she says, “not forcing anyone to learn about something or expose them to potential trigger topics.”

For example, this year the festival will have information about suicide, the second-leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34 in the U.S. Martin says the majority of Maha’s demographic falls in this age range.

“Maha is more than a music festival. It’s a platform for engagement,” she says. “We realized not only can we be a platform for other organizations, but we can help spread education.”

Martin adds that while information is available to event-goers, the staff aren’t trying to make attendees uncomfortable. “Because that isn’t the intent of anyone,” she says. “We’re not impacting the experience by throwing mental health in your face,” Martin says. “We’re not scared to talk about this. We want to be an organization that is listening to what is going on in our community.”

In addition to providing mental health information, other nonprofits team up with Maha as part of its community to culture and social activities.

This year Maha has again partnered with Louder Than a Bomb, an annual youth poetry slam with roots in Chicago that focuses on bringing teens together across all divides. The group was recently the subject of an award-winning documentary of the same name.

Another repeat partner is Omaha Girls Rock, a nonprofit that typically draws plenty of attention. The group empowers young women to voice creativity through music education and performance. In general, to “rock.”

“Maha is an event that connects and reflects the community,” Martin says. “In that kind of structure, you get to walk away saying ‘Omaha’s got some really cool stuff going on.’”

As Maha continues to grow, Martin says people are getting even more out of the music festival. To this date, the event has drawn music fans from 46 states, according to its website.

“While the music is seemingly the main event, you come to Maha and get so much more than that,” Martin says. “I thought I was getting involved with Maha for the music, but what kept me involved with Maha was all the people I’ve gotten to meet.”

Visit mahamusicfestival.com for more information.

This article appears in the July/August 2017 edition of Encounter.

 

Lauren Martin

A New Day Arisen

June 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kelly Hill stands on the corner of 30th and Lake streets admiring Salem Baptist Church’s towering cross, which looms over the landscape. A member of the church for more than 15 years, Kelly grew up in the now-demolished Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects not far from the area. He can remember a time before Salem sat atop the hill, when the Hilltop Homes housing projects occupied the area.

“I left Omaha to join the military in 1975, and I didn’t return until 1995. I missed all of the gangs and bad stuff in Hilltop,” Hill remembers. “When I was a kid, it wasn’t a bad area at all. Me and my sister would play around there all the time.”

Within those 20 years, Hill was fortunate to have missed Hilltop’s downfall, as it would eventually become one of Omaha’s most notorious housing projects.

A major blight on North Omaha’s image in the 1980s to mid-1990s, Hilltop Homes would eventually be the second major housing project demolished in the metro area after Logan Fontenelle.

Before Hilltop Home’s razing in 1995—which had the unfortunate consequence of displacing many lower-income minority residents—the plague of drugs, murders, and gang activity had turned the area’s housing projects into a localized war zone.

It was a far cry from their humble beginnings as proud housing tenements for Omaha’s burgeoning minority population that exploded in the 1940s.

Edwin Benson

Built around Omaha’s oldest pioneer resting place, the neighborhood takes its name from Prospect Hill Cemetery on 32nd and Parker streets. Prospect Place was repurposed by the U.S. government to house a large influx of minority and low-income residents, mostly African-Americans, who migrated to Omaha seeking opportunities outside the oppressive South during the mid-20th century. Some 700 units of public housing emerged across the city in the 1940s, including Hilltop Homes and the nearby Pleasantview Apartments.

The projects were conveniently situated. Hilltop’s 225 units were positioned in a centralized location along 30th and Lake streets, near the factory and meatpacking plants on 16th Street to the east, with Omaha Technical High School to the south (the largest high school west of Chicago at the time).

Multiple generations of families would come to call Hilltop and Pleasantview their first homes; however, the collapse of the job structure on the north side of Omaha in the late 1960s would be a major catalyst in Prospect Place’s eventual downfall.

Successful factories and stores that kept the area afloat—such as The Storz Brewery and Safeway Grocery Store—closed their doors. At the same time, new civil rights laws prohibiting job discrimination were being passed. Some believe that fear of change, and fear of civil rights era legislations, motivated major employers in the community to move from northeast Omaha westward. A disappointing trend of joblessness and poverty would eventually devolve the community into a powder keg ready to blow.

Multiple riots at the tail end of the 1960s would take an additional toll on North Omaha. Four instances of civil unrest would erupt from 1966 to 1969, decimating the community.

“Too many kids were getting shot, killed, it was pretty bad in Hilltop.” Benson says.

The last North Omaha riot would happen a day after Vivian Strong was shot and killed by Omaha police in the Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects not far from Prospect Place. Rioters would go on to fire-bomb and destroy a multitude of businesses and storefronts in the neighborhood.

The local chapter of the Omaha Black Panthers would stand guard outside of black-owned businesses like the Omaha Star building at 24th and Lake streets in order to prevent its destruction. Many businesses would never recover from the millions of dollars in damages caused by the riots.

These disturbances would mark an important time-frame for Hilltop and Pleasantview’s gradual downfall. The turbulence within the community, spearheaded by systematic racism and poverty would take its toll on the area.

The Prospect Place projects would devolve into a dilapidated ghetto, with even harsher times awaiting the neighborhood as gangs and crack-cocaine would hit the city hard in the 1980s.

Omaha wasn’t a place people would have thought the gangs of Los Angeles, California, would make a strong showing. Quite the contrary,  gang members from the West Coast would eventually discover Omaha’s smaller urban landscape to be an untouched and lucrative territory.

Ex-gang member Edwin Benson can remember the switch taking hold in his later teenage years.

“The Crips came first, I’d say around the mid-to-late 1980s. They took over areas like 40th Avenue and Hilltop,” Benson says. “The Bloods’ territory was further east, big in the Logan Fontenelle projects and up and down 16th Street. So, gang-banging kind of took over the city for a long while.”

The isolated, maze-like structure of Hilltop and Pleasantview, along with the high-rise apartments added in the 1960s by the Omaha Housing Authority, would make them ideal locations for the burgeoning Hilltop Crips and other smaller street gangs.

“I can remember kids from Hilltop coming over to Pleasantview and starting trouble.” Benson recalls. “We would fight about who had the better projects! We fought with our fists, rocks, sticks…whatever was close you got hit with!”

A refuge for illicit activity had sprung to life within Prospect Place in the 1980s. Members of the community, as well as police officers, grew hesitant to venture into the area. Hilltop became a forgotten segment of the city, lost to the surrounding metro’s progress, marred by a decade of violent crime and drug offenses.

Hilltop would see an unfortunate trend of senseless homicides and gun violence that would peak in the early ’90s.

In 1990, two young men from Sioux City were shot outside of Hilltop when they stopped to ask for directions to the Omaha Civic Auditorium on their way to an MC Hammer concert.

In 1991, a 14-year-old boy was arrested for stabbing a 13-year-old boy during a fight. That same year, a local Crip gang member was gunned down at the 7-Eleven on 30th and Lake across the street from Hilltop.

In 1993, the pointless murder of another teenager may have finally spelled Hilltop’s doom. 14-year-old Charezetta Swiney—known as “Chucky” to friends and family—was shot in the head from point-blank range over a parking space dispute on Oct. 22. A sad occasion at the beginning of the school year, Benson High School was gracious enough to host the high school freshman’s funeral with more than 700 people in attendance. She was the 31st person slain in Omaha that year.

Jay W. Green, 27, would eventually be found guilty of Swiney’s homicide, charged with second-degree murder and use of a firearm to commit a felony in the summer of 1994. At the end of that same year, Omaha’s City Council would begin laying the groundwork for Hilltop Homes’ eventual razing in 1995.

Benson, the former gang member, believes Swiney’s murder and the rampant gang activity within Prospect Place were the main reasons for Hilltop Homes’ demolition.

“Too many kids were getting shot, killed, it was pretty bad in Hilltop.” Benson says. “Once the projects were gone, I think the Hilltop Crips just kind of faded out. We would joke and call them the ‘Scatter-site Crips’ since everyone was being moved to the scatter-site housing out west! If you hear someone claiming Hilltop these days they are living in the past.”

The demolition would leave a desolate space in its wake. Fortunately, the barren eyesore would not last long, as Salem Baptist Church would make their ambitious proposal for the site in 1996.

“I can remember me and my sister marching from the old church grounds on 3336 Lake St. to the new site on the hilltop,” Hill says, reminiscing with vivid recollection of April 19, 1998, the church’s groundbreaking. It was a glorious Sunday for church members, led by then-senior pastor Maurice Watson, a culmination of Salem’s proposed “Vision to Victory.”

Salem’s groundbreaking ceremony was heralded, marking the once-troubled land of Prospect Place as an “oasis of hope.” The community witnessed the progress as the newly razed 18 acres of land transformed from a vestige of poverty into a church sanctuary seating 1,300 people, in addition to classrooms, a multi-purpose fellowship hall, a nursery, and ample parking. Prospect Place was undergoing a new renaissance which would continue well into the new millennium.

Othello Meadows is the newest pioneer at the head of changing the image of Prospect Place. Having grown up on Omaha’s north side, Meadows remembers the projects as “a place not to linger if you weren’t from there.” After years away from his hometown, seeing the remnants of Hilltop Homes and Pleasantview Apartments was eye-opening.

“When I came back to Omaha, I was surprised by the disinvestment in the area after the projects were gone,” he says. “It went from housing thousands of people, to a sense of abandonment; like, only two houses were occupied on the entire block.”

Meadows’ words ring true. Other than Salem’s deal with Walgreens, which acquired acres of land for around $450,000, no additional development had taken place for years within Prospect Place. Fortunately, Meadows and the 75 North Revitalization Corp. are looking to reinvigorate the area.

As the executive director of 75 North, Meadows refers to Prospect Place as the “Highlander” area, which helps to separate the land from its troubled past. His goal is to bring life back to the area.

The development company now owns the land where the Pleasantview apartments resided before being demolished in 2008. A plan for a new neighborhood with continued growth is the main focus for the area, and he expects tangible progress in the coming months.

“If you drive down 30th Street between Parker and Blondo, you’ll see real work happening and real things going on.” Meadows says. “We have about 12 buildings under construction that are 50-70 percent complete [as of early February 2017], including a community enrichment center called the Accelerator that is 65,000 square feet, a very beautiful building. By late April to early May 2017 we should have some apartments up, and we already have people putting down deposits and signing leases. People are excited to be moving into the neighborhood.”

When asked about the targeted clientele for the new apartments and retail space, Meadows provides a broad answer: “The motto that we follow is—trying to create a mixed-income community. We’re not trying to recreate the projects, of course, but we also don’t want to create a neighborhood where longtime residents can’t afford to live. We have to balance the prospects of affordability and aspirational thinking.”

Indeed, when looking at the seventyfivenorth.org website, the ambitious vision for the Highlander Apartments is a far cry from the projects. Photo galleries and floor plans envision a renewed community akin to Midtown Crossing and Aksarben Village. The images are cheerful, depicting people riding bikes and walking dogs, even an imagined coffee shop.

In a way, the renewed development, optimism, and potential for economic growth in the Highlander area can trace its roots back to the members of Salem and their desire to build a signal of hope where it once was lost.

But Hill (the former Logan Fontenelle Housing Projects resident who left Omaha in 1975 and returned in 1995) doesn’t think the church is given adequate recognition for its contributions.

“If a person didn’t know this place’s history of violence and poverty before Salem was built, they would only see the progress in this area as simple land development,” Hill says. “Salem doesn’t tend to broadcast the things they do for the area other than to its members, so those on the outside don’t necessarily recognize its lasting influence.”

It’s undeniable that the soaring church spire on the hill is a spectacle to behold on a bright, sunny day. It stands as a symbol of hope and belief. Benson still looks at the former site of Prospect Place with a hint of longing.

“I know it might sound crazy, but I was a little sad when Hilltop was torn down.” he admits. “A lot of good memories were made in those projects. But I love seeing the church up there. I hope whatever comes next is good for the community.”

Visit salembc.org for more information about Salem Baptist Church. Visit seventyfivenorth.org for more information about 75 North.

Salem Baptist Church

Destinations

May 5, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Every spring, everyone in Aksarben Village gets a spring in their step. No wonder, given all the walks and runs that take place there in spring and summer. Beginning in May that includes the Aim for the Cure Melanoma Walk (May 6), Great Strides Cystic Fibrosis Walk (May 20), Glow ‘N Go 5K (June 2) and Relay for Life (July 15). Walk—or run—to aksarbenvillage.com for details. Oh, and get ready for lots of fresh veggies. Aksarben hosts its first every-Saturday Omaha Farmers Market of the season May 7.

BENSON

The second annual all-ages Memorial Day Massive music festival will be held May 27 outside The Waiting Room (6212 Maple St.) MDM showcases national acts specializing in danceable, electronic music, ranging from hip-hop to trap to “vomitstep,” an EDM subgenre created by Snails, the headliner of the event, which also features performances by Boombox Cartel, ARMNHMR, and PRXZM. The outdoor show will be followed by after-parties at The Waiting Room and Reverb Lounge (6121 Military Ave.). Space Jesus, a psychedelic hip-hop producer/performer out of Brooklyn, will be at The Waiting Room’s all-ages show. Reverb is 21 and over only. The outdoor show is all-ages, unless you want to be a VIP, then you must be 21 to play. But no matter your age, you’d better bring your dancing shoes, because there’s no messing around here. These acts are here to make you move.

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

What’s new in Blackstone? What isn’t. There are new hours at the Nite Owl, 3902 Farnam St. (5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Thursday; 3 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday-Sunday ), a new tenant at 3906 Farnam St. (TSP Architects) and a new website for the district (blackstonedistrict.com).

CAPITOL DISTRICT

Shamrock Development is closer to making a reality of the Capitol District, an expanse stretching from the Riverfront west and north-south from NoDo to Leavenworth. The space, anchored by the Omaha Marriott Downtown, will feature mixed-use buildings and lots of open space. It’s a concept similar to Lincoln’s Railyard—including, Shamrock hopes, open-carry alcohol wherever visitors go.

DUNDEE

The future still looks bright for a public-private partnership that will bring the past back to Dundee—a $1.6 million project to restore the historic Sunken Gardens along Happy Hollow Boulevard. What is known to locals as “The Sunks” is envisioned to be a safe community green space with a formal garden in the center, a sledding zone, open sports field, and more. Organizers say they’ve met all their quarterly fundraising goals. See drawings and more at omahasunkengardens.org.

MIDTOWN CROSSING

Nature hates a void—and it didn’t go over so well in Midtown Crossing, either. Fortunately for Midtowners, the void left by the sudden closing of Brix didn’t take long to get filled. Longtime Omaha restaurateur Ron Samuelson indicated the spot will be filled by Della Costa, a seafood-inspired Mediterranean concept featuring dishes from the coasts of Italy, France, Spain, Morocco, and Greece. “It opens up a whole new range of opportunity for oysters, clams, and whole-grilled fish,” Samuelson
told midtowncrossing.com.

NODO

This is Omaha, right? Yup. But soon, a taste of Lincoln is coming NoDo’s way. Lincoln-based Zipline Brewing Co. is expected to open a tap room where the Saddle Creek Shop once was, between Film Streams and Slowdown. And it will be bigger than either of the places they have down in Huskerville. Boo-yah.

OLD MARKET

You know those little baby carrots don’t grow that way, right? Get the good stuff— and gobs of other fresh, locally grown produce — when the 23rd annual Omaha Farmers Market kicks off May 6. Hosted 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. every Saturday through Oct. 14, OFM includes baked goods, flowers, and more as nearly 100 vendors fill 11th Street from Jackson to Howard streets. See the lineup at omahafarmersmarket.com/old-market.

SOUTH OMAHA/
VINTON STREET

Project Project might be a nonprofit, but in February it was all about the green stuff for the independent, DIY contemporary arts space in the historic Vinton Street Business District. Green slime, that is. Project Project was host to Omaha Slime Fest, a fundraiser for Omaha Zine Fest. The former featured several unique competitions, the winners of which were dumped with buckets of slime a la Nickelodeon. Find out more about Project Project on Facebook or at projectprojectomaha.com.

NORTH OMAHA/
24TH & LAKE DISTRICT

Many of Nebraska’s best athletes began their dreams in and around “The Street of Dreams,” Omaha’s 24th and Lake Street area. Now, many of those famous athletes can be seen at the Omaha Rockets Kanteen Restaurant, named after a one-time Omaha baseball squad. The eatery (2401 Lizzie Robinson Ave.) pays homage to the Negro Leagues and is home to the Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame. Owner Donald Curry partnered with Black Hall co-founders Robert Faulkner and Ernest Britt so that the Kanteen now showcases memorabilia of Omaha greats like Bob Gibson and Marlin Briscoe alongside Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson.

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Encounter.

2017 May/June Family & More

May 1, 2017 by and

Farmers Markets
Gardening season is open in Omaha, and those desiring to eat fresh produce without digging in the dirt themselves will find plenty of options around the area. Along with produce, shoppers will find artisan cheeses, farm-raised meats, freshly baked breads, assorted treats, and even craft items.

  • Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays starting May 7.
  • Benson (4343 N. 52nd St.): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Council Bluffs (Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs): 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Thursdays starting May 4.
  • Gifford Park (33rd and California streets): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Fridays starting June 3.
  • Florence Mill (9102 N. 30th St.): 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays starting June 4.
  • Old Market (11th and Jackson streets): 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.
  • Papillion (Washington St. and Lincoln Road): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays starting May 31.
  • Village Pointe (168th and Dodge streets): 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays starting May 6.

Berkshire Hathaway Annual Shareholder’s Weekend: May 5-7 at CenturyLinkCenter, 455 N. 10th St. Shareholders in the company created by Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett can learn about their year’s earnings at this annual meeting, which brings thousands of people to Omaha from around the world. The weekend events include the “Invest in Yourself” 5K run on May 7, a bridge tournament, shopping at various stores associated with Berkshire Hathaway, and much more.
berkshirehathaway.com

Cinco de Mayo parade: May 6 along 24th St. from D to L streets. This dazzling parade—one of the largest Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the Midwest—features floats, marching bands, and more. Rain or shine. 9 a.m. Admission: free. info@cincodemayoomaha.com.
cincodemayoomaha.com

Renaissance Festival of Nebraska: May 6-7, 13-14 at Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Ranch, 11001 S. 48th St. Step back in time to the days of knights in shining armor with full contact sword play and equestrian jousting, six unique performance locations, 100+ costumed characters, and free make-and-take crafts for kids. 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Admission: $13 adults, $8 children (12 and under). 402-331-5500.
renfestnebraska.com

SECOND Annual Food Truck Rodeo Spring Edition: May 20 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. The second annual Omaha Food Truck Rodeo will be held all day Saturday, giving attendees the entire day to sample the fine foods from local food trucks. There will be 15-20 food trucks, along with a DJ, beer garden, multiple outdoor bars, and outdoor seating on Military Avenue in Benson. 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Free. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

Celebrate CB: May 12-20 in Council Bluffs (various locations). Hop across the river for a full week of festivities. Opening night includes a free concert by Taxi Driver. The last day includes a parade followed by a day of music, kids’ activities, and a carnival. Friday’s big event, Barbecue in the Bluffs, has been chosen as one of 50 events for the Kansas City Barbeque Society’s Great American Cookout, which will inform and entertain people who enjoy learning more about barbecuing and grilling on all levels. 712-396-2494.
celebratecb.com

Vintage Market Days of Omaha: May 12-14 at Chance Ridge Event Center, 506 Skyline Road. This upscale, vintage-inspired market hosts more than 100 vendors with original art, antiques, handmade treasures, jewelry, and clothing. The event also includes live music and food trucks. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday/Saturday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $10 Friday (early buying event); $5 Saturday/Sunday; free for children 12 and under. Tickets good for re-entry all weekend. 918-955-6215.
omaha.vintagemarketdays.com

Florence Days: May 13-14 in downtown Florence, 30th St. between State St. and I-680 N. This area, once its own town, was annexed by Omaha 100 years ago but still retains its own small-town feeling. Events held in conjunction with this festival include a parade, art displays, talks at the historic Florence Mill, a melodrama, and more. 402-451-4737.
historicflorence.org

An Evening with Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson: May 15 at Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas St. During his lecture, the award-winning astrophysicist will answer questions from the audience and talk about topics in his new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which will also be given to each audience member. 7 p.m. Tickets: $65-$225. 402-345-0606.
ticketomaha.com

Helicopter Day: May 27 at Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum, 28210 West Park Highway. Visitors can watch while helicopters fly over the horizon and land right in front of them. Inside the museum, visitors can participate in a drone workshop and family-friendly activities. 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Admission: $12 adults; $11 senior citizens, active/retired/veteran military; $6 children (4-12); free for children (3 and under). 402-944-3100.
sacmuseum.org

Memorial Day Weekend: May 27-29 at Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St. The zoo will offer special entertainment, including bounce houses, airbrush tattoos, and animal presentations. The first 800 people to walk through the gates will receive a free patriotic gift. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $19.95 adults (ages 12 and older), $13.95 children (ages 3-11), free for members and children 2 and under. $1 discount for seniors (age 65 and older) or active military members and their children. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

Taste of Omaha: June 2-4 at the Omaha riverfront. Omaha’s annual outdoor summer food event showcases outstanding restaurants, live entertainment, and family fun. Activities will take place daily at the Heartland of America Park, Lewis & Clark Landing, and River’s Edge Park. Times vary. Admission: free, but tickets must be purchased for food and carnival rides. 402-346-5412.
showofficeonline.com

Countryside Village Art Fair: June 3-4 at Countryside Village Shopping Center, 8722 Countryside Plaza. This fair showcases a mix of styles, perspectives, and media. The artwork selection inspires casual visitors to start art collections, and connoisseurs to add to existing collections. Established in 1969, the Countryside Village Art Fair is a cornerstone of the art world in Omaha. Admission: free. 402-391-2200.
countryside-village.com

Annual Veterans Appreciation Rally: June 4 at the North Omaha Airport, 11919 N. 72nd St. This family-friendly event features classic cars, motorcycles, and airplanes on display to honor veterans. Activities include raffles and skydiving shows. Airplanes begin flying at noon, weather permitting. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission: free, but a $5 donation is requested. 402-714-4269.
facebook.com/heroesoftheheartlandfoundation

Omaha’s Ninth Annual Largest Pizza Review: June 6 at Reverb Lounge, 6121 Military Ave. Pizza will be available from around 15 different restaurants for pizza lovers to sample and vote for their favorites. Judging will be conducted by Food & Spirits Magazine’s panel of judges, also featuring live music. A portion of proceeds go to scholarships for culinary students at the Institute for the Culinary Arts at Metro Community College. 6:30 p.m. Tickets: $15. 402-884-5707.
reverblounge.com

St. Lucia Italian Festival: June 8-11 at Lewis & Clark Landing, 515 N. Riverfront Drive. Omaha’s Italian community celebrates Italian culture with this annual festival. Events include a bocce ball tournament, cannoli-eating contest, entertainment by the Santa Lucia festival band and others, and plenty of food. Admission: free, but tickets required for food and carnival rides. 5 p.m.-11 p.m. June 8, 5 p.m.-midnight June 9, noon-midnight June 10, and 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 11. 402-342-6632
santaluciafestival.com

Omaha Beer Fest: June 9-10 at Horsemen’s Park, 6303 Q St. Hundreds of American craft beers, 80 breweries, live music, a homebrewer expo, VIP lounge, food vendors, contests, and more. Rain or shine. 5 p.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 2 p.m.-7 p.m. June 10. Admission: general admission $35 in advance, $45 at the door; VIP $55 in advance, $65 at the door. Designated drivers pay $10 at the door. 402-731-2900.
omahabeerfest.com

Junkstock: June 9-11 at Sycamore Farms, 1150 River Road Dr. This three-day festival features vintage finds, unique antiques, and artisan food and goods. Help celebrate the fifth year of Junkstock, featuring more than 150 vendors and 15 food trucks, along with a variety of bands playing on the Junkstock Stage throughout the weekend. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. Admission: $8 online, $10 at the gate, $20 for weekend pass, free for children (12 and under). 402-765-8651.
junkstock.com

Omaha Summer Arts Festival: June 9-11 along Farnam St. from 10th to 15th streets. The festival features 135 of the nation’s finest visual artists, a stage with continuous musical performances, a hands-on children’s fair, and a wide variety of food vendors. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. June 9 and 10, and 11a.m.-5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-345-5401.
summerarts.org

Sand in the City: June 9-11 at Baxter Arena, 2425 S. 67th St. On Friday, 12 corporate teams will compete to build extravagant sand sculptures. On Saturday and Sunday, visitors can vote for their favorite sculpture, build their own sandcastle, play in the kids’ zone, and hear live entertainment. All proceeds benefit the Nebraska Children’s Home Society. 10 a.m.-4 p.m. June 9, 10 a.m.-8 p.m. June 10, and 11 a.m.- 5 p.m. June 11. Admission: free. 402-451-0787.
sandinthecityomaha.com

College World Series Opening Day: June 16 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. Before the series starts, come to the park for a day full of events, including team autograph sessions, practices, Olympic-style opening ceremonies, a concert, and fireworks. Times vary. Admission: free. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

College World Series: June 17-27/28 at TD Ameritrade Park, 1200 Mike Fahey St. One of Omaha’s biggest traditions returns for the 67th time. Baseball fans of all ages can enjoy Fan Fest, a NCAA-sanctioned festival that includes giveaways, interactive games, and special appearances. Times and ticket prices vary. 402-554-4422
cwsomaha.com

Bank of the West Celebrates America 2017: June 30 at Memorial Park, 6605 Underwood Ave. Bring blankets or chairs and relax in the park while celebrating with thousands of others at the 27th annual pre-Fourth of July tradition—featuring a concert and fireworks show. This year’s headlining act is Kool and the Gang. Admission: free. 6 p.m.-10 p.m.
celebratesamerica.com


This calendar is published as shown in the print edition

We welcome you to submit events to our print calendar. Please email event details and a 300 ppi photograph three months in advance to: editintern@omahamagazine.com


*Event times and details may change. Check with venue or event organizer to confirm.

Efficient Urban Transportation in a Zip

February 24, 2017 by

Living in a technologically advanced world has its advantages, like convenience and fiscal recompenses we never could have envisioned.

As a Los Angeles native who paid car insurance the price of a mortgage in some places, one new convenience I can appreciate is Zipcar.

The program has graced Omaha with its presence for seven years. Zipcar was founded in 2000 by Antje Danielson, current director of education at MIT Energy Initiative, and  Robin Chase, co-founder of French chartering service Buzzcar. The pair created Zipcar to provide a more efficient, affordable method of driving in the city.

Zipcar P.R. manager Lindsay Wester, who is based in Boston, explains that Zipcar is as simple as join, reserve, and drive.

Business customers begin by signing up online, where they pay a one-time setup fee of $75 and annual membership dues of $35 for each driver. This membership covers fuel, insurance, mileage, parking, and maintenance. Individuals can pay a $25 one-time setup fee annual dues of $70, or a monthly fee of $7 plus the one-time setup fee.

The Omaha fleet includes two Honda Civics and a Ford Escape. The Hondas and the Ford cost $8.50 per hour Monday through Thursday, or $69 per day. The Friday through Sunday rate is $9.50 per hour, or $77 per day for the Hondas and $83 per day for the Escape.  The other car available in Omaha is a Volkswagen Jetta, which costs $9 per hour or $69 daily at all times. The cars are parked on Creighton and UNMC’s campuses, downtown at 17th Street and Capitol Avenue, and at Mammel Hall near Aksarben Village.

Upon becoming a member, the company sends the user a Zipcard, which functions as an entry key. The ignition key stays inside the vehicle. Each user gets one card with their membership, which gives them access to Zipcar’s nationwide fleet. Upon reserving a car, the company digitally connects the Zipcard to the specific car reserved. The user gains access to the vehicle by holding the card to the card reader placed in the windshield. After scanning in with the Zipcard, a user’s smartphone can be a backup to the Zipcard for locking or unlocking the car doors throughout a reservation.

The company first brought their concept to Omaha in 2010, launching at Creighton University, followed by University of Nebraska in 2012, then the Medical Center in October 2015. In Omaha, the target market has been students, but Zipcars also are useful for travelers.

Melanie Stewart, sustainability manager at UNMC and Nebraska Medicine, is in charge of UNMC’s program.

“Last year we had a visiting professor come in, and they had a friend in Lincoln, so they used a Zipcar to visit their friend while in Omaha,” Stewart says.

The Zipcars are also used by visitors of patients who may need to purchase supplies or just take a break from being at the hospital.

Patrick Lin, a 21-year-old Omaha resident, says, “I used Zipcar roughly four to six hours every week during my sophomore year. I first heard about it from some friends in California because they couldn’t have cars during their first year at college.”

Lin enjoys the ability to use a car when needed without the expense of owning it. “Personally, it allows a lot more to get done compared to other services. The only restraint I have is that since there is a time limit, you must plan your activities accordingly. But the per-mile usage you can get when a trip is planned right is entirely worth the time constraints,” he says.

Wester says that Zipcar has remained successful and growing for more than a decade and a half. And as city dwellers become more disenchanted with the idea of owning cars, their success should continue to accelerate.

Visit zipcar.com for more information.

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

Destinations

February 22, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Horse stalls went bye-bye long ago. Now, Aksarben Village is losing car stalls, too. But that’s a good thing, as far as continued growth of the former horse-racing grounds goes. Dirt is overturned and heavy equipment sits on the plot extending north and east from 67th and Frances streets, formerly a parking lot for visitors to the bustling area. That’s because work has commenced at the corner on what will become HDR’s new global headquarters, which opens some time in 2019. The temporary loss of parking will be offset by great gain for Aksarben Village — a 10-story home for nearly 1,200 employees with a first floor including 18,000 square feet of retail space. HDR also is building an adjacent parking garage with room for ground-level shops and restaurants. But wait, car owners, there’s more. Farther up 67th Street, near Pacific, the University of Nebraska-Omaha is building a garage that should be completed this fall. Plenty of parking for plenty to do.

BENSON

A continental shift has taken place in Benson — Espana is out and Au Courant Regional Kitchen is in, offering Benson denizens another food option at 6064 Maple St. That means a move from now-closed Espana’s Spanish fare to now-open Au Courant’s “approachable European-influenced dishes with a focus on regional ingredients.” Sound tasty? Give your tastebuds an eye-tease with the menu at aucourantrestaurant.com. Also new in B-Town: Parlour 1887 (parlour1887.com) has finished an expansion first announced in 2015 that has doubled the hair salon’s original footprint. That’s a big to-do at the place of  ’dos.

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

The newest Blackstone District restaurant, which takes its name from Nebraska’s state bird, is ready to fly. Stirnella Bar & Kitchen, located at 3814 Farnam St., was preparing to be open by Valentine’s Day. By mid-January it had debuted staff uniforms, photos of its decor, and a preview of its delectable-looking dinner menu. Stirnella (Nebraska’s meadowlark is part of the genus and species “Sturnella neglecta”) will offer a hybrid of bistro and gastro pub fare “that serves refined comfort food with global influences,” plus a seasonal menu inspired by local ingredients. Fly to stirnella.com for more.

DUNDEE

Film Streams (filmstreams.org) made a splash in January announcing details on its renovation of the  historic Dundee Theater. Work began in 2017’s first month on features including:

Repair and renovation of the original theater auditorium, which will be equipped with the latest projection and sound technology able to screen films in a variety of formats, including reel-to-reel 35mm and DCP presentations.

A throwback vertical “Dundee” sign facing Dodge Street.

An entryway that opens to a landscaped patio/pocket park.

New ticketing and concessions counters.

A store with film books, Blu-ray Discs and other cinema-related offerings.

A café run through a yet-to-be-announced partnership.

A 25-seat micro-cinema.

Oh, yeah, they’ll show movies there, too. And Dundee-ers won’t have long to wait—the project should be completed by the end of 2017.

MIDTOWN

In a surprise to many—especially those holding its apparently now-defunct gift cards—Brix shut its doors in January at both its Midtown Crossing and Village Pointe locations. It was not clear at press time what factor, if any, was played by a former Brix employee, who in late December pleaded not guilty to two counts of felony theft by deception after being accused of stealing more than $110,000 as part of a gift card scheme. Despite the closing, Midtown has celebrated two additions of late as the doors opened to the “Japanese Americana street food” spot Ugly Duck (3201 Farnam St.) and to Persian rug “pop-up shop” The Importer.

NORTH OMAHA

The restoration of North Omaha’s 24th and Lake area continues its spectacular trajectory. In January, the Union for Contemporary Art moved into the completely renovated, historic Blue Lion building located at 2423 N. 24th St. The Blue Lion building is a cornerstone in the historic district. Originally constructed in 1913, the Blue Lion is named after two of the building’s earliest tenants: McGill’s Blue Room, a nightclub that attracted many nationally known black musicians, and Lion Products, a farm machinery distributor. The entire district was listed as a federally recognized historic district in April 2016.

According to its website, “The Union for Contemporary Art is committed to strengthening the creative culture of the greater Omaha area by providing direct support to local artists and increasing the visibility of contemporary art forms in the community.” Founder and executive director Brigitte McQueen Shew says the Union strives to unite artists and the community to inspire positive social change in North Omaha. “The organization was founded on the belief that the arts can be a vehicle for social justice and greater civic engagement,” she says. “We strive to utilize the arts as a bridge to connect our diverse community in innovative and meaningful ways.”

The Union will be hosting the annual Omaha Zinefest March 11. Event organizer Andrea Kszystyniak says Zinefest is a celebration of independent publishing in Nebraska. Assorted zines—essentially DIY magazines produced by hand and/or photocopier—will be on display at the free event, and workshops will be offered to attendees.

OLD MARKET

M’s Pub fans had plenty to be thankful for in November following the announcement that the Old Market restaurant would rise from the ashes of the January 2016 fire that destroyed the iconic eatery. Various media quoted co-owner Ann Mellen saying the restaurant would reopen this summer. Construction has been steady at the restaurant’s 11th and Howard, four-story building, but customers weren’t sure M’s would be part of the rebirth until Mellen’s well-received comments. Mellen says the feel—and the food—will be the same. Even if the name may change.

This article was printed in the March/April 2017 edition of Encounter.

Eat Fit Go

August 26, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Fast-casual restaurant chains, such as Panera Bread and Chipotle, have gained market share in recent years. They offer fresher fare than traditional fast food joints, but maintain the speed and convenience of counter service. Omaha-based Eat Fit Go ups the ante with an even faster and arguably healthier option for consumers on the go.

“I think, in general, the public is going through a food revolution,” says Eat Fit Go owner Aaron McKeever. “Everybody is kind of going towards that health conscious customer. And that’s definitely us. We’re convenience, grab, and go.”

McKeever’s three Omaha stores have large refrigerators stocked with a wide variety of pre-packaged meals and snacks. Every package clearly lists nutritional information and nearly all of them have fewer than 600 calories. There are microwaves for customers to heat up their meals if they choose to dine in.

“When we put this concept together, my partner, Sam (Vakhidov), and I wanted the feeling of a Starbucks-meets-an-Apple-Store. It’s fresh, it’s inviting, you can stay,” says McKeever.

EatFitGo2This isn’t McKeever’s first foray into restaurants or retail. Twenty years ago he started in business with a car dealership and is a former owner of Pitch Pizzeria and Jams Bar & Grill. He says he recently sold his shares in his other restaurants because “at the rate we’re growing with (Eat Fit Go), this needs my focus.”

He is not the company’s only industry veteran. Executive Chef Karl Marsh is the vice president of kitchen operations and comes up with several of the menu ideas.

Sitting at a table in the stylish Aksarben Village location, McKeever explains that they have a range of customers with different dietary needs, including people on low calorie, gluten-free, and diabetic-friendly diets. He says athletes like it because they know exactly what they are putting in their bodies.

One of his regular customers is Brandon Howell. A member of the Right at Home corporate marketing team, Howell says he likes that he can walk to the store from his Aksarben Village office.

“I usually eat lunch there about three times a week, and then I maybe grab dinner twice a week from there,” says Howell. “Really, with me trying to lose weight, it’s the calories that are in the meals, the portion control, the ease of it.”

Howell lives alone and says he doesn’t always want to cook in large batches for himself. He also points out that Eat Fit Go is teaching him about appropriate portion sizes and what is possible to prepare on his own. NOLA’s Dirty Rice and the All American breakfast are his favorites.

“It’s all very high-quality food, and it all tastes good,” says Howell. “That breakfast is like 320 calories, and I struggle to finish it.”

McKeever says his target customers were originally soccer moms who didn’t have time to cook but wanted their kids to eat something healthy on the way to activities.

“I think that the biggest thing with this concept—this grab-and-go concept—is changing people’s lifestyles. They want a healthy option that really hasn’t been out there in terms of convenience. I think that making dinner now at home is a luxury,” says McKeever.

The company is developing a kids’ menu and vegetarian entrees. As the organization expands and more franchises are sold around the country, each market will have a central, corporate-run kitchen that supplies the franchisees with meals.

The first corporate-owned Eat Fit Go locations opened in early 2016 in Omaha, with franchises set to open in several Midwestern cities and as far away as Atlanta and Scottsdale, Arizona.

“They should put one by my house, too, and take all of my money,” says Howell.

Visit eatfitgo.com for more information. B2B

Obviously Omaha

June 29, 2016 by
Bohemian Cafe

Bohemian Cafe

Outdoor Adventure Center

Outdoor Adventure Center

Farmers' Markets

Farmers’ Markets

Alpine Inn

Alpine Inn

Farnam House Brewing Company

Farnam House Brewing Company

Omaha's Original Greek Festival

Omaha’s Original Greek Festival

APPRECIATE
Omaha’s Czech community will lose a cornerstone of culinary heritage with the shuttering of the Bohemian Cafe (1406 S. 13th St.) scheduled for September. Enjoy dining on their signature plum dumplings, svickova, goulash, hasenpfeffer, and kolaches while you still can. Closure of the south Omaha staple is the latest in a trend affecting many of the city’s most historic restaurants.

PADDLE
Escape the sweltering heat by river. The University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Outdoor Venture Center (OVC) offers affordable canoe, kayak, and stand-up paddle board rentals. Paddling from Schramm Park to Louisville State Recreation Areas is a mild 5.6-mile trip that takes roughly 2.5 hours on the Platte River. The OVC also rents camping equipment for those heading to the Niobrara River or other far-off destinations.

FORAGE
Summer is the season for farmers’ markets. Support local agriculture and artisanal vendors all across the metro area: Saturdays in the Old Market, Benson, Village Point, and Bellevue; Sundays at The Florence Mill and in Aksarben Village; Wednesdays at Charles Drew Health Center Market in North Omaha, and in Papillion; Thursdays on Council Bluffs’ Main Street; and Saturdays and Wednesdays in Plattsmouth.

GO WILD
The Alpine Inn feeds deep-fried dinner scraps to wild raccoons once daily outside their restaurant, 10405 Calhoun Rd. The feeding frenzy is not set by clock time; rather, the feast begins once customers’ leftovers fill a 5-gallon bucket. Raccoons linger impatiently opposite a large glass windows before and after evening meals.

DRINK

Farnam House Brewing Company’s Bière de Garde won a silver medal at the 2016 World Beer Cup in May. The once-every-two-years event—billed as “the most prestigious beer competition in the world”—featured 6,596 beers from 1,907 breweries and 55 countries. The only other Nebraska brewery to medal was Lincoln’s Ploughshare Brewing Co. Bière de Garde means “beer for keeping” in French, and Farnam House keeps the farmhouse-style ale on tap year-round.

CELEBRATE
Remember to say, “Opa!” and head to St. John’s Greek Orthodox Church (St. Mary Ave. & Park Avenue) for Omaha’s Original Greek Festival on August 19-21. Authentic Greek music, culture, food, and alcohol await. Adult entry costs $3, and the event is free for children under age 12, students, military, police and fire department staff.