Tag Archives: downtown

The Changing Face of Omaha

February 23, 2018 by
Photography by Durham Museum (provided)

A lot can change in 35 years, even in Omaha, a town where some places look like a glacier flowed over 2 million years ago and only unfroze a few weeks ago.

Of course, if you’re paying attention, there were decisions that changed the face of the city. Since 1983, the city has razed some of its notable historic structures, most notoriously Jobbers Canyon, a 24-building section of downtown Omaha that was torn down in 1989. It represents the nation’s largest demolition of National Register historic buildings, which remains a sore spot for preservationists.

But there have been subtler shifts. There was an exodus of businesses away from downtown to the suburbs, most visibly represented by the loss of the downtown Brandeis store in the 1980s, which both the razing of Jobbers Canyon and the development of the Gene Leahy Mall (conceived in the 1970s and named after Omaha’s mayor from 1969 to 1973) were intended to address.

The Brandeis move west—the company developed and settled in the Crossroads Mall—was perhaps the most visible “suburban” relocation of its time. Westward sprawl continued apace with additional suburban malls opening afterward, such as Oak View Mall, built in 1991. Now Crossroads, a shell of its former glory, is the city’s most visible evidence of the “retail apocalypse.”

Omaha’s once-upon-a-time peripheral neighborhoods have continued to see retail development, perhaps most notably with the redevelopment of the old Ak-Sar-Ben race track into Aksarben Village.

In recent years, the city’s westward trend has started to reverse itself, with a number of high-profile redevelopments downtown, including the building of the CenturyLink Center in 2003, the construction of TD Ameritrade Park in 2011, a variety of arts venues (including the KANEKO in 2008 and the Holland Performing Arts Center in 2005), new restaurants, and the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge across the Missouri River (built in 2008). Meanwhile, almost overnight, it seems that Benson and now Blackstone have rivaled the Old Market as the city’s top districts for nightlife.

Jobbers Canyon being demolished in 1989

Additionally, the skyline of downtown has changed considerably in the past 35 years. In 1983, the city’s iconic tall building was Woodmen Tower. It has since been joined by First National Bank Tower, completed in 2002, and Union Pacific Center, completed in 2004.

Some things don’t seem to change much. For example, Omaha has always wrestled with what to do with its riverfront, an ongoing discussion that doesn’t seem anywhere near resolution. The city’s latest riverfront redevelopment proposals could once again change the face of downtown (whether the plans are an improvement remains uncertain).

Omaha’s population has consistently grown in that time. From 1982 through 2017, the city’s population has grown about 42 percent, from approximately 316,000 to 450,000 (according to the U.S. Census Bureau and University of Nebraska-Omaha Center for Public Affairs Research Coordinator David Drozd).

It helps that Omaha has a flexible economy, a product of a surprising legacy. Because the city was founded as the westward terminus for the transcontinental railroad, the city has always been able to capitalize on opportunities provided by the railroad.

One of the more recent opportunities is that railroad lines have offered an unfettered path for laying communications lines.

Early on, telegraph lines went along the railroad, but recently those have been replaced by high-speed internet lines and the like, allowing Omaha and Council Bluffs to serve as communications hubs for the rest of the country. In the ’90s, this encouraged the development of telecommunications jobs, such as the West Corp., which went public in 1996 with 2,000 employees. This later expanded to an entire communications technology industry, and nowadays both the University of Nebraska and Creighton offer degrees in technology and telecommunications.

Omaha’s semiskilled labor industries, especially in meat packing, have long been one of the city’s magnets for new citizens. The plants have, over the years, drawn from relocated African-American workers, rural Southern white workers, and even workers from Japan. While Mexican-Americans have been in Omaha since 1900, the packing plants, in particular, brought a wave of new residents from Latin America in the 1990s, who at first settled around South Omaha.

The Mexican-American and Mexican immigrant presence in Omaha is significant enough that the city has its own Mexican consulate. In 1999, Union Stockyards and the Livestock Exchange Building closed, and the “smell of money” left its longtime home in South Omaha.

Lately, the city’s largest growing population statistic has been its Asian residents, growing 23.5 percent between 2010 and 2015. Some of this increase is due to immigration, with the city becoming home to refugees from Thailand, Myanmar, Nepal, and Bhutan. Even with this growing demographic representation, however, the Asian population of Omaha remains relatively small, about 2.6 percent of the total population according to the last census.

Visit census.gov for more information.

Jobbers Canyon, 1929

This article was printed in the March/April 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Christy Chan

February 22, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This is the first in a series on artists in residency at The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.

Christy Chan was at the tail end of her residency when we spoke; it started Sept. 20 and ended Nov. 17. The theme was Art, Empathy, and Ethos. The artist and storyteller is now back home in Oakland, California.

Christy Chan says she enjoys the view from her room at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, even though it faces the train tracks downtown.

“I actually really like it,” she says. “I think trains are romantic.”

Chan lived at the Bemis for two months in the fall while doing a residency there. She is an interdisciplinary artist who enjoys telling stories through video, audio, performance, and installations. The Bemis residency offers her a chance to work on her latest project and to do all the things she doesn’t necessarily get to focus on at home. Perhaps most importantly, it provides her a unique experience.

“I was really intrigued to come here, because I’ve lived on two coasts, I’ve lived abroad, but I’ve seen more of other countries than I have of this country,” she says.

Aside from her general curiosity, Chan says she also felt that living in a time when politics are so polarizing, it was important to see more of the country.

“Because I do work about class and race and power, specifically in the United States, it’s important that I see more of it…I think it’s easy for different groups of people, different areas of the U.S., to be ‘cartoonized,’” she says, adding that this is something that happens all over the world and is not unique to this country.

She was familiar with the Bemis residency program and even applied four years ago. This time around, she applied because the themes seemed like a perfect fit.

Chan’s experience with the themed residency exemplifies the goal of the program. She says she enjoys meeting all the artists. The fact that the theme is empathy and they all lay claim to that attachment in their work gave them a lot to talk about.

Chan says a residency gives her the opportunity to step out of the day-to-day routine of her nine-to-five job as a freelance film producer. “The thing I love about residencies is going somewhere and having a natural response to the environment and stumbling onto things that I become curious about,” she says. “I think that really feeds my work.”

Though she’s working on multiple projects at the Bemis, she is developing a project called “Everybody Eats Lunch.”

“I guess most artists would call it a social practice project, to use fancy words, but I just call it a community art project.”

Chan’s parents were Chinese immigrants who owned a Chinese restaurant in her hometown in Virginia. She says she grew up seeing how coming together for a meal breaks down walls. “It just does,” she says. “Gathering and eating and talking is just part of our human nature.”

She says the plan is to have the project open to anyone and everyone who wants to participate.

Chan launched the project here, when she met with two Omahans. She also has friends in Oakland and New York who are participating, but hopes to see it spread far beyond that. “Right now, it’s sort of unfolding in this organic way,” she says.

For her two lunches here, she says Block 16 agreed to sponsor them. Come spring, there will be an official website where people can view those lunches and more.

She says the idea is to record the lunch conversation, and, if you’re comfortable doing so, taking a picture with each other. If not, she suggests taking a picture of the food you’re eating together. “No matter who we are or where we come from,” Chan says, “we all come together over food and conversation and that’s something we all share.”

“I really want to give people some freedom,” Chan says, “because it’s not about how good a photographer you are…it should be as easy as recording it on your phone. And the pictures don’t have to be great.” She says the idea is to collectively create a larger conversation that people will listen to, with one conversation leading to another.

“The premise of it is coming from the fact that we keep hearing that we live in this polarized time, how we’re all in these echo chambers,” Chan says, “not just because of digital media, but because we are on digital media all the time. That in itself is its own echo chamber.”

Chan says in an ideal world, you would be able to meet and talk to anyone, or just go deeper in a conversation with someone you already know.

“Politically, conversations are very polarized. I think there’s truth to that,” she says. “The idea of it is just to have lunch with somebody you wouldn’t normally have a conversation with, someone you consider a stranger and, for whatever reason, they at first seem too different from you, you haven’t had a connection…my intention is to give people an excuse to notice who’s around them and feel more connected to the people around them. It might be that someone has different political views or values. I think that will be interesting to see how these lunches go.”

She adds, “As all these really heated, political things are happening, it might feel good to be connecting in a way that’s just one-on-one.”

Chan says that for her, the project has made her think about all the people she sees everywhere, every day, who she hasn’t had a conversation with. “Everyone has a story,” she says, “everybody has something interesting about their life.”

“A lot of my work is really about humanizing who people are, sort of stripping away the easy categories—age, race, gender, sexuality, and just humanizing who we are,” she says. “So, I was really excited to come here.”

Chan says she’s been driving around Nebraska, even heading into South Dakota, looking at different points of interest. She finds homesteads particularly fascinating, and even planned a trip to Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice.

“I don’t know when I’ll be back here again, so I want to see everything,” she says. “It’s been a really great place to do research and just feel inspired.”

As a storyteller, she says seeing the pioneer history and how that story was told interested her because a lot of her work revolves around that—storytelling and looking at the ways stories are scripted into our culture, whether they’re right or wrong. “A lot of my work is about using stories to subvert stories, or to create a fuller picture.”

Chan says that as she’s been exploring, she’s been making video and audio recordings. She has also read and reread a lot of books written about and set in the Midwest, from graphic novels, to autobiographies of Native Americans who were forced to go to boarding schools and assimilate, and even the Little House on the Prairie books.

“It’s felt really special to be here and see where a lot of things have happened in history.”

Chan says it’s important to look at things with a critical eye, as far as what are the narratives being told.

“Something that really blew my mind once I got out here and I was looking at where everything was, was realizing that where the Little House on the Prairie books, where those stories were set, were right next to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, and that essentially those two stories are related,” she says. She finds it interesting how those two narratives
are represented.

While she obviously made that connection before, she says she felt it in a much more visceral way when she saw the land, adding that it’s different to be able to read the book and then drive over to see the site.

“The fact that we have, not just the Little House books, but other books that create this narrative of what we think our history is,” she says, “but there’s this other narrative that’s also completely true, and they coexist together…
it’s complex.”

Besides traveling around Nebraska to get a sense of what this part of the country looks like, she’s also been visiting art museums and galleries to see how stories are represented there.

“I feel like sometimes seeds get planted while in residency, and then later on, they take form. I feel that might happen here as well,” she says. “When I’m in a new place and something’s pulling me to look at it, I just kind of try to trust that feeling…and go with it.” 

All About the Residency

Holly Kranker is the residency project manager at the Bemis Center and has been with the program since 2013. She says themed residencies (like this year’s: Art, Empathy, and Ethos) are somewhat new to Bemis. This year marks the third one.

Kranker says two years ago, they started residency schedules, with the artists arriving and leaving at the same time, in a three-month block. In the past, the Bemis would have artists coming and going frequently, Kranker says, so they wanted to create more of a cohort.

Kranker says they wanted the residents to have a richer experience with the other artists they were meeting, “so it would be more fulfilling and give them a chance to really get to know each other.” She says residency blocks usually run from January to April, and May to August, with themed residencies developed by their artistic director lasting just two months—from September until November.

Previous themes were Future of Food, Sci-fi, and the Human Condition. For now, the future of the thematic residencies is unknown. However, their regular residencies will continue.

Kranker describes the process of getting a residency as a two-panel process, with three panelists each. The first panel is given criteria to look for, including whether it’s contemporary, consistent, aesthetic, and whether the artist has a true command and understanding of the work they’re doing.

During the second wave, they tally up the first panel reviews and the top-scoring applicants move on. She says the top applicants end up being roughly 20 percent of the pool.

“For a full residency year, we generally receive around 1,000 to 1,100 applications. Of those, we’re able to place roughly 36 artists in the residency per calendar year.” This is about 3 to 4 percent of the total pool.

Unfortunately, Kranker says they won’t have a thematic residency for 2018. However, that’s not to say they won’t ever have them again.

“Residencies are a living, breathing thing and we’re always evaluating and being responsive to what artists needs are in contemporary art.” 

Visit christychan.com to learn more about the artist. To learn more about the project, go here everybodyeatsclunch.com.

Visit bemiscenter.org to find out more about the residency program.

This article appears in the January/February 2018 edition of The Encounter.



June 15-18 Weekend Picks

June 15, 2017 by

PICK OF THE WEEK—Thursday, June 15: David Sedaris is back in Omaha and ready to draw you a little something to remember him by. Sedaris will be speaking and signing books at The Bookworm TONIGHT, promoting his latest book, Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002. The line forms at 5 p.m. Outside seating will be available and he will sign autographs. The acclaimed author is always a big draw, so be prepared to wait in line for one of his signature “signatures.” But regardless of how far back you are, don’t worry: He’s there for as long as it takes to greet everyone. To find out more, go here.

Friday, June 16: The standup scene in Omaha is slowly but surely growing, with special help from The Backline comedy theater downtown. But this weekend you can head to The Sydney in Benson to catch Gay Standup Comedy: Pride Edition. This is a recurring show that normally happens on the third Saturday of every month at The Backline and includes LGBT comics and allies of the LGBTQIA community. If you haven’t had a chance to check out the scene, now is the time. Show starts at 9 p.m. For more information, click here.

Friday, June 16: It’s that time of  year again, when Omaha becomes the home of college baseball and you start overhearing Southern drawls asking for sweet tea. And since the CWS moved to NoDo, Slowdown has been a go-to spot for all the fans looking for a break from the stands. This Friday DJ Werd and Satchel Grande play a free “dance party” for those fans and for anyone else willing to brave the heat and the crowds. To check out all Slowdown has to offer during the series, click here.

Saturday, June 17: If you want to avoid the crowds downtown this weekend, now is the perfect time to check out what Stinson Park in Aksarben has to offer this summer. The Stinson Concert Series brings local bands to the park for free Saturday evening shows throughout the summer. This week’s free show starts at 7 p.m. and will feature cover band Finest Hour. So get out and get down this weekend. To see what else is going on at Aksarben, take a look at the calendar here.

Saturday, June 17: Start Pride Week off right by checking out the Heartland Pride Parade in Council Bluffs this Saturday at 10 a.m. The parade kicks off a week-long celebration of LGBTQIA people and culture here in the Midwest, but it is just the beginning. To find out about other Pride events or to volunteeer, head here and see how you can become “alive with pride.”

Sunday, June 18: For those whose fathers could care less about baseball, the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum is offering free admission this Sunday for Dads who want to spend Father’s Day checking out some cool planes and maybe taking a crawl through the C-47 Skytrain. This is a family outing, so sorry if you were looking to escape, Dads. The kids have to be with you if you want to qualify for the free entry. For full details, buzz on over here.

Sunday, June 11: Still trying to figure out what to get your dad for Father’s Day? How about a rescue dog? This Sunday, Taysia Blue Rescue will have volunteers hanging out from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at The Green Spot with some of their adoptable huskies and malamutes. They will answer any questions you might have about what it takes to become a rescue parent for these lovable creatures. For more info, click here.

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Pitch Poet

June 8, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

She sets up on a bustling Old Market corner. The footpaths jostle with tourists and locals doing their weekend shopping, dining,
and sightseeing.

Jocelyn Muhammad pulls the acoustic guitar slung over her back then slowly strums a chord that rings throughout the heart of the old-timey business district.

She massages sweet melodies from her guitar, but it’s not until the baby-faced, curly-haired 19-year-old songstress adds her silvery vocals that passersby stop to admire her. No one could escape her charm.

“I want to feel the breeze through my hair, through my hair,” she sings. “I want to go somewhere. I want to be someone. I want to fall in love just like everybody else.”

Muhammad’s voice flows freely at her top notes, pleasantly vibrating eardrums. She’s a showstopper—and a guitar-wielding poet of sorts.

A young musician relatively new to Omaha’s music scene, Muhammad’s voice has a textured, lived-in quality. Perhaps that’s her appeal. Caught off guard, spectators pause to hear her old-soul poetic lyrics and heart-on-her-sleeve folkie romantic songs, which are totally unexpected from such a young, jovial person.

Muhammad is a promising singer-songwriter who has already attracted an incredibly large social media following and the attention of the music industry.

A live, buzzworthy video snippet of her song “Just Like Everybody Else” recently went viral to the tune of almost 5 million plays on YouTube, even before the studio version was released in November. The 23-second clip, filmed on a few cellphone cameras, features Muhammad belting out the chorus of her song.

Taken aback, she was surprised her song reached people from as far away as Russia. It was a humbling experience, says the recent Millard South graduate. In fact, one fan wrote a song in
honor of her.

Songwriting is such an intimate practice and the truest form of flattery, she says. “It’s the idea of singing a song that you wrote about someone. The way they make you feel. And you get to put it to a melody and add words.”

Social-media savvy Muhammad stays connected with her fans through her music blog (jocelynmusic.com), YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitter. She documents her musical journey, taking fans along the quirky moments in studio sessions to interviews with the media.

Aside from hearing her from-the-heart work on Old Market street corners, fans catch her at open mic nights around town. She sings a mix of original melodies and covers about love and loss, loneliness and desperation, and pleas to find her soul mate. Under her musical belt, per se, she’s performed at open mic sessions at the legendary Whisky a Go Go in L.A. and the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. She plans to return to L.A. this summer to finish piecing together her first record.

Muhammad got her music start at age 14. Though she participated in school choir, her happenstance of guitar picking came later when she rescued a black Indiana acoustic guitar dubbed “Black Bastard” from the flames of a friend’s bonfire.

She took it home and cleaned it up. She studied her favorite British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s likes and dislikes. His musical preferences and tendencies influenced her own.

A friend taught her the fundamentals of guitar strumming—how to play a G on Cadd9 chord. Two weeks later, she wrote her first song, “Burn It Down.”

She couldn’t bottle up her newfound love for songwriting and guitar playing. So, she packed up her guitar and headed for the Old Market.

A few months later, she says she was introduced to Aly Peeler, who, at the time, was in charge of an open mic night for the then-Side Door lounge. Soon after, she met her current manager, Jeff McClain of Midlands Music Group, who offered her a placement in the group’s free mentoring program for budding musicians.

Muhammad is grateful that she has Peeler and McClain as soundboards to help her polish her melodies and lyrics. Still honing her skills, she says she owes Peeler and McClain for helping develop her talent through many lessons and repetitive exercises, which prepared her to perform live.

“I’m not going to let a melody be just a melody,” she says. “It has to be the right one. I’m practicing constantly…working to get better.”

When she’s performing on stage, Muhammad says, “It’s just me. It’s just me there, singing to you. There’s nothing else … no one else. Just me and you. And, I’m singing.”

Muhammad has been nominated three times for Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards’ best singer-songwriter, but has yet to take home the hardware.

“I’m, like, the youngest artist there…so that’s really cool,” she says. “I’m still working on winning though. I’ll get there someday, but it’s cool just to be nominated.” 


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

May 25-28 Weekend Picks

May 25, 2017 by


PICK OF THE WEEK—Saturday, May 27: Benson’s annual Memorial Day Massive Block Party is back, and this time, you might just see Jesus. Space Jesus, that is. He’ll be performing at The Waiting Room’s after party later that evening. But to see the full show, you’ll need to head to Benson a little earlier in the day. Festivities start at 4:30 p.m. and last well into the night, with outdoor performances by Snails, Boombox Cartel, ARMNHMR, and PRXZM. These shows are all ages, but if you want to enjoy yourself in a more adult-oriented atmosphere, check out the after party at Reverb Lounge, which will be 21-plus. Outdoor amenities at Reverb include a full bar, food vendors, portable restrooms, and non-alcoholic drink stations for those who wish to remain well-hydrated. For more details and to find our more about the performers, click here.

Thursday, May 25 – Sunday, May 28: Priscilla, Queen of the Desert may just be one of those adaptations that’s even more fun on stage than on the big screen, which you can now see at the Blue Barn Theatre. Based on a cult film from the ’90s, this musical extravaganza is filled with popular, easy-to-sing-along-with dance tunes that will make it hard to stay in your seat. The story follows two drag queens and a transsexual as they travel across the Australian outback in a lavender van they’ve nicknamed, “Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.” The trio encounter hardships and make friends, and, of course, do a lot of singing in the process. The show will run Thursday through Sunday until June 25. Get your tickets now here.

Friday, May 26: Do farmers markets sound like they could be fun, but they just happen a little too early in the morning? If this sounds familiar, get ready to rejoice. This Friday is Omaha’s inaugural Turner Park Night Market. While they may not have the selection of produce one would find at typical farmers markets, there will be a vendor village, with more than 20 local vendors, and a small food festival featuring food-on-a-stick from Midtown Crossing area restaurants. Attendees can play giant outdoor games, from chess to Jenga, or they can participate in some moonlight yoga, with local yoga guru Lora McCarville. Of course, what would a night market be without a little live music? Best of all, it’s free and dog-friendly, so bring the pooches out for some quality get-down time. For more details, go here.

Saturday, May 27: Everyone knows you should eat a little somethin’ before heading out for a day/night of drinking, so check out the Food Truck Extravaganza at the Infusion Brewing Company southwest Omaha location. There will be BBQ, tacos, pizza, and fish and chips to soak up all the tasty beer you’ll want to try. But if you plan on doing some blow-up sumo wrestling, you might want to wait until afterward to check out all the beer and food so you don’t accidentally throw up. Money raised from the wrestling and from a ring toss will go to Food Bank of the Heartland and Team Blake: Fighting Against Leukemia, so make sure you have a great time for some great causes. Find out more here.

Sunday, May 28: If you’re not the camping type and you’re looking for something fun to do this Sunday, take yourself out to the Alamo Drafthouse and watch one of your favorite ’80s stars do everything in his power to get the girl. Say Anything is a classic everyone can enjoy, either with your significant other or a group of your best friends. John Cusack delivers the charm in one of his most iconic roles. Hopefully it will erase his Hot Tub Time Machine performance from your memory. To learn more about seeing Lloyd Dobler’s finest hour-and-a-half on the big screen, click here.

Dream Team

May 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There’s a dazzling, eye-catching photo that adorns the bare-bones brick wall inside the photography studio at 1820 Vinton St.

A lovely girl sits in a deep-blue cloud of a dress, highlighted by silver accents. In the background, the grayish sky is streaked with pink-gold clouds. It’s a striking image, and an excellent example of the kind of work one can expect from the gentlemen of Elite, a boutique photography studio based in the historic Vinton Street Business District in South Omaha.

Elite’s Bernardo Montoya and Eric Gutierrez are an impressive pair. Montoya is dressed impeccably in light, subdued colors and wearing a fedora, a signature look for him. Gutierrez, on the other hand, is wearing a simple black T-shirt with dark blue jeans and a rust-colored vest, his brown, gray-streaked hair pulled back from his face.

Despite their contrasting appearances, it’s clear these business partners have an inspiring, deep, mutual respect for one another.

The two met about six years ago at an Omaha Police Department holiday event Montoya organized. At the time, Gutierrez was working in construction, but had long been interested in taking pictures.

“Photography has been a hobby for—the last 20 years,” he says, somewhat questioningly, chuckling a little.

After discovering Gutierrez was an amateur photographer, Montoya asked if he would like to volunteer his services for some of the events Montoya put together. Eventually, they were getting asked to do so much side work, they decided they should try to really make a go of it and invest in themselves and their talent.

Initially, the two worked out of Gutierrez’s Elkhorn home, using his living room, dining room, and kitchen as studio space. But about two years ago, they started working on their brick-and-mortar studio on Vinton Street.

Montoya says when they moved into the space, it was in “awful” shape, so they immediately started renovating.

“Walls were demolished, the false ceiling was removed, original floors were salvaged, and a new bathroom was built,” he says. “Every day we want to continue making modifications.” He said their next project is the façade.

Renovations aside, the neighborhood itself seems like the perfect place for Elite Photography. The developing business fits right in with the community’s burgeoning art scene, and they couldn’t be happier with their location. Montoya says it’s a great neighborhood with incredible potential that he believes the city plans on developing.

Gutierrez agrees: “I think that this street opens a door to, not just the Hispanic community, but to the community in general.”

“I never imagined the possibility of having a photography business like this, because I am a graphic designer,” Montoya said. He previously worked as a reporter in Mexico and in the U.S., taking pictures for articles and other projects as a part of his job. “But this was not my priority,” he says. “I discovered my passion for photography talking with Eric.”

Though Gutierrez had initially chosen a more cautious path, the passion had been there since he was young.

“At some point, when I was going to college, I told my mom that I wanted to be a photographer. She said, ‘No, don’t do that. Just do it as a hobby.’ And that was a mistake,” he says. “I always talk with parents about that. I tell them, you know, you’ve got to encourage your kids to do whatever they want.”

Fortunately, Gutierrez and Montoya have many opportunities to speak with and encourage parents, thanks to a partnership with Omaha Public Schools and the many high school senior and quinceañera photos they do.

Montoya says his inspiration and motivation comes from the looks on peoples’ faces when they first see how they look in their photos.

“We are talking about dreams, the dreams of the people,” he says. “When they talk to you and say, ‘I want to take a beautiful picture…I want to see a picture where I feel beautiful,’ it’s more than taking a simple picture. It’s making a connection with a person—seeing what they want.”

Making those dreams come true is their goal. Which makes perfect sense, since that’s what they seem to have done for each other, something that is very clear when they talk about their life’s work.

“I always say Bernardo was like an angel for me,” Gutierrez says, “because I didn’t know if I was going to do this for a living.”

But while they’ve been fortunate to find each other and develop a successful business, Montoya and Gutierrez have faced plenty of challenges, including Montoya’s recent diagnosis of a rare form of cancer—stage 2 soft tissue sarcoma.

In his typical, always-moving-forward style, Montoya is not letting the disease slow him down.

“Now I can see life with a different color,” Montoya says. “Yes, I have cancer, but it’s like I have the flu. I’m OK right now. I don’t know what will happen with me tomorrow. But you never know what will happen tomorrow—or in a couple of weeks.”

Instead, he says he’s using the diagnosis as a reminder to enjoy life, and his family, friends, work, and the connections he makes with
new people.

“I don’t want to think any bad things,” Montoya says. “I have a future, a plan. I know what I want. I have dreams and I am working toward my dreams.” 


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

A Family Masterpiece

May 10, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Some childhood memories stick with you. Dave Carroll, a retired Union Pacific manager, holds onto the memory of one fateful childhood leap that dented his grandfather’s prized 1950 Mercury.

“I’ve got so much of my life in this car,” Carroll says. When he was about 6 or 7, Carroll was playing with cousins at a tree house on his grandparents’ farm in Fullerton, Nebraska. His grandfather John Carroll’s out-of-commission vehicle sat under the tree house.

“I remember it like it was yesterday. Instead of going down the rope ladder, I jumped out of the tree house onto the car and I caved the roof in.”

Carroll remembered his grandpa’s large hands. “He got in the car and he took his hand and popped it out, and I thought, wow.” Some wrinkles remained in the car’s roof and would stay there for many decades. “The funny story is, years later, I paid to fix that roof,” he says.

His grandmother, Etta Carroll, bestowed him the car after his grandfather passed away. Then she accidentally sold the car for $50 to a neighbor kid, while Dave was serving in the military during the Vietnam War. Dave and his father, Jack, travelled to Fullerton to get the car back after Dave returned from overseas. The duo were quickly chased off of the property by shotgun.

“We went downtown and we found the local constable. He was having coffee at the coffee shop. My dad knew him. We told him the story and he said ‘come on, we’ll go back.’” The story ended well for Dave, who was still in possession of the car’s original title. And the car has been with him since then.

Over the years, the Mercury was transported across the United States on a flatbed trailer while Carroll worked his way up at Union Pacific, from a position on the track gang to one in management at the company’s headquarters. His career led him to places such as Sydney (Nebraska), Denver, and Cheyenne. At every new location, Carroll brought along his beloved Merc’. “My intention was to build it, but being a railroader, I didn’t have the time or the funds.”

Carroll returned to Omaha in the ’80s. He met and wed Dianne Cascio Carroll, owner of Anything Goes Salon. Soon after, he began his odyssey of fixing the Mercury. Having the roof repaired is just one of the many changes Carroll has made to his car.

“There’s so many things that have been done to this car,” he says. Over more than 30 years, Carroll says he has spent thousands of hours refurbishing the car. Some projects were finished, only to be torn up again and redone so that he could try the ever-evolving products in the industry that worked better. “That’s my problem,” he says. “I redo things.”

He has often lost track of time while working in his garage in the Huntington Park neighborhood in Omaha. “I’ve had my wife open the door and say, ‘you know what time it is?’ I look at the clock and it’s 10 after 1 in the morning and I’ve got to be to work at 6 in the morning.”

“It’s not about me. It’s about my parents, and honoring the memory of my grandfather. I kept this car because it was in the family and it’s never been out of the family.”

Carroll’s imagination has affected every aspect of the car, from the striking Candy Purple body color, to the custom purple snakeskin roof interior. The air-conditioning vents were salvaged from a 2002 FordTempo. He ordered the custom-made steering wheel from California, and the windshield from Oregon. Thanks to Carroll’s insatiable creativity, the car has a digital dash, an electrical door opener, a late-model motor with custom aluminum valve covers, four-wheel disk brakes, rounded hood corners, a smooth dash and Frenched-in (curved) headlights.

The restoration has also been helped by Ron Moore of Moore Auto Body, Rick White of Redline Upholstery, and Rod Grasmick, an antique auto restorer. Using qualified professionals means that Carroll knows his car is taken care of, but he also finds them to be knowledgable friends.

“I have a couple of friends that are helping me with this car, that’s how our [automotive] community is—everybody helps everybody,” he says.

Will the car ever be finished? “My dad is always telling that he hopes to get to ride it in when it is done, and him being 92 years old puts a lot of pressure on me,” he says.

“My wife says, ‘you’re taking forever.’ Well, look at it this way, there’s better and newer stuff coming out all the time,” Carroll says. And so the journey continues.

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


May 5, 2017 by


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.


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.


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).


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

10 Cheap Things to do in Omaha This Summer

April 27, 2017 by

This is going to be no ordinary summer in Omaha, and the best part is, you won’t have to budget much to enjoy it with your family. There are inexpensive and free activities throughout the metro, from a pool with a pirate ship to a trail that leads to a waterfall. There are indoor and outdoor film series for families, as well as free festivals. Here are 10 ideas for cheap fun in Omaha.

1. Spraygrounds

For free water fun, head to one of the city parks with a sprayground: Benson Park, Fontenelle Park, Kountze Park, Orchard Park, Seymour Smith Park, Upland, Morton, Westwood Heights, and Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge Plaza. These spraygrounds are great because they’re also near playgrounds. You can find additional outdoor fountains and spraygrounds that cost no admission to play in at Omaha Children’s Museum, Joslyn Art Museum, Shadow Lake Towne Center, and the First National Bank Tower.

2. Festivals
Free summer festivals in Omaha have kid-friendly aspects to them, while introducing new things to see, hear, and taste. Dance at a music series like Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing and Stinson Park at Aksarben Village. The Omaha Summer Arts Festival has an entire area dedicated to children’s activities.  Shakespeare on the Green has a tent of costumes for children to try on. Taste of Omaha is free, but you’ll want to buy tickets for food and rides.

3. Hikes

For the price of park admission, an adventure awaits on a nearby trail. One kid favorite is an easy trail that leads to a waterfall at Platte River State Park just outside of Omaha. Head to Hummel Park to search for the staircase that always baffles its climbers—no one can settle on how many steps there are. For a gem hidden in the middle of the city, visit Heron Haven Nature Center just northeast of 120th and Maple streets.

4. Unique Pools

Swimming is fun no matter where you go, but some local pools offer some fun extras worth checking out. The popular city pool at Lake Zorinsky has waterslides and a fun splash. Cross over the Missouri River to Council Bluffs to visit the city pool, Pirates Cove Pool, where kids can play around a pirate ship and use two waterslides. Head indoors to the Salvation Army Kroc Center and check out the newly renovated pool and waterslide.

5.   Explore the Old Market

The Old Market has so many things for kids to see, hear, and taste. On Saturday mornings, stroll the bustling farmers market. Visit any day of the week and you’ll likely encounter musicians playing music and charming horse-drawn carriages. Kids love the Old Market Candy Shop and Hollywood Candy. Head to The Passageway for toy store Le Wonderment, and then go on a hunt for the Zodiac Garden hidden behind an art gallery there.

6.  Downtown Fun

There’s more fun just beyond the Old Market. Slide down the big slides at Gene Leahy Mall. At Heartland of America Park, you may catch a gondolier offering inexpensive rides around the lake. Cross the “The Bob” pedestrian bridge to take that iconic picture standing on the state line. The building at the base of the bridge is the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters, which has a visitor’s center with free kid-friendly activities.

7. Bowl or Skate for Free

There are two national programs for children to sign up for that get them free rentals at local venues. Kids Bowl Free allows kids to have two free games each day all summer long. Shoe rental may not be included. Kids Skate Free is a similar program. SkateDaze participates in this program that allows children 12 and younger to skate for free once a day all summer long. The skate rental fee isn’t included.

8. Family Movies Series

Ruth Sokolof Theater at Film Streams has a great series for families, and children’s tickets are only $2.50. They show a mix of classics and first runs. Large chain theaters often have film series during the summer featuring slightly older movies at a discounted price. Check your closest Marcus Theatre and AMC Theatre to see if they’re participating. Check the calendar of events for Midtown Crossing and Sumtur Amphitheater to see when they show free outdoor movies.

9. Fan Fest

Feel like you’re a part of the NCAA Men’s College World Series experience for free at Fan Fest right outside the stadium. You can get into the spirit by playing interactive games, taking a photo with the trophy, meeting players, and soaking up the atmosphere. Fan Fest is open through the run of the series. Go to Open Day Celebration to catch batting practices and autograph sessions, concluding with the opening ceremony and fireworks. That’s all free, too.

10. Fort Atkinson

On the first Saturday and Sunday of the month, May through October, head to Fort Atkinson to see interactive historic recreations depicting life 200 years ago. Children can complete a scavenger hunt, earning a little treat at the General Store for finishing it. Actors shoot off a cannon during the re-enactment, which is cool for some kids and too loud for others. A state park permit is needed to get into the park to see the re-enactments. 

This article was printed in the Summer 2017 edition of Family Guide.


Pacific Life

April 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The site of Omaha’s old Knights of Aksarben complex—acres of once-busy thoroughbred horse racing and concert space turned albatross—has blossomed anew as the live-work-play destination spot known as Aksarben Village.

The booming mixed-use development is home to popular eateries, a movie theater, health club, and two colleges. This is part of why Pacific Life Insurance Company moved its regional business operations office from downtown to a new five-story building there in late 2015. The company’s Omaha office has grown from 250 to 450 workers since the blue-gray motif structure’s 2014 groundbreaking.

The gleaming, glass-fronted Holland Basham Architects design offers many creature comforts and inhabits prime real estate at 6750 Mercy Road.

The new digs provide a branded presence after a low-key profile at downtown’s Landmark Center.

Angela Greisen, Pacific Life assistant vice president for human resources, says, “We couldn’t have our name on the previous building in any big, visible way. We’d been in Omaha 12-plus years and people still didn’t know we were here.” That’s changed, she says, as events “bring thousands of people to the village and our new building with our big branding and signage is right there in the middle of everything.”

“That’s been huge for us. It’s also given us higher applicant flow because people now know we’re here and here to stay and we’re growing.”

Where many employees had to use off-site parking downtown, they now have an 850-stall covered garage. A heated, enclosed skybridge connects the building to the garage.

Greisen was part of a project team drawn from each Pacific Life business unit that polled employees about their likes and dislikes.

“The three most important things employees said they wanted were parking, amenities, and a nearby location with easy access,” she says.

Aksarben was the clear site choice. Pacific Life partnered with Magnum Development on the $33 million new build. The company occupies the second through fifth floors. Eateries and shops fill the ground floor.

“Staff response has been great,” Greisen says. “They love the parking, the amenities, the bright, airy feel of the building with the wide-open layout, natural lighting, and clean, modern finishes. Though we added only about 10,000 square feet, it’s organized much more efficiently.”

Each floor plan incorporates cutting-edge work spaces to enhance communication, team-building, workflow, and group projects via huddle spaces, conference rooms, and commons areas. She says, “Staff can seamlessly interface in real time with colleagues at other locations through videoconferencing, teleconferencing, and webinar technology.”

There’s a Wall Street trading-room floor look to the third floor internal wholesaling area. Flat-screen panels stream motivational performance messages and live market conditions to the sales desk floor.

In multiple areas, adjustable, stand-up work stations are available. Employees can indulge their freshly brewed beverage cravings at several Keurig stations.

The in-house Park View Cafe is a grab-your-own, pay-with-your-phone Company Kitchen model. The spacious room converts into a meeting-reception space with audio-video connectivity. A covered balcony offers a panoramic overlook of Stinson Park.

Though not green certified, the structure integrates many conservation features, including energy efficient windows, LED lighting, HVAC that is programmed to shut off when areas are unoccupied, low water usage restroom fixtures, and motion-sensor lighting.

Greisen says employees appreciate Aksarben Village’s warm welcome and plethora of things to do. Proximity is a big plus, too, as Pacific Life is an employer partner of the University of Nebraska at Omaha, whose south campus is in the village. As an employer partner, company representatives promote their job opportunites and participate in career fairs; staffers also speak to classes and conduct mock interviews when asked. Greisen hopes this partnership will grow.

“We expect an increase because we have a partnership with UNO, and now we are literally on the edge of their campus,” she says. “It’s very convenient. Increased visibility.  It gives us even more opportunities to partner with the university.”

This visibility, along with the popular amenities, could mean an increase in sought-after employees at Pacific Life in the near future.  And that can help secure Pacific Life’s future.

Visit  aksarbenvillage.com for more information.

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