Tag Archives: downtown

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.

Hunnybunnies, Furries, and The Dude: An Easter Trifecta

April 12, 2017 by

PICK OF THE WEEK—SATURDAY, APRIL 15: Filmstreams is preparing for the appearance of Oscar winner Julianne Moore April 24 by screening some of the actresses best films. This Saturday at 6:25 p.m., don’t miss The Dude and company in the classic hazy L.A. noir The Big Lebowski. Moore memorably portrays The Dude’s (Jeff Bridges) feminist artist client. The film by Joel and Ethan Cohen has made plenty of critics top 10 ever movie lists. Peter Travers’ of Rolling Stone wrote “Maybe it’s the way the Coen brothers tie everything together with bowling that makes this Los Angeles-based tale of burnouts, gun buffs, doobies, tumbleweeds, art, nihilism, porn, pissed-on rugs, severed toes, Saddam Hussein, attack marmots, Teutonic techno-pop and Bob Dylan—not to mention extortion, kidnapping and death—such a hilarious pop-culture hash.” For more info, go here.

THURSDAY, APRIL 13: Although he’s the spawn of two country music legends (Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter), songwriter/video game creator Shooter Jennings has paved his own musical path. You can check out Shooter’s mesh of country, rock, EDM, and more TONIGHT at the Waiting Room Lounge (6212 Maple St.) at 9 p.m. Jennings has released eight studio albums, two live records, and has produced and released various projects courtesy of his own record label Black Country Rock. He rarely sticks to one format, which has become his signature non-style. For more info, go here.

SATURDAY, APRIL 15: Two of our favorite things merge this weekend in the Old Market. The Fur & Fashion Pop-Up Boutique will materialize in the parking lot of The Diner (409 S. 12th St.) Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fashionista pet owners can come shop for themselves and their dogs. Hello Ruby, Omaha’s first mobile fashion truck, will have their stylish, yet affordable clothing and accessories on site, and Ripley & Rue, the dog bandana and accessories boutique, will be doing personalized pup name bandanas. So don’t forget to bring your pup to this very dog-friendly free event. For more information, go here.

SATURDAY, APRIL 15: Shoppers can get in the Easter spirit this Saturday at Dundee’s Hello Holiday (5008 Underwood Ave.) The Eggcellent Eggstravaganza for Eggstra Special Hunnybunnies runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the boutique. Shop Hello Holiday’s spring 2017 collection, which includes fashion from Tuesday Bassen, Samantha Pleet, and more. Be sure to get there early: Complimentary breakfast and mimosas will be provided for the first two hours. Draw from the “eggcelent” prize basket for special discounts, prizes, and other cool stuff. All are welcome and make sure to bring along your favorite “hunnybunny.” More info here.

THROUGH APRIL: The exhibit A Painters Yoga Journey continues at the 1516 Gallery (1516 Leavenworth St.) this week. It features a series of 48 painting by Robert Bosco, associate professor of painting at Creighton University. Each piece of artwork focuses on a different yoga posture. Collectively they are becoming part of a book on classical yoga entitled Yoga: The Discipline, written by Margaret Hahn, the originator of the Omaha Yoga School in the Old Market. According to his gallery bio, Bosco, a yoga practitioner, explores the deep yoga experience in his paintings. Bosco’s loyalty to this project has merged the science and preciousness of classical yoga with his personal sense of aesthetics. All proceeds from the various publications and prints raised from this exhibit are committed to world refugee organizations. For exhibit times and admission, go here.

FOR A COMPLETE LIST OF AREA EVENTS, CLICK HERE

Horsing Around and Something Fishy, Plus MAHA Mystery Exposed!

March 30, 2017 by


PICK OF THE WEEK
: Not many international events are held in Omaha. That’s why it really is a big deal that people from around the globe have been filling up the area’s hotels this week as the FEI World Cup equestrian championship gallops into full throttle. The competition that began Wednesday is considered the equestrian equivalent of the Masters in golf or the U.S. Open in tennis. More than 50 horses and their riders will compete in both dressage (horse training and movement) and jumping events with the finals on Saturday and Sunday at CenturyLink Center. How did these beautiful equines from all over the world make their way to the Big O? Check out the latest issue of Omaha Magazine or online here for the scoop on the horses’ big trip from Amsterdam, Netherlands. For more information about the World Cup and to view a schedule of events, go here.

TONIGHT: Thursday, March 30: Another huge Omaha event is the annual MAHA music festival. Organizers have been mum about the this year’s lineup. The silence will be broken TONIGHT at Benson’s Reverb Lounge (6121 Military Ave.). The reveal video will be shown at 8 p.m., followed by karaoke. The pain or excitement of the announcement will be eased or enhanced by plenty of drink specials. Tickets for MAHA (Aug. 19 in Aksarben Village) also will be on sale. Now in its ninth year, the nonprofit indie music festival features an all-day lineup of local and national acts. Prior years’ headliners include Modest Mouse, The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie, Garbage, Dashboard Confessional, and Passion Pit. For more information, click here.

Friday, March 31: With Lent season in full swing, Omaha Magazine provides an awesome guide to getting your fish Fridays on. Executive editor Doug Meigs compiled a list of six must-try fish fries. “Expect to spend a few hours standing and waiting in line at Omaha’s most-popular fish fries,” Meigs reports. “The long wait—and the chance to meet new friends while drinking beer—is sometimes the most fun part of the evening.” Great grub mixed with alcohol and friendly conversation? That doesn’t sound fishy at all.

NEW GRUB IN NODO: Speaking of fish, one of the metro’s best new seafood restaurants is Hook & Lime + Tequila (735 N. 14th St.) located across from Slowdown in Nodo. The menu features a large selection of top-quality Mexican dishes, including a la carte tacos and tortas, all for under $20. “We have this amazing menu, these amazing items, that we’re able to bring to people who normally wouldn’t get to experience them,” owner Robbie Malm says. “We’re trying to take that food, that approach of sourcing locally and treating these items with respect, and make it more approachable. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a suit and tie or flip-flops, we welcome everybody here.” And don’t forget about the tequila. Read all about Hook & Lime is the latest issue of Omaha Magazine’s Encounter, or read the article online here.

Saturday, April 1: Tequila shots may be just the thing to celebrate “150 Years of Nebraska Poetry” at the launch party for the new book Nebraska Poetry: A Sesquicentennial Anthology, which will be released in May. The University of Nebraska-Omaha’s Criss Library is hosting the event Saturday at 3 p.m. on the lower level of the library. Editor Daniel Simon will be on hand to discuss his anthology—the first of its scope to encompass 150 years of the state’s literary history, featuring 80-plus poets and more than 180 poems. This landmark collection includes poems by such well-known poets as Willa Cather, Loren Eiseley, and Tillie Olsen—as well as some remarkable but relatively forgotten writers from the late 19th to the mid-20gth centuries. For more information or to order the book, click here.

FOR A COMPLETE LISTING OF EVENTS, CLICK HERE.

True Colors

March 15, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Art has long-served as an outlet to help humans heal. With America amidst an ever-building tumultuous political and social climate, choose to make art with your wardrobe. This spring, find solace in wild hues and bold patterns. Let your wardrobe be your armor; arm yourself with optimism and happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Makeup by Chevy

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

A Family Masterpiece

February 24, 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.

Living Small to Live Large

March 3, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sometimes to live large, you’ve got to live small—very small.

This, at least, is the working mantra of Kevin and Amanda Kohler, who occupy a 620 square-foot condo off of 16th and Farnam streets.

The Kohlers happily insist they have all the room they need.

“With a smaller space, you invest in the quality rather than the quantity of things,” Amanda says. “Everything in here, I like.”

 

When questioned why they downsized from a living place originally twice as large, the Kohlers explain their two main incentives—running a business and traveling comfortably. They own and operate the technology company KOVUS.

The couple traveled to 16 countries during the last five years, journeying throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America. The logic is simple—
by spending less on a mortgage, the Kohlers save their income for a budget to travel at will.

Although the two admit they first thought downsizing would be temporary and challenging, they wound up hooked on traveling, which easily balanced out the predicaments of living on a small scale.

“I would rather live here and travel the world than live in a big city and be hamstrung,” Kevin says.

Despite travels to such exotic locales as India, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, Omaha remains the Kohlers’ consistent home base, especially since they enjoy owning a business here.

 

“There are so many people I can connect with here that have been beyond helpful in building our business,” Amanda says. “Every single person I reach out to or ask for advice is willing to help—it’s a very collaborative environment.”

Living in the heart of downtown, according to Kevin and Amanda, can be both inexpensive and accessible. The two share a car, but walk to dozens of restaurants or stores. Their building even offers an in-house coffee shop called Culprit.

The small space they inhabit is more than just a footnote to this convenience, however.

“[Living small] forces you into a more minimalistic lifestyle,” Amanda says. “Now that we have a 2-by-2 closet to store stuff, it forces you to be disciplined about the things you need. You have to be creative about how you purpose things.”

The cabinet in their living room doubles as a covert litterbox for Archie, their 20-pound cat, while the couple joke that an old clothes stool now dually serves as the communal scratching-post. The small closets divide into basins to stow shoes, clothes, camera equipment, and other items. The couple purchase good food, good wine, and experiences as opposed to mere “stuff.” Amanda enjoys buying books, but has forsaken paper in favor of eReader files.

The condo, despite the confined space, still manages to feel roomy and open. Using lots of natural light from big windows and keeping an abundance of home-grown plants creates an earthy ambiance against an urban backdrop. Small tokens from their travels, including “several wine bottles,” they joke, decorate surfaces. The condo’s main space includes a cedar chest that belonged to Amanda’s grandmother as well as a custom-made coffee table that easily seats four. The Kohlers give interior decorating credit to Jessica McKay at Birdhouse Interiors, although the pictures that adorn the walls are due to Amanda’s love of photographing their travels. In India, Amanda’s personal favorite travel-spot, she even took photographs from a hot-air balloon.

“I feel like you get better at traveling as you go, and we were able to really immerse ourselves in the culture,” Amanda says. “The people there couldn’t be more hospitable and generous.”

So what’s next on the Kohlers’ agenda? For starters, the couple plan to travel to Tanzania, Rwanda, and Uganda for three weeks during the holidays. Since a close friend who often traveled with them recently passed away, Kevin and Amanda explain they want to experience all they can while they’re young.

This means their home, for now, remains a small downtown condo.

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Making the Old New Again

November 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Sherri and John Obermiller decided their new downtown condo reminded them too much of the suburbs.

They should know. The couple moved in 2011 from their five-bedroom, five-bathroom home in the white-picket-fence-lined neighborhoods off 180th St. and West Center Road to the eclectic, artsy downtown for a reason, and it wasn’t perfection and modernity.

Obermiller2“It was time to downsize and just get rid of stuff,” Sherri says. “Plus, this gave me an excuse not to do yard work anymore.”

The pair looked at five or six buildings before deciding the 902 Dodge Street condos were a natural fit for them. The building is located close enough to walk to yoga classes or sushi restaurants, but far enough from the bustle of the Old Market. “We don’t always like to be in the crowd, but we like to be near it,” Sherri says. “We enjoy being anonymous in a sea of people.”

An available condo on the fifth floor was too small and in need of a facelift, but the Obermillers saw its potential. Their first act as new owners? Asking their neighbor what amount of money it would take for him to move. Their new home instantly doubled in size.

To further construct their vision for the space, they enlisted the help of Stephanie Basham, principal designer and owner of Group One Interiors, and Don Stormberg, owner of Stormberg Construction. The couple rented and lived in a unit on the second floor of the building as Basham and Stormberg’s teams worked to renovate the condo to the Obermillers’ standards.

Obermiller3“It’s always challenging to work in a space that people are inhabiting during construction,” Basham says. “The Obermillers have a finely tuned sense of contemporary style and an appreciation for urban modernism. And to top that, John and Sherri value attention to detail, which is a dream for a designer.”

From using lime green as an accent color to matching the gray of the exposed concrete ceiling to the condo’s columns, the detailed design was inspired from the Obermillers’ travels to metropolises like New York City.

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To make the home feel larger, Basham took advantage of the high ceilings and crafted a floating translucent cloud above the kitchen island. The focal point of the home, the cloud creates a sense of separation between the kitchen and adjacent rooms without impeding the view. Local fabricators and installers used frosted acrylic to have the effect of tinted glass without the weight. This fixture is a personal favorite of the Obermillers.

“The cloud above and countertop below have the same steel lines, so they mirror one another,” Sherri says. “We strived for symmetry throughout our home.”

Following nearly a year of renovations, only the cherrywood cabinets in the kitchen remain in the now-2,400-square-foot condo.  An entire patio was removed; new floors and appliances were installed; iron-welded, artisan-crafted barn doors were mounted; and rooms were ornamented in furniture from as far away as Sweden. The result is a simple, contemporary design that’s entirely unique to the Obermillers.

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The Obermillers saw not only the potential of their condo but the value of the downtown area as well. While the CenturyLink Center was the major draw north of Dodge Street when the Obermillers first moved downtown, the area will soon be home to HDR’s high-rise headquarters and a collection of newly developed apartments, offices, and entertainment space.

“We are incredibly excited about this development and what’s next,” John says.

Obermiller6Embracing an urban lifestyle is a hot trend, yet the Obermillers aren’t concerned with following or setting trends. Instead, their new home serves as a space for them to reinvigorate their story together.

“We can walk to the trails by the pedestrian bridge or quickly go to the restaurants in the Old Market. It’s fun and incredible,” Sherri says. “It feels like we live in a much bigger city than what Omaha really is.”

When the Obermillers aren’t watching Nebraska sunsets melt behind the Woodman and First National from their building’s rooftop terrace, they enjoy a different view from their living room window. They look down onto the interstates weaving under and over themselves, roads looping and stretching in different directions. An image the Obermillers agree is beautiful. Just below the roads and between the urban sprawl of Omaha and Council Bluffs lies the river.

“We always thought at this point in our life we’d have a condo overlooking Lake Michigan,” John says. “Living happily next to the Missouri River in downtown Omaha? Well, that’s just the next
best thing.”

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The Bike Union

August 19, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Miah Sommer hopes his Bike Union venture will turn the tide for many Omaha-area youth.

The Bike Union opens this summer as a full-service bike shop in a flying saucer-looking former bank building near 19th and Dodge streets. Sommer is renovating the space with the help of multiple foundations and private donors.

Under the themes of “Sales…Service…Social Change,” the Bike Union will sell refurbished bikes and also offer bicycle repair. Its most important function, however, will be employing at-risk youth and recalibrating their direction in life.

“I hear the term ‘disadvantaged youth,’ but we don’t see it that way,” Sommer says. “Central to our philosophy, these kids are just as capable as the next person. They are not disadvantaged in their abilities, just in the opportunities they’ve had to succeed.”

Sommer understands the struggle. He was determined not to become a statistic—one of those kids who couldn’t overcome a tough upbringing to avoid poverty, homelessness, or jail. He made it to college and got heavily involved in the music and bicycling industries, where he discovered a talent for managing and mentoring others. The Bike Union, he says, is the perfect bridge between his past and his passion for helping at-risk youth.

“We want to give them the tools they need to achieve a vision of success.”

Sommer plans to deliver those tools by hiring youth who are aging out of the foster care system. Too many of those kids, he says, don’t graduate from high school. Too many can’t find a job. Too many are…headed nowhere.

Working 20-hour weeks in a 12-month program, Sommer envisions his workforce being trained in position-specific skills and general core competencies that make them attractive to potential employers.

“There are so many ways we can benefit youth and the community through this shop,” says Sommer, who previously launched another youth bike mentoring program at a local Trek dealership. “We want to be self-sustaining as soon as we can so we can serve as many youth as possible.”

Sommer is banking on the fact that a growing bicycle culture in Omaha will fuel the service side of the shop, and he counts on the giving nature of the city to keep the shop stocked with donated bikes that can be refurbished and then sold to further fund the program.

“If you get your bike serviced here, get a flat changed here, you’re helping fund a non-profit and change the community,” Sommer says. “By donating or purchasing a bike, you will be turning your compassion into money to help fund a nonprofit and change the community.

“Donating bikes, time, and money will be the lifeblood of what we do for these kids.”

For Sommer, it’s a chance to create opportunities he had to find himself when he grew up in south Omaha. Sommer says he decided on his own that he didn’t like his educational path, “so I started reading books and haven’t stopped since.

“The toughest part of growing up for me was people being content with you becoming a statistic,” Sommer says. “Rather than let that happen and feel pity for these kids, I want to show them a better path.”

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Holly Barrett

April 9, 2015 by
Photography by Keith Binder

Originally published in March/April 2015 Encounter.

Holly Barrett knows how to shovel horse manure. According to her father, this set Barrett up perfectly for politics. Once a professional horse trainer and dressage rider, Barrett brings a unique and upbeat attitude to her job as the director of the Omaha Downtown Improvement District (DID).

And she isn’t afraid to get dirty. Barrett may push down a filthy lever on a trash compactor during the day, and then put on a floor-length gown at night to rub elbows with the donors of the city. She is a basic black dress kind of girl. “It hides the dirt or dresses up,” Barrett says with a boisterous laugh. She is animated and refreshingly candid.

If you watch Parks and Recreation, you’ll see a little bit of Leslie Knope in Holly Barrett.

Barrett brings 17 years of experience in relationship-based professions, including fundraising, politics, and public relations. Her latest stint was serving as the executive director of Denver’s LoDo area, its image growing considerably under her watchful eyes. “She (Barrett) is just what Omaha needs to make downtown the premier spot to visit, work, live and be entertained,” says Bill Owen, the board chair of the DID.

Barrett is excited to be part of a city at its tipping point—the sky’s the limit and Omaha is a wonderful canvas, she says. Transportation alternatives, improvement of parking, and activation of public spaces are ideas in the hopper. “We have to get Omahans to think of themselves as a big city,” Barrett says.

In order for this to happen, Barrett says the perspective and mentality of people here first has to change. If someone wants to stop by for a frosty mug of beer down in The Old Market on a hot day, he or she will drive around and around to find a parking meter. Meters are less expensive than an $8 parking lot.

Barrett says $8 for parking is probably the cheapest in the country, but understands it is important to work with parking lot vendors to lower rates to make them more reasonable. She has worked with one city lot, on 10th and Jackson Streets, to lower it to $1 an hour. Almost instantly, it was easier to find a meter because the lots were full. Plus, Omahans are still very much in love with their cars. “I have seen people drive four blocks to go from a meeting in The Old Market to come up to a meeting here,” Barrett says laughing until her face turns red. “And, in my mind, that is absolutely hilarious.”

She wants people to move easier and more efficiently downtown, but realizes the harsh Midwest weather permits this from happening. She walks pretty much everywhere, even on the coldest of days, bundled up in a coat. Barrett drives only for basic amenities or to see her horse, Poppy, in Papillion.

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