Tag Archives: Heartland of America Park

Food, Festivals, Fun, and Falconwood

May 31, 2018 by

Pick of the Week—Friday, June 1-3: It’s a foodie’s dream weekend. Taste of Omaha is back at the Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing and it’s as good as you remember. Whether you’re craving ice cream, sweet corn, or sushi, you’ll find it this weekend on the river. Mix in some music, fun, and fireworks, and it’s a guaranteed good time for everyone. Check out all the ingredients here.

Thursday, May 31: Let the eating begin tonight at Foodstock 2 in Bellevue. Forget all the dinner prep and head down to B-Town to feast on yummy treats from over 20 food trucks. There will be other vendors onsite, and a food drive for the Bellevue Food Pantry. Bonus points for this one, as it’s also a free, zero waste event. Don’t forget to bring your donations (five items or more gets you a raffle ticket). Find out more here.

Saturday, June 2: Wanna get weird this weekend? Then head to Omaha Oddities & Art Expo at Omaha Comfort Inn & Suites. With over 45 unique vendors, there will be a lot to explore. Special guests and performances will also be on hand, including a magician, a mentalist, and fire shows. Not convinced? You also have a chance to help support the Food Bank for the Heartland by bringing in a non-perishable food donation (gets you a dollar discount) or by participating in the 50/50 raffle for the Siena Francis House. Catch all the available oddities here.

Saturday, June 2: Food isn’t the only thing on the menu this weekend. Benson Beer Fest 2018 is bringing the brews, with over 75 of your favorite breweries from around the area. Your entrance fee will include a commemorative glass and, of course, a pour from each of the breweries. Now that’s a lot of beer, so a special price for designated drivers is an option. Pore over more information here and get your tix here.

Saturday, June 2: Castlepalooza! is on! This free, community festival offers live, local music, games, face painting, yoga, and of course, bubbles. Ride your bike, see some critters, and learn about solar power while enjoying the music of Clarence Tilton, Colin Michael Roberts, and Travelling Mercies. Did we mention there will be food and beer available? Bike on down to Joslyn Castle, meet some new people, learn some stuff, and enjoy the atmosphere, all for free. Start learning more here.

Sunday, June 3: Need a relaxing way to wind down and take a break from all that eating and drinking? Head to Falconwood Park (formerly Sokol Park) in Bellevue to watch The Incredibles from the comfort of your own car. The sequel hits theaters in a couple weeks, so refresh your memory (or see it for the first time) beforehand. But don’t limit yourself to just one drive-in movie this week. You can also catch a showing of Black Panther on Thursday, June 7. For the full rundown of upcoming movies at the park, click here.

Riverfront Redevelopment Plans

August 26, 2016 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

North America’s longest river is receiving lots of local attention—and not just because of all the Pokémon in the vicinity.

Omaha’s Old Market is the place to be for players of the successful augmented reality game, Pokémon Go. There are more Pokémon “trainers” roaming from the Old Market to the Missouri riverfront than anywhere else in the city.

Development of local Pokéstops (i.e., actual locations geo-tagged within the virtual game) began in summer of 2016. Omaha’s riverfront in real life—not in the virtual game—has been a big development question mark for decades.

Concerted discussions about developing the riverfront started with a master plan drawn up in the mid-1970s. Plans for the Gene Leahy Mall took root. The lush riverine park now connects the interior of downtown to Heartland of America Park, ConAgra, and the river’s edge

Dan and Katie Good portray Team Rocket

Dan and Katie Good portray Team Rocket

Historic controversy lingers in between, where ConAgra forced the 1989 demolition of Jobbers Canyon. The Jobbers Canyon Historic District was the largest “historic district” ever to have been lost (according to the National Register of Historic Places). Omaha leaders cleared the hulking red-brick warehouse district to make way for a suburban-style campus, in order to appease ConAgra and keep the corporation headquartered in town. Until 2015. That’s when ConAgra announced it would be relocating its HQ to Chicago’s Merchandise Mart (a historic structure akin to those ConAgra forced under the wrecking ball in Omaha some 26 years earlier).

In recent years, even before ConAgra’s pullout, Omaha community leaders began taking another look at riverfront development options. “Everyone was in agreement we couldn’t jump start it,” remembers consultant Donn Seidholz, a leader in the local planning committee. “We decided to bring in someone with no skin in the game.”

The mayors of Omaha and Council Bluffs hired a national nonprofit called Urban Land Institute (ULI) to provide advice on developing the riverfront. ULI’s report issued in 2014 emphasized the importance of the two cities working together, including developing more venues for events of different sizes. Seidholz says he has never before seen such a vibrant partnership between the two cities.

(Coincidentally, 2014 was the same year that Google Maps released an April Fools’ prank that eventually inspired American software developer Niantic Labs to launch the Pokemon Go app this year.)

“The fact is the river doesn’t separate us, it binds us together,” says Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh. In an e-mail response to interview requests, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert noted there are many opportunities to develop the waterfront into a vibrant destination—entertainment, special events, recreation and leisure, residential, and commercial.

The focus has been narrowed to four miles of land running along both sides of the Missouri River, starting at the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge.

“It is part of our ongoing planning to continue the exciting developments already underway in downtown, including the Capitol District, Kiewit University, and the Civic Auditorium site,” Stothert told Encounter.

The ULI study was funded by local citizens and nonprofit foundations. “In Omaha, we  are fortunate to have a strong philanthropic community that sees the value of public-private partnerships,” commented Stothert. “The ULI  study provided a framework of ideas that can guide our next steps and promote collaboration between Omaha and Council Bluffs and the private partners who share our enthusiasm for this unique space.”

Chairing the ULI panel was Jim Cloar of Tampa, Florida, who has extensive experience with riverfront development, including eight years heading downtown development in St. Louis, a city with many of the riverfront challenges seen in Omaha.

He says some of the ULI recommendations for Omaha-Council Bluffs included dog parks, playgrounds, more pedestrian-friendly paths, and restaurants.

Erin Henderson portrays a Venusaur.

Erin Henderson portrays a Venusaur.

Cloar points out that downtown Council Bluffs sits four miles back from the river, so Iowans had not given developing the riverfront as much thought. “The river has been out of sight and out of mind,” he says.

 

The city leaders opposite Omaha’s riverfront are making up for lost time. Today Council Bluffs is developing a $140 to $160 million area along the riverfront called River’s Edge, with offices, retail, and condominiums. The land once hosted Playland Park.

“It is the original site of the dog track operated by Meyer Lansky, along with Lucky Luciana,” Walsh says. Mafia gangster Lansky lived in Council Bluffs from 1941 to 1943.

Walsh is looking at more condominiums and a new marina at the riverfront. The city of Council Bluffs is constructing a glass-fronted facility facing the river that will accommodate about 200 people for meetings and social events.

The Council Bluffs Parks Department is adding an interactive water feature for families that includes a water wall and splash pad area. Walsh sees the possibility of  expanding the existing trail system along the river.

The ULI’s 2014 report, “Activating the Missouri Riverfront” recommended that early development begin near the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, where access to both cities is easier. The bridge was part of an earlier development project that broke ground in 2006.

Stothert believes that redevelopment of the riverfront will require better access for all types of transportation: “The north downtown pedestrian connector bridge, sometimes called ‘Baby Bob,’ is already partially funded and is included in our 2018-19 Capital Improvement Plan. It will link the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge to north downtown.”       

In early years, Omaha’s riverfront was heavily industrial, observes Cloar. Railroad yards and the Asarco lead refinery—at one time the world’s largest lead refinery—occupied Omaha’s riverfront, as did four battery companies. Asarco closed in 1997 and the ground was capped.

Historically in the U.S., citizens saw their riverfronts as industrial areas, says David Karem, president of the Louisville Waterfront Development Corp., a nonprofit located in Louisville, Kentucky.

“Throughout the United States, rivers were the highways of the nation, especially along the Missouri, Mississippi, and the Ohio rivers. Steamboats brought commodities into a community for easy unloading. When the steamboat went by the wayside, along came the railroad lines,” says Karem. 

Karem began a redevelopment process in Louisville 27 years ago. The group renovated the land from an industrial area to an 85-acre waterfront park that ULI selected as one of the top 10 urban parks in the U.S.

For the Omaha-Council Bluffs redevelopment, ULI brought in eight panelists from around the country and talked to 90 people about a vision for the riverfront. Louisville is seen as a model city that has successfully redeveloped its waterfront.

BobKarem says it takes time to turn a riverfront around: “You’re not going to develop a waterfront in two or three years. It takes 15 to 20 years to make these projects.”

Redevelopment work continues on the Omaha and Council Bluffs riverfronts with coordination by the Missouri River Commons Action Group. The group, organized by the Greater Omaha Chamber, works toward furthering the riverfront vision through fundraising, planning, support of the initiatives of the Omaha and Council Bluffs mayors, and the start of a major riverfront festival.   

Seidholz heads up the group. “Omaha has been the only city this size on a river or water that didn’t have a consistent, well-thought-out development plan,” he says. “Until now.”

What exactly that development plan looks like is still a bit mysterious for the general public. Several high-level developer and philanthropic stakeholders involved with possible future riverfront redevelopment declined interview requests or otherwise refused to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, the dilapidated shell of the Storz Trophy Room offers a reminder of prior development missteps. The brewpub hemorrhaged money from the time of opening in 2013 until the City of Omaha terminated its lease in 2015 for failing to pay rent.

Cyclists, joggers, and passersby continue to utilize the scenic river’s edge outside the failed brewpub (formerly the site of the struggling Rick’s Cafe Boatyard). Pokémon trainers—staring down at their smartphones—have already found a new use for the surrounding scenic landscape: catching virtual monsters. 

For the full ULI report from 2014, visit: uli.org/wp-content/uploads/ULI-Documents/Omaha_PanelReport_Fweb.pdf 

Encounter

Omaha’s Summer Festivals

May 5, 2016 by
Photography by contributed

Nothing brings back fond memories like festival season, with the incessant summer heat carrying vivid recollections of outdoor parties. No need to reminisce when we can take you back ourselves. Here are some of our favorite festivals that have prevailed over the years.

Arbor-Day1

Arbor Day

April 29-May 1, Nebraska City, Nebraska

Not every celebration can boast an entire holiday dedicated to the preservation of trees. In 1872, an estimated one million trees were planted in Nebraska, marking the first Arbor Day in American history. But you don’t have to be a tree hugger to enjoy the 260-acre expanse of orchards on the Arbor Day Farm. Though many of the original orchards and estate structures still stand, Arbor Day Farm offers contemporary attractions such as interactive exhibits, hiking trails, and a 50-foot treehouse.

Cinco De Mayo festivities along S. 24th St.

Cinco De Mayo festivities along S. 24th St.

Cinco De Mayo

May 5-8, 24th and L streets

A lively tradition full of community spirit, South Omaha’s Cinco De Mayo celebration dates back to the 1970s. Whether it’s the thrill of the bull races or the harmonious melodies of the Mariachi, memories of Cinco De Mayo are strong recollections that seem to stand the test of time. Sample some delectable food and honor the city’s rich, Mexican heritage, all whilst having fiesta flashbacks.

Food Trucks abound at the RIverfront during Taste.

Food Trucks abound at the RIverfront during Taste.

Taste of Omaha

June 3-5, Heartland of America Park and Lewis and Clark Landing

Omaha was just beginning to be known for food other than steaks in 1997, when Taste of Omaha began. These days, attendees can discover some of the finest restaurants in the area. They can taste the specialty dishes of local eateries, meet local chefs and enjoy live music performances across the festival’s multiple stages.

People admire art from all over the nation at OSAF.

People admire art from all over the nation at OSAF.

Omaha Summer Arts Festival

June 10-12, Farnam Street from 10th to 15th streets

This festival started in 1975 with visual arts lining the streets outside the courthouse. Today, Farnam Street is decorated with national performers and giddy children with painted faces, as well as the 135 juried artists that have gathered from around the globe. An ever-changing landscape that manages to uphold a memorable Omaha tradition, the Summer Arts Festival is not to be missed.

Bocce, anyone?

Bocce, anyone?

Santa Lucia

June 9-12, Lewis and Clark Landing

Most of us weren’t born in noble, Roman families…but we can certainly pretend. With Italian music at our fingertips and a queen coronation to look forward to, Omaha’s Santa Lucia festival has given us a celebration to enjoy time and time again. Whether it’s the annual feast or the image of the Santa Lucia statue that prevails in your mind, this festival is one full of tradition and poignant memories.

ShakespeareWide2

Shakespeare on the Green

June 23-30, Elmwood Park

Marking the fourth centennial of Shakespeare’s death, Shakespeare on the Green’s 30th anniversary continues to engage, educate, and entertain. Though the idea for an outdoor Shakespeare festival in Omaha wasn’t conceived until the early ‘80s, many of us have immersed ourselves in the talented performances and natural beauty of Elmwood Park over the years. Don’t miss this year’s literary workshops or the annual sonnet contest.

   

COMMONgood

February 17, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Helmets fastened, Leslie Wells and Chase King climb on their bikes and take off for a brisk ride through downtown Omaha on a crisp afternoon. For these avid cyclists though, today’s ride isn’t about recreation. It’s about recycling.

Earlier in the day, the two men collected hundreds of glass and plastic bottles, cups, containers, cardboard, cans, and other items from an Old Market coffee shop and a downtown restaurant. They loaded and secured each trash bag, box, and bin stuffed with recyclables onto a pull-behind bicycle trailer hitched to a Surly Pugsley bike with big, fat tires.

On today’s route, King rides the bike pulling the trailer, while Wells follows on his own bicycle. After pedaling their way to a recycling dumpster in a parking lot near Heartland of America Park, they unload the nearly 300-pound haul. Everything but the glass, which is biked to a collection site at 26th and Douglas streets, gets tossed into the giant bin.

Two days later, they’ll be it again—putting the cycle in recycle. Their efforts are part of COMMONgood Recycling, one of several programs operated by local nonprofit group inCOMMON Community Development.

Wells, program director at inCOMMON and a longtime cycling enthusiast, created and coordinates the pedal-powered service, which is offered Monday and Saturday to business owners in the downtown and midtown areas. Its primary goals are to assist small businesses, employ residents seeking entry-level work, and help protect the environment.

The idea came about after Wells noticed two of his friends, who own Omaha Bicycle Co. in Benson, using their bikes to recycle. It inspired him to take a similar approach to recycling at Aromas Coffeehouse in the Old Market, where he worked at the time.

At first, he used a handmade wooden cart attached to his bike to haul recyclables from Aromas but later switched to a solid aluminum trailer because it was stronger and could handle heavier loads. Over time, Wells thought other downtown businesses might be interested in his method of recycling. And if he could get enough customers to sign up and pay a small fee for the service, it could create job opportunities for low-income residents served by inCOMMON, where Wells volunteered.

His plan got a boost in May when inCOMMON was awarded a $25,000 grant from State Farm to help develop the program. Wells joined inCOMMON’s staff full time to expand and oversee the effort.

What started with one client has now grown to more than a dozen participating businesses, including Flatiron Cafe, Block 16, Aromas Coffeehouse, Kaneko, Table Grace Cafe, Elevate, Greengo Coffee & Deli, Bench, Davis Companies, CO2 Apartments, and others. Businesses sign up and pay a monthly fee of $40 for weekly pickup. Other pricing options, including one-time service, are also available.

Previously, many of those businesses were simply discarding recyclable materials in the trash. “A service like this is important because it allows small businesses to start doing the right thing by recycling and still afford to hit their bottom line by reducing their waste fee,” Wells says.

For riders, who are either unemployed or underemployed, COMMONgood Recycling allows them to make money, Wells says, and it gives those who want to transition back into the workforce an opportunity to acquire job experience, training, and multiple skills to include on their résumés.

Christian Gray, executive director of inCOMMON Community Development, says the recycling project fits in nicely with the organization’s overall mission to strengthen struggling neighborhoods and alleviate poverty at its root.

The nonprofit group, which in October celebrated the grand opening of its Park Ave Commons community center at 1340 Park Ave., provides a variety of services for neighborhood residents, including GED instruction, preventative and emergency services, community building, English language lessons, job readiness, and other resources.

King is among the riders employed by COMMONgood Recycling as an independent contractor.

Since June, he’s helped collect, sort, and haul recyclables to drop-off sites around town. He sees the service as a way to help promote a greener community and reduce the amount of trash that goes into landfills.

“Landfills are full enough already,” King says.

In the coming year, Wells hopes to add more riders, bikes, and customers, while continuing to raise recycling awareness. He also wants to expand the service to include other areas of the city, including Benson.