Tag Archives: location

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.

Southwest Escape

April 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

We’re creatures of habit. We live and breathe routine, and for the most part, we are comfortable in our ways. We’re busy. We think ahead. We worry. We wonder. We drive to work and run errands. Once in a while, however, we stop for a moment and realize that we need a break.

What happens when we decide to escape from routine? If only for two weeks? The possibilities are infinite. Omaha Magazine’s creative director, Bill Sitzmann, and his family of four know this firsthand. Sitzmann, his wife, and their two kids (ages 5 and 9) packed up their Subaru Outback in early June 2016 and hit the road with no specific destination in mind, rather a region: the Great American Southwest.

“We knew when we needed to leave and we knew when we needed to be back,” Sitzmann says. “My dad lives in Tucson, so we knew we wanted to go there and see him. But other than that, we just picked the general areas we wanted to hit.”

The Sitzmann family rolled out of Omaha, looking forward to the two-week camping adventure ahead. Sitzmann says that the trip was exciting from a parental standpoint because, while he was accustomed to teaching his kids things that he already knew, they were headed into uncharted territory for the whole family.

“For all four of us to experience it for the first time, all at the same time, was pretty cool,” Sitzmann says, recalling their two weeks of close quarters on the road.

Driving from Omaha, their stops ranged from Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado to the White Sands National Monument in New Mexico.

They discovered beautiful, lightly populated trails and campsites by venturing off the beaten path. The family decided to stop by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado, chosen by Sitzmann on a whim, based solely on pictures that he’d seen of the place.

Surrounded by trees with no spectacular view in sight, the drive into the park had them questioning their sanity. But the side trip turned out to be one of the more rewarding outdoor destinations for the family when they walked along a trail at sunset and stumbled upon a massive canyon nearly 100 yards away from their campsite. As they looked around, they realized that they had the hidden gem all to themselves. Sitzmann made a point to wake up at sunrise the next morning for coffee with a view.

They hit a total of 10 national parks over the course of their 3,200-mile journey across the rugged Southwest of the United States. The region is home to countless national parks, along with myriad monuments and historic sites, offering unlimited variations to the ultimate family road trip.

In the Southwest, several National Parks are located in close enough proximity that more than one could be visited in a single day. The natural formations of the land might be close in location, but tend to differ greatly when it comes to their visual appeal.

In Utah, the impressive forest of tall, narrow eroded rock at Bryce Canyon National Park is less than 90 minutes from Zion National Park—where massive cliffs, gaping canyons, sparkling streams, and waterfalls can be seen. Those two parks alone could make a day of adventure (or a week of discovery) for visitors.

 “I think it’s important to have that long-term period with your family,” Sitzmann says. “Most of us, we talk about providing for our family—and that’s what we think our main job is. You teach [your kids] that you can provide and work hard, but there are other things in life that we miss and that we kind of lose touch with over the years.”

The family was able to disconnect from social media, spend the evenings under the stars, and chase the sunrise each morning.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Not every moment was saturated with unexpected beauty. One night, they couldn’t find an open campground, so they camped directly under a fluorescent light in an RV park. But that was a learning experience, in its own way.

Sitzmann’s son turned 9 on the road and received a pocketknife from his father as a right of passage into the world of responsibility.

Road trips to the Southwest have occupied a pivotal point in the lives of many. For my own family, the Southwest was the basis for two unforgettable road trips. The first journey, my parents took in their 20s before having kids. The second, they undertook with seven children in tow (four years ago).

Unlike the Sitzmanns, the Smith crew rolled out of Omaha in 15-passenger rental van. Our approach to the itinerary was more regimented and less laissez faire. We hit the road with all lodging booked. While the Sitzmanns cooked on campfires all along the way, we munched on endless amounts of processed snacks packed into the van.

My dad drove, my mom blogged, and the seven of us kids—ages 5 to 19—bonded in the backseats singing songs, playing games, and marveling at the changing colors and landscapes that we had never seen before.

Over the course of the 3,259 miles that we drove, we spent 10 days in five different states. We grew closer as we conquered new territories. We mastered packing and unpacking the car in a matter of minutes; white-water rafted in Colorado; played cards by the campfire at night in Utah; and came up with silly inside jokes that we remember today.

While there are countless ways to make a road trip through the Southwest, the adventure is unlike any other. Experiencing the purity and the simplicity of the landscape, joined by the people you love, is an indescribable experience. It is an opportunity that doesn’t come around often.

My parents had wanted to go on family road trip to the Southwest ever since their own trip some 20 years prior. It was a right of passage for our family as a unit, because my eldest sister had just graduated high school and the youngest was about to start kindergarten.

As we begin graduating from college, these sorts of road trips will become increasingly difficult to coordinate. So, to seize the moment, we are now in the midst of planning another massive family road trip.

The Smith Family’s Southwest Itinerary (10 days):

From Omaha, we drove through Colorado and landed in Utah where we visited: Arches National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, and Zion National Park. We then continued to head south where we hit Arizona and visited the Grand Canyon National Park and Lake Powell. We headed back up north where we made an impulsive stop at the Four Corners, then carried onto Mesa Verde National Park and the city of Durango in Colorado. Then, we returned to Omaha.

The Sitzmann Family’s Southwest Itinerary (14 days): 

From Omaha, they headed to the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. From there, they went to New Mexico where they visited Carson National Forest and White Sands National Monument. They continued onward to the North Rim of Grand Canyon National Park and Antelope Canyon in Arizona, and then went back up to Utah to hit Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. The family made their way back through Colorado, where they visited the Black Canyon of Gunnison National Park and Rocky Mountain National Park before they returned to Omaha.

Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado

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

Repurpose

August 26, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann, The Salvation Army, and Nebraska Humane Society

A good location often draws businesses to established neighborhoods. Repurposing an existing building can also revitalize a neighborhood, a lofty goal that could bring tax benefits to a business that qualifies for the City of Omaha’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) for property in certain areas. (Read the guidelines about qualifying for TIF and also see if a property falls within the community redevelopment area at cityofomaha.org/planning.)

The advantages of repurposing commercial properties are plentiful. Here are a few examples of repurposed buildings that have paid dividends across the board.

A Landmark Preserved—The Residence Inn by Marriott Omaha Downtown 

An example of TIF financing sits at 106 S. 15th St. The Residence Inn, scheduled for a September opening, in an Art Deco building that has housed many federal agencies since 1934. The last occupant, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, moved out in July 2008.

Location was a key factor in the building’s choice. “The location was a prime position for the type of hotel we wanted to develop—an extended-stay hotel for a mixture of business and leisure guests,” says General Manager Kyle Highberg. The estimated $24 million renovation presented unique challenges. “Our architects and developers spent countless months designing each room, each space, and each feature.”

The Federal Building is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. “We worked in conjunction with them to make sure we were maintaining the historical integrity of the building,” he says. If a building can be preserved, it should, Highberg adds. “I think it presents a certain social responsibility to do so when we can.”

20130802_bs_9205

Dingman’s Collision Center is now housed in the space formerly occupied by Cougar Lanes Bowling Alley.

It Takes Vision—Dingman’s Collision Center

Boyd Dingman believes that vision is the secret to successfully repurposing a building. A water bottling plant on Saddle Creek Road became his first Dingman’s Collision Center in 1996. In 2005, he bought his second location near 120th and Maple streets that started life as a mechanical shop.

Renovating his third location three years ago presented special challenges. But Dingman liked the site. The building near 144th and West Center streets was formerly Cougar Lanes Bowling Alley.

Renovation was not easy. The 25 bowling lanes were removed and lowered. Walls were torn out. The roof, parking lot, sewers, and concrete were repaired. The $1 million renovation of the structure that was built in 1968 took four months.

Dingman is now making plans for a fourth repurposed building for his business, which he runs with help from his two sons and daughter.

NHS-outside

Nebraska Humane Society’s building was formerly a Food4Less supermarket.

Location, Location, Location—Nebraska Humane Society 

When the Nebraska Humane Society was ready to move, President and CEO Judy Varner looked at property farther west and also considered new construction. But instead the shelter simply moved next door to a 63,000-square-foot building at 8929 Fort St. that sat empty—a former
Food4Less supermarket.

“We do a lot of business at the courthouse and downtown, so moving west would have been a problem,” she says. “Due to the proximity of this building to our old home, we were able to involve the staff in the design of the new space, which was great for team building.”

Major renovations included plumbing, acoustical, and HVAC.

The Nebraska Humane Society now has four repurposed buildings on its campus. The spay/neuter clinic used to be a bank, and the education building once was a strip mall. The former shelter is now used for animal control offices, overflow for rescue efforts, boarding, daycare, and grooming.

A History of Repurposing—The Salvation Army 

The Salvation Army has twice repurposed buildings. In 1991, the former Methodist Hospital at 36th and Cuming streets became the Renaissance Center, home to Western Division headquarters and social service programs.

After programs grew from seven to 20, The Salvation Army bought two former FBI buildings in the Old Mill area for $2.4 million and moved the divisional headquarters from the Renaissance Center in 2012 to make room for the new programs.

But after learning that bringing the Renaissance Center up to code would cost $35 million and a new structure would cost only $17 million, including demolition, The Salvation Army decided the building’s life was over after 107 years. A capital campaign to raise funds for a new social services building is underway.

Repurposing a Neighborhood—The Kroc Center 

The Wilson Packing Plant in South Omaha became dilapidated after closing in 1976. Repurposing the century-old building was out of the question. But revitalizing the neighborhood was not. The Salvation Army bought the land, equivalent to six city blocks, to build a new community center with funds donated by philanthropist Joan Kroc.

“It had been nothing but an eyesore,” says Madeline Moyer, business services director for the Omaha Kroc Center. “Police will tell you that the only thing you saw in two nearby city parks were gang initiations.”

The Kroc Center opened in January 2010 and changed the neighborhood. “Now you see people playing in the park,” says Moyer. “One resident said we were a beacon of hope for this community.”

Create the Perfect Study Room

August 16, 2013 by

It’s already hard enough to get kids to study when they’re at home. After all, they’ve just spent several hours at school, and all they want to do now is relax in front of the TV or play outside with their friends. But homework always comes first.

Most kids do their homework in their bedrooms, on the living room couch, or at the kitchen table. Yeah, that’s a bad idea. Their beds remind them of sleep; the couch reminds of them of watching TV (if they’re not already); and the kitchen table reminds them of eating. These locations are recipes for distraction. What they need is a designated study space in their home.

Have an extra room in the basement or a guest room that hasn’t been used in months? Turn it into a study room for your kids! A place where they can go that can help them focus on doing a good job on their homework, as well as finishing it before the next day’s bell, can help them bring home better report cards.

Here are some great tips for creating the perfect study room in your home:

  • Only use furniture that applies to what kids will need for studying—desks, supply bins, bookcases, lamps, a comfortable chair, and maybe even a beanbag chair for reading. Absolutely no TVs!
  • Paint the room with solid colors. Neutrals always work, but primary colors like red, yellow, or blue will keep them in “school mode.”
  • Use décor that continues the theme of studying and learning. A chalkboard or dry erase board would be good, as well as a wall clock. If you want more art as inspiration, find educational posters or search through Pinterest for other great decorating ideas.

Whatever you decide to do with this study room, just remember that the point is to help your kids focus.

Restaurant Review: Stokes West

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

There are a couple of restaurants in the Omaha area that I consider my “go-to” places when I need to make a quick decision of where to take friends or family. These are places that have great food and drinks, reasonable prices, and good service. They’re places that I can go to several times a month (without tiring of them) and always have a consistently good experience. Stokes is one of the restaurants on my very short go-to list.

Stokes opened their first location in Omaha in 1998 at 114th and Dodge. After a successful first decade, they opened a second location in the Old Market at 12th and Howard. In November 2012, Stokes moved their West Omaha location to 137th and Dodge—the location formerly occupied by Blue Agave and, before that, Ted’s Montana Grill. I recently visited their new location, and it looks fantastic! The restaurant features Stokes’ trademark copper tabletops and Southwestern art. There are also plenty of ornate wood booths and a large bar, which make this a very comfortable and fun atmosphere.20130508_bs_4689_web

The food at Stokes is beyond reproach. Executive Chef John Ursick has all but perfected the style of Southwestern/Tex-Mex cuisine. On a recent visit, my dining partner and I had some of my favorites, starting off with the Black Bean and Sweet Corn Taquitos ($7.95). This scrumptious plate of fried, rolled corn taquitos with corn, black beans, and Cotija cheese are served with two great salsas. Next, we tried the Queso Fundido ($8.95). If you’re a fan of queso, it doesn’t get any better than this! Stokes’ recipe features beans, jack cheese, caramelized onions, chorizo sausage, and ancho chile sauce served bubbling-hot with warm tortillas.

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Executive Chef John Ursick.

For an entree, I had my favorite, Sharon’s Chicken Enchiladas ($14.95). These are not your traditional chicken enchiladas and instead feature shredded chicken breast topped with a white sauce, a poblano pesto, and a mountain of melted jack cheese. Trust me, even if you don’t like enchiladas, you will like these. My partner ordered the Twisted Garlic Shrimp Pasta ($14.95), which I have also had many times myself. This delicious radiatore pasta dish is made with a tasty Southwestern sauce, fresh tomatoes, avocados, and garlic.20130508_bs_4649_web

The excellent bar at Stokes is another reason I keep coming back. They have some incredible margaritas, as well as an excellent wine list and some very imaginative cocktails. They also have some well-regarded beers available…Not to mention that they have great happy-hour specials and, on Tuesdays, their entire wine list is half-price. Between the great food, beautiful new location, excellent bar, and friendly service, it’s pretty much a no-brainer dining spot and will remain one of my favorite go-to places for years to come.

Cheers!

Stokes West
13615 California St.
402-498-0804
restaurantsinc.net/stokes

RATING (5 Stars Possible)

Food & Beverage: ****
Service: ***
Ambiance: ****
Price: Great Value
Overall: ****

Three National Retailers Expand in Omaha

February 25, 2013 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kirkland’s
12226 K Plz.
402-334-6795
kirklands.com

After a few years absent from the Nebraska market, national home décor retailer Kirkland’s is back with a larger, more convenient store in the L Street Marketplace shopping center at 120th & L streets, Omaha. “The new location is really centrally located in an area with lots of shopping, and provides a much larger footprint than the store [formerly] at Village Pointe,” says store manager Kristine Kleindienst. “Our showroom is at least double the size of the old location (about 9,300 sq.ft.), which means much more merchandise.”

Framed art, mirrors, accent rugs, and artificial floral arrangements are just a few of the home décor items Kirkland’s carries, all at very affordable price points. The store also offers many gift items and holiday and seasonal items, such as garden accessories. Company sales are very promotion-driven, Kleindienst says, “which prompts many of our customers to come in often and find a good variety of things on sale.”

Kirkland’s closed its Village Pointe store a couple years ago when the national chain underwent a restructuring. “For us, I think the recipe for success was finding the right location, which is what we have now. Customers are coming in and saying they love the bigger store, and that the parking is so much better,” Kleindienst says.

The Tennessee-based specialty store chain has more than 320 stores in 35 U.S. states, primarily in the southeast and east. “But Kirkland’s is growing more in the Midwest,” said Kleindienst, a 16-year veteran retailer. “The company sees a lot of potential for more stores in markets like Sioux Falls and especially Denver.”

HomeGoods
12955 W. Center Rd.
402-334-6287
homegoods.com

HomeGoods, which specializes in bedding, furniture, and housewares, prides itself on selling affordable home accessories and having a frequently changing inventory. HomeGoods operates the home furnishing sections of TJ Maxx n’ More and Marshalls Mega Stores with 400 stores across the U.S. as of September 2012. With its headquarters in Framingham, Mass., items, as well as the store itself, have been featured on HGTV shows and decorating blogs.

Founded in 1992 and now operated by TJX Companies, HomeGoods has been leased in the former Sports Authority space in the Montclair on Center shopping center near 132nd and West Center Road. This makes it the first store in Nebraska, and only the second location in the Midwest (Kansas City). HomeGoods promotes themselves as having “Unique Home Decor and Affordable Home Furnishings,” according to their website, and they offer decorating tips for every space from the bedroom to the backyard. Interior designers and lovers of décor alike can use a series of items from the store to express their design style and keep up with the latest trends in housewares without breaking the bank or traveling several hours.

Pier 1 Imports
7809 Towne Center Pkwy.
402-339-4006
pier1.com

With the growing popularity of Oscar® parties, as well as tea parties inspired by the hit PBS British drama Downton Abbey, the market for table settings, home décor, and dining furniture has greatly expanded, so much that a new Pier 1 Imports has opened in Shadow Lake Towne Center. Alex W. Smith, President and CEO, says, “We are pleased to bring this new Pier 1 Imports to Papillion and hope that our new location will inspire customers to discover the eclectic and fun merchandise that is unique to Pier 1 Imports.”

Customers can shop for items for their dining room, living spaces, home offices, and more at the new store, which will be the fourth location in Nebraska and third in Omaha (72nd & Dodge, Village Pointe). Established in San Mateo, Calif., in 1962, the original Pier 1 Imports catered to hippie baby boomers and included incense and love beads. Now, with over 1000 stores in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, Pier 1 specializes in imported home furnishings and décor (i.e. furniture, table-top items, seasonal décor, and decorative accessories).

So whether you’re in the market for a new set of teacups or even a dining room table, Pier 1 is sure to make your Oscar® party or any gathering a major hit!

Can you tell me how to get to…?

If you are a frequent reader of this magazine or this column, you probably know your way around Downtown Omaha. However, the thousands of visitors, the special occasion locals, and even some of the in-and-out employees don’t necessarily know their way around downtown or all that we have to offer. A new Downtown Vehicular and Pedestrian Wayfinding Signage System will help with that!

In total, 88 new signs will highlight 27 downtown attractions, and direct drivers and pedestrians to their desired destinations. It’s like an on-street GPS system that not only directs you where you want to go, but suggests the many other museums, theaters, event venues, and shopping districts that make Downtown Omaha what it is.

Just like every other project that has transformed Downtown Omaha, this could not have happened without a wide variety of partners and supporters. The Downtown Improvement District is proud to lead and contribute to this effort and thanks the City of Omaha, the Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Peter Kiewit Foundation, Midtown Crossing, the Mutual of Omaha Foundation, the William and Ruth Scott Foundation, HDR, First National Bank, Creighton University, the Downtown Omaha Inc. Foundation, RDG Planning & Design, Poblacki Sign Solutions, Vic Gutman & Associates, and former mayor Mike Fahey for their contributions to this effort.

So, venture out, let the signs be your guide, and enjoy Downtown Omaha!

This column is part of a series detailing the activities and efforts of the Omaha Downtown Improvement District (DID) to further strengthen Downtown Omaha.

Johnson Hardware Co.

December 25, 2012 by

In early December, longtime Omaha home supply retailer Grabow Hardware underwent a name change and moved to a new location. The company, founded in 1992, is a supplier of quality doors and trim, door and cabinet hardware, and bathroom accessories as well as installation services.

Now known by its parent company name, Johnson Hardware Co., the business currently operates from a large showroom in the House and Home Center complex just east of 144th Street and Industrial Road.

“The new location provides us a 25 percent larger, more modern showroom,” says Jay Grabow, division manager for Johnson Hardware Co. “People love to see product, see finishes, and now we’ll be able to expand our displays. It’s also a better-lit environment, and it’s more organized. It’s just a better shopping experience.”

“Being located in the Home Center, we’ll also be with other like businesses…plumbing, door and window, tile and stone…We’ll be located right along the showroom path, which is the way interior designers and homeowners both intend to go.”

In addition, Johnson Hardware is adding a commercial sales area to the rear of the retail showroom space. The department will provide contractors and others in the building trade with tools, materials and supplies, and services they need. “Johnson has been providing these services downtown since 1855,” Grabow says. “This will be their first West Omaha location. It’ll offer more convenience and better customer service to contractors who work out west.”

Johnson Hardware Co.
House and Home Center
13817 Industrial Rd.
morethanknobs.com