Tag Archives: Midtown Crossing

Encounter Destinations

July 13, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Like music? Of course you do—you’re cool. That’s why you’ll want to boogie woogie to Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets) for the Saturdays @ Stinson Concert Series that began in May and runs on most Saturdays into August. The lineup includes the Confidentials (July 8), Hi-Fi Hangover (July 22), The ’70s Band (July 29), Jimmy Buffett Tribute (Aug. 5), and the Personics (Aug. 12).

aksarbenvillage.com/event

BENSON

The Waiting Room Lounge is takin’ it to the streets—and hometown favorite Conor Oberst will be among those helping the Benson rock club hit the pavement as it marks 10 years offering all sorts of jammage. The Waiting Room (6212 Maple St.) earlier this spring announced the launch of a new outdoor concert series on nearly an entire city block that can host up to 3K music lovers. Oberst takes the stage July 13 with Big Thief (just four days after another native son, Matthew Sweet, hosts the second of two shows inside the Waiting Room). Also playing street music are Blue October (June 24) and Fleet Foxes (Sept. 29).

waitingroomlounge.com

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

Finally, something for those of us who love running—and beer. Scriptown Brewing Company (3922 Farnam St.) hosts the Scriptown Running Club every Thursday. Runners meet in the tasting room at 6 p.m. then toodle their way to the nearby Field Club Trail for a stretch of the legs. Then it’s back to Scriptown for a discounted pint. Oh, and those who get hungry can run down the street to Noli’s Pizzeria (4001 Farnam St.)—it has moved into new digs (with a new oven) at the corner of 40th and Farnam streets.

scriptownbrewing.com

nolispizzeria.com

CAPITOL DISTRICT

Imagine that you and a special someone meet at DJ’s Dugout (1003 Capitol Ave.). Imagine you hit it off and book a second date at Local Beer, Patio and Kitchen (902 Dodge St.). Now imagine things get serious, and the two of you start having a regular date night at Nosh Restaurant and Wine Lounge (1006 Dodge St.) where, one day, the two of you get engaged. Imagine you host your wedding at One Thousand Dodge (1002 Dodge St.). No imagination is needed, though, to know all this can happen right in the ever-emerging Capitol District.

capitoldistrictomaha.com

DUNDEE

Dundee denizens have something to get giddy about with a new project from the Giddings Group of Augusta, Georgia. A real estate development firm, Giddings has started construction on a 283-multi-family-unit apartment building rising along 46th Street between Dodge and California streets. The project is named “The Duke” similar to other apartment complexes Giddings has built in Nashville, Tennessee, and Victoria, Texas. The Dundee Duke is expected to open in 2018.

MIDTOWN CROSSING

There’s proof that Midtown Crossing is better than ever. Namely, Proof, a new upscale lounge specializing in a generous whiskey selection and craft cocktails. Proof opened in May in the former Grane space (120 S. 31st Ave., Suite 5105) They weren’t the new kids on the block very long, though. In June, Ray’s Original Buffalo Wings also opened in the Grane space (Suite 5103). In addition to their signature fare, the family owned business offers a specialty sandwich popular in Western New York—“Beef on Weck” sandwiches—thinly sliced roast beef steeped in au jus and served on a kummelweck roll.

midtowncrossing.com

NODO

Omaha Fashion Week celebrates 10 years Aug. 21-26 at the Omaha Design Center (1502 Cuming St.). Thirty-three designers will showcase their work on the runways. SAC Federal Credit Union will award nightly prizes of $500 to the designer with top scores for the evening. As part of the anniversary celebration Friday, Aug. 25, previous designers have been invited back for a special show that features curated collections representing each year of Omaha Fashion Week’s history highlighting the most iconic looks to hit the catwalk as well as some fan favorites.

omahafashionweek.com

Yes, there are good things in Lincoln, Nebraska. But one of those—Zipline Brewing—is now in Omaha, too, with a newly opened taproom (721 N. 14th St.).

ziplinebrewing.com

OLD MARKET

Finally, delivery is in sight for a new venture in the former postal building at 10th and Pierce streets. Work is slated to begin this summer on Tenth Street Market, positioning itself as a year-round indoor market offering fresh food and goods from all-local vendors, plus places to shop, eat, drink, learn, and meet. The market is expected to open by fall 2018.

tenthstreetmarket.org

SOUTH OMAHA/
VINTON STREET

How did they roll back when the Vinton Street Historic District was becoming—historic?  With bowling balls, of course. And they still do at Chop’s Bowling (13th and Vinton streets) and ICC Bowlatorium (24th and Bancroft streets). The former starts a 26-week Thursday night league Sept. 21. But if you want a spot, get signed up now. The latter is enjoying a retro renovation that gives the Catholic church-owned alley a look much like it had in the 1950s—when things really were rolling.

chopsbowl.com
bowlatorium.com

NORTH OMAHA/
24TH & LAKE DISTRICT

Just as there was no better place to catch early jazz than in Omaha’s 24th and Lake District, there’s no better place to catch the evolution of jazz—with hip-hop and soul—than at Love’s Jazz and Art Center (2510 N. 24th St.). The center offers live music July 15 with Sidewalk Chalk, a Chicago group offering “powerful vocals over dope electric horns and beats.” Time to jump in the Lake.

ljac.org

2017 July/August Family & More

Farmers Markets

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

  • Aksarben Village (67th and Center streets): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Sundays.
  • Benson (4343 N. 52nd St.): 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturdays.
  • Council Bluffs (Bayliss Park in Council Bluffs): 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m. Thursdays.
  • Gifford Park (33rd and California streets): 5-8 p.m. Fridays.
  • Florence Mill (9102 N. 30th St.): 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sundays.
  • Old Market (11th and Jackson streets): 8 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays.
  • Papillion (Washington Street and Lincoln Road): 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Wednesdays.
  • Rockbrook Village (2800 S. 110th Court): 4-7 p.m. Thursdays.
  • Village Pointe (168th and Dodge streets): 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Saturdays.

Free Movies

Get out of the living room and into the fresh summer air to watch popular movies. Bring a blanket or lawn chair, sit back, and relax. All movies start at dusk.

  • Flix at the Chef (Behind Dairy Chef in Elkhorn, 3223 N. 204th St.): Saturdays July 8 and Aug. 12 Popcorn provided, other snacks can be purchased.
  • Midtown Crossing (Turner Park, 3110 Farnam St.): Mondays through July 31. Popcorn available.
  • Movies in the Park (Bayliss Park, 100 Pearl St., Council Bluffs): Fridays through Aug. 4.  Pack your own snacks.
  • SumTur Amphitheater (11691 S. 108th St.): Saturdays through Aug. 11. Concessions can be bought.

Patio Pup Crawl: Second and fourth Tuesdays of the month at Midtown Crossing at Turner Park, 3333 Farnam St. Bring your dog and hop around the patios of Cantina Laredo, Crave, and Black Oak Grill. Each night will be hosted by a different dog-centric organization in Omaha. Win prizes, enjoy drink and food specials, and more. 6-9 p.m. 402-598-9676.
midtowncrossing.com

Red, White, and Zoo! July 1-4 at Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St. Celebrate Independence Day with the red, white, and blue creatures of Omaha’s zoo. Throughout the holiday weekend, visitors can “parade” through the zoo on a self-guided tour in search of red, white, and blue animals. There will be entertainment, including bounce houses, music, and special animal encounters for all ages. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $19.95 adults, $18.95 seniors (65+), $13.95 children (3-11), free to age 2 and under. $1 discount for military with valid ID. 402-773-8401.
omahazoo.com

Summer Splash: July 1 at ESU No. 3 Gifford Farm Education Center, 700 Camp Gifford Road. Bring a picnic lunch, visit with farm animals, learn, explore, and splash into the summer season in the farm-made splash area. 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Admission: $5 per person (ages 2+), military, fire and rescue, and health professionals are half price with work I.D. 402-597-4920.
esu3.org

Ralston Fourth of July Festival: July 4 at Independence Square, 77th and Main streets. One of the biggest Fourth of July celebrations in the metro area features a run/walk, quilt show, children’s parade, live music, a full-scale parade, fire department water fights, and much more. Admission: free, but entry fees required for some activities. Fun run: 7:50 a.m., kids parade: 10 a.m., full scale parade: 1 p.m. 402-339-7737.
ralstonareachamber.org

Brew at the Zoo: July 15 at Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, 3701 S. 10th St. Guests aged 21 and over can stroll through the zoo and sample unique brews from dozens of local breweries, as well as a selection of locally produced wines. Spend your night with live music, food, and games as well as seeing the animals. 8-11 p.m. Reservations required. $65 general admission, $55 for members. 402-773-8401.
omahazoo.com

The Color Run Omaha: July 15 at CenturyLink Center Omaha, 455 N. 10th St. The “Happiest 5K on the Planet” is an un-timed race that celebrates healthiness, happiness, and individuality. The Color 2017 Dream World Tour features an all-new cloud foam zone, inspirational dream wall, and giant unicorns. 8 a.m.-noon. Registration: $40 per person for teams, $45 for individual runners, $15 for participants ages 5 and under, free entry for non-participants ages 5 and under.
thecolorrun.com 

Railroad Days: July 15-16 at various locations. This hands-on, family-friendly celebration of trains will take place at Lauritzen Gardens, The Durham Museum, RailsWest Railroad Museum, Union Pacific Railroad Museum, and the Historic General Dodge House. Transportation between the venues included with admission, which is $15 for a family pass (limit 2 adults). 9 a.m.-5 p.m. 402-444-5071.
omaharailroaddays.com

RiverFest: July 21-22 at Haworth Park, 2502 Payne Drive, Bellevue. This regional festival that attracts over 30,000 attendees involves live music, a beer garden, kids zone, fireworks, helicopter rides, a state champion barbecue competition, and more. Admission: $1. 5 p.m.-12:30 a.m. 402-898-3000.
bellevuenebraska.com

Victory Fighting Championship 58: July 22 at Baxter Arena, 2425 S. 67th St. VFC is back at Baxter Arena with 15 pro and amateur mixed martial arts fights. The event is also live-streamed on UFC Fight Pass. 7 p.m. Tickets: $30-$75. 800-745-3000.
victoryfighter.com

Nebraska Highway 66 Concourse Classic: July 22-23 at Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, 28210 W. Park Highway, Ashland. Vintage and collectible cars, hot rods, and motorcycles from the 1930s on will be displayed among the historic aircraft. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $12 adults; $11 senior citizens, active military, and veterans; $6 children (4-12); free for children (3 and under). 402-944-3100.
sacmuseum.org

Harry Potter Drive-in Movie Night: July 23 at Falconwood Park, Bellevue. The adaptation of J.K. Rowling’s popular children’s novel will be open to families and will feature food trucks and a concession stand. Movie starts at dusk. Admission per vehicle: $7 (one person), $14 (two people), $20 (three+ people). 402-210-4747.
eventbrite.com

Night Market Pop-up Festival: July 28 at Turner Park in Midtown Crossing, 3110 Farnam St. Midtown Crossing is excited to bring this first-of-its-kind event to Omaha. Highlights include a mini food festival, giant outdoor games, moonlight yoga, live music from local musicians, and 20-plus local vendors. Free to the public and dog-friendly. 6-10 p.m.
midtowncrossing.com

FishFest Omaha: July 28-30 at Falconwood Park, 905 Allied Road, Bellevue. Aside from the national artists’ performances, Nebraska’s largest Christian music festival will feature a bonfire worship service; drive-in movie; camping for tents, RVs, and glampers; 11 large inflatables; a variety of recreational activities (badminton and volleyball courts); and more. Times vary. Tickets: $35-$169. 402-422-1600.
fishfestomaha.com

Benson Days 130: July 29 in Benson, 5916 Maple St. This one-day, family friendly festival will commemorate Benson’s 130th anniversary and its creative culture. Activities include a pancake breakfast, parade, street festival featuring dozens of vendors, live music, children’s activities, and more. Pancake breakfast at 8 a.m., parade and street festival at 10 a.m. Admission: free.
bensondays.com

Native Omaha Days: July 31-Aug. 7 at various locations on 24th Street from Fort to Burdette streets. People from around the country will gather in North Omaha for this 21st biennial celebration. Enjoy traditional events, such as gospel night, along with new events: a food, arts, and culture expo and a community line dance. Times vary. Admission: free. 402-346-2300.
oedc.info

New American Arts Festival: Aug. 4 in Benson, Military Ave at Maple Street. Celebrating the arts, ideas, and cultures of Omaha’s refugee and immigrant communities. Workshops, performances, art displays, artist vendors, food vendors, music, interaction, and more will be provided. Workshops 4-7 p.m., artist’s market 5-10 p.m., stage performances 7-11 p.m. Free. 402-203-5488.
bensonfirstfriday.com

Family Fun Carnival: Aug. 5 at Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, 28210 W. Park Highway, Ashland. The carnival will feature make-and-take activities, games, a science demonstration from the Mad Scientist, a spacewalk, face-painting, and balloon animals. 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Admission: $12 adults; $11 senior citizens, active/retired/veteran military; $6 children (4-12); free for children (3 and under). 402-944-3100.
sacmuseum.org

Root Beer Float Day: Aug. 5 at The Durham Museum, 801 S. 10th St. Celebrate this national day with a free 8-ounce root beer float while learning about the history of soda jerks and experiencing how travelers enjoyed the soda fountain, which dates back to 1931, while passing through Union Station. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission to the museum: $11 adults, $8 seniors (62+), $7 children (3-12), free for children under 3. 402-444-5071.
durhammuseum.org

Nebraska Balloon and Wine Festival: Aug. 11-12 at Coventry Campus, south of 204th and Q streets. Watch hot air balloon launches and glows. Enjoy Nebraska wines, Midwest food, area musicians, shopping, crafts, pony rides, and more. Friday 5-11 p.m., Saturday 3-11 p.m. $10 general admission, $7 for children under 12, free for children 5 and under. 402-346-8003.
showofficeonline.com

Sweet Corn Festival: Aug. 12-13 at Lauritzen Gardens, 100 Bancroft St. This annual festival celebrates Nebraska’s agricultural jewel through a variety of food, activities, and entertainment, including: sweet corn ice cream samples from Ted and Wally’s, a hayrack ride, live music, cooking demonstrations, corny children’s crafts, and more. 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $10 adults, $5 children (6-12), free for members and children under 6. 402-346-4002.
lauritzengardens.org

Greek Festival: Aug. 18-20 at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, 602 Park Ave. Taste homemade Greek cuisine, experience authentic Greek music and culture with folk dancing in full Greek dress, and more family fun. Children can enjoy face painting, balloons, and more. Friday 5-11 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m.-7 p.m. General admission: $3. 402-345-7103.
stjohnsgreekorthodox.org

Yoga in the Aquarium: Aug. 19, 20, 26, 27 at Henry Doorly Zoo, 3701 S. 10th St. Bring your own yoga mat, water bottle, and other necessary equipment for the yoga class inside the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium. 9-10 a.m. Pre-registration is required. Admission, which includes the class and zoo entrance, is $20 for members, $22 for non-members. 402-733-8400.
omahazoo.com

Omaha Fashion Week: Aug. 21-26 at Omaha Design Center, 1502 Cuming St. The nation’s fifth largest fashion event supports more independent fashion designers than any other organization in the region. Omaha Fashion Week nurtures the youngest of fashion designers by providing mentoring, educational opportunities, and a professional platform for designers to showcase and sell their work. 6-10 p.m. Tickets: $40-$80. 402-937-1061.
omahafashionweek.com

Millard Days: Aug. 22-27 at Andersen Park, 136th and Q streets. What started as a barbecue in the park in 1964 is now a week full of activities, including a parade, carnival, beer garden, live music, horse shows, and more. Times vary. General admission: free. Carnival admission: $25. 402-679-5258.
millarddays.com

Runway Wrap Up: Aug. 25 at Omaha Design Center, 1502 Cuming St. This unique fashion show features bold and daring designs that incorporate condoms to increase community awareness of HIV. A benefit for the Nebraska Aids Project. 10:30 p.m. Admission: $20 adults, $15 students, and $50 for VIP tickets. 402-552-9260.
nap.org

Dundee Day: Aug. 26 at the Dundee neighborhood, 50th Street and Underwood Avenue. The day includes the Rundee 5K through the Memorial Park neighborhood, a pancake tent, a parade, live music from local bands, and a beer garden in Memorial Park. Local vendors and a farmers market will be open all day. Free. 8:30 a.m.-10 p.m. 678-873-4591.
dundee-memorialpark.org

The Great Nebraska Beer Fest: Aug. 26 at Werner Park, 128th St. and Highway 370, Papillion. The Great Nebraska Beer Fest has a premise of education and brand awareness. It encourages attendees to interact with brewers and reps while tasting to learn about their brands and stories. This festival is a celebration of American Craft Beer with a spotlight on Nebraska and regional breweries. 2 p.m.-6 p.m. Admission: $40 advanced, $50 day of, $10 for designated drivers, free for kids under 16. 402-934-7100.
greatnebraskabeerfest.com

Hanuman High Vibe Festival: Aug. 26 at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village, 2285 S. 67th St. A celebration of high vibrational living, this event will be Nebraska’s first yoga, music, and plant-based food festival. The day will begin with a 5K run, followed by yoga classes, meditation sessions, Warrior Wheels rides, Ayurveda workshops, juicing seminars, and mindful living talks. 8 a.m.-11:30 p.m. Check website for admission. 402-496-1616.
aksarbenvillage.com


This calendar is published as shown in the print edition

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


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

A New Day Arisen

June 7, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edwin Benson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Salem Baptist Church

Destinations

May 5, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

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

BENSON

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

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

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

CAPITOL DISTRICT

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

DUNDEE

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

MIDTOWN CROSSING

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

NODO

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

OLD MARKET

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

SOUTH OMAHA/
VINTON STREET

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

NORTH OMAHA/
24TH & LAKE DISTRICT

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

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

Destinations

February 22, 2017 by

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

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

BENSON

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

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

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

DUNDEE

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

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

A throwback vertical “Dundee” sign facing Dodge Street.

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

New ticketing and concessions counters.

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

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

A 25-seat micro-cinema.

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

MIDTOWN

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

NORTH OMAHA

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

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

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

OLD MARKET

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

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

Let it Flow

January 3, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

“Omaha has amazing yoga leaders who’ve been here for decades, but I wanted to bring something a little more contemporary to the table, in line with what I’d practiced on the coasts. (Lotus) is really a big family and a women-run company; all the people on our leadership team and in administration are women.”

-Mary Clare Sweet

The writing is on the wall at Lotus House of Yoga.

Colorful chalk scribblings dance across interior walls at the new Aksarben location, transmitting empowering messages like “Trust your gut,” “The revolution starts with one hungry heart,” “What you can dream, you can achieve,” and “You are getting stronger right now.”

Lotus offers yoga, barre, and cycling classes that will get your body in shape, but even more impressive are the positive effects on mind and spirit. This isn’t merely physical exercise, it’s an exercise in love, strength, and fulfillment. 

houseofyoga1“My ultimate goal is to share love through yoga,” says Lotus founder Mary Clare Sweet. “You leave feeling better because you’re developing an authentic relationship with yourself. When you’re connected to that authenticity—with nature and with your own true nature—you can go out into the world and make great changes.”

Her nickname is “M.C.”—short for Mary Clare and also quite fitting as she’s master of ceremonies for the alternately peaceful, playful party that is Lotus. With an extensive background in dance and a lifelong love of yoga handed down from her mother and business partner, Lotus CEO Anne Sweet, Lincoln native Mary Clare moved to Omaha via NYC to lay the foundation for her Midwestern yoga empire.

“Omaha has amazing yoga leaders who’ve been here for decades, but I wanted to bring something a little more contemporary to the table, in line with what I’d practiced on the coasts,” says Mary Clare.

In 2010, Mary Clare partnered with her uncle, Joseph Duryea, to launch Lotus at 144th Street and Eagle Run Drive—where she taught a demanding 19 classes per week, “just purely driven by my heart and the love,” she says. In 2012, she bought Duryea out and Anne came on as partner/CEO, bringing business experience that Mary Clare says helped take Lotus to the next level with solid strategy and brand communication. That winter, Lotus opened at One Pacific Place and Midtown Crossing. Two Lincoln locations followed in 2013 and 2014, with the downtown studio adding a neighboring Lotus-powered High Vibe Cafe, a fresh juice bar also selling healthy snacks and açai bowls, in 2015. 

houseofyoga2In 2016, Lotus closed its Midtown Crossing studio and opened in Aksarben. With vibrant natural light, a welcoming lobby where UNO students and others happily hang out, studios for barre, yoga, and cycling, and an in-house High Vibe Cafe, the latest location is a proud progression for the Lotus crew. 

“You can see the manifestation of our vision written on the walls here,” says Mary Clare. “It’s exactly how we want it, we wouldn’t change a thing. It’s absolutely filled with love, and we’re so happy to be here.”

While Lotus sees plenty of male clients and has some male teachers, it is largely a female-driven endeavor. 

“[Lotus] is really a big family and a women-run company; all the people on our leadership team and in administration are women,” she says.

In addition to the strong, lady-powered energy and community spirit forged by these humble warriors, clients can also depend on classes filled with sweet beats, rad refrains, and soothing sonic journeys, as carefully crafted playlists strategically correspond songs to chakras. From The Beatles to Beyoncé, tracks span genres including folk, pop, hip-hop, soul, and rock.    

“Music has always been the cornerstone of Lotus. Our mission is to raise the vibration, and music is vibration; so that’s a huge part of it,” says Mary Clare. “We aim to marry the ancient and modern together to create an experience that feels like home, that feels like love, that’s accessible and available to everyone, no matter who you are or where you come from.”

Visit lotushouseofyoga.com for more information.

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Visual Dialogue

July 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The work of multimedia artist Sarah Rowe is often described as having a “sense of playfulness and a hint of sarcasm,” and Rowe herself says that art sometimes speaks in a way that is provocative and challenging more than serving as a thing of beauty.

“I’m just a firm believer in not questioning what it is that you’re called to do. I’m not trying to please anyone, not even myself necessarily,” she says.

SarahRowe3Native American themes from symbology to history are prevalent in many of Rowe’s works; she is of Lakota and Ponca descent and is an enrolled member of the Ponca Tribe of Nebraska. “I was brought up with Lakota ceremony and tradition,” she says. “I identify with both, but I would say my spiritual ties are definitely Lakota.” Through her art, she has confronted issues from self-identity to the history of exploitation of Native Americans as well as honored the traditions of her ancestors.

“It’s been an interesting journey, certainly, as an urban Native. And there’s been a lot of discouragement there, but in a way it’s inspired me to carry on and use that part of me and that voice. I almost feel like I have a responsibility,” she says. “Using art as a platform is such a great way to raise awareness and have a dialogue…I want people to feel comfortable to approach me, and share my ideas and history, and connect as human beings that way.”

Her calling has led her to explore a wide spectrum of media, from metal to photography to performance art including traditional flute and dance.

“I went to art school as a sculptor but I was so interested in learning all of these new techniques that I left with a studio degree,” she explains. Rowe received a bachelor’s degree in studio art from Webster University after studying in both St. Louis, Missouri, and Vienna, Austria. “I kind of just gave everything a try.”

SarahRowe2Rowe is not only a visual and performing artist, but also a practitioner of the healing arts, or as she succinctly puts it: “Very hands-on.” She works as a licensed esthetician at Curb Appeal Salon and Spa in the Old Market, where she’s been able to integrate her heritage by practicing holistic, multisensory body treatments with aspects of Lakota healing ceremonies. Rowe says she believes sharing knowledge of these healing ceremonies “enriches connections to ourselves and the earth, promoting well-being and balance of mind and body.” She also enjoys connecting to nature through hiking and exploring with her 11-year-old daughter, who’s already showing her own artistic talents as a writer and illustrator.

Rowe has exhibited through numerous galleries and arts organizations including the four-year project Sweatshop Gallery in Benson (which she co-founded), RNG Gallery in Council Bluffs, The Union for Contemporary Art, and Joslyn Art Museum’s Art Seen. She is currently represented by Darger HQ Gallery, an international artist collective based in Omaha. Some of her pieces are commercially available at Hutch, a furniture and home accents retailer in Midtown Crossing, and samples of her artworks can also be seen on her website, saroart.net (the name winks at her lifelong experience of people running her first and last name together as “Saro”).

“You can never learn it all, and I think that’s part of the fun,” Rowe says. Encounter

Visit saroart.net for more information.

Blackstone

September 4, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in the Sept./Oct. 2015 issue of Omaha Magazine.

Brandeis-Millard House owner Mark Maser moved to the Blackstone neighborhood more than 25 years ago, drawn to its “old houses and quiet streets.” Recent growth dotting the area’s periphery—and now in its very heart—has made the Blackstone neighborhood a destination hot spot and a hip new (in the “old is new again” way) place to live and work.

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“Nationally, there is a movement towards moving back to the urban areas of cities,” says Rhonda Stuberg, Blackstone Neighborhood Association president and member of the Blackstone District board. “A new generation has arrived who seems to think that old buildings are pretty cool and likes living where a lot is going on in a smaller area.”

Indeed.  Blackstone, which encompasses Leavenworth to Dodge streets and 36th  Street to Saddle Creek Road, may be small in terms of square miles, but it teems with activity and attractions. Consider these highlights: a former historic hotel credited with creating the rueben, the headquarters to one of Omaha’s Fortune 500 companies, a craft beer lover’s dream strip, several stately mansions renovated for both private use and public events, a nationally-ranked hospital, and an old-time business strip newly resuscitated by a handful of young entrepreneurs.  This is a mere surface scratch.

Blackstone2

Stuberg and her husband moved to the neighborhood in 2007 when they discovered Creighton University put an historic home in its possession up for sale. Fans of old neighborhoods (“neither of us has ever lived west of 72nd Street”), the Stubergs decided to buy and restore the home.

“When we moved in, we had no idea that Midtown Crossing was being built or that the Blackstone District would resurge like it has,” Stuberg confesses.

Resurged it has.

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Maser attributes the new growth, in part, to the Nebraska Medical Center’s investment in the area and the Midtown Crossing development, both of which created an exciting ripple effect of restoration. GreenSlate Development is at the forefront. Partners Jay Lund and Matt Dwyer steered the reinvention of the west Farnam corridor at the corner of 40th and Farnam streets. A mix of retail, service, and dining businesses, not one chain store lies in the mix. “It is all about locally owned and operated businesses, most of which are completely original concepts,” states Lund. “These business owners decided to take a chance on our [GreenSlate’s] vision, and the result has been an organic resurgence of this neighborhood that has exceeded all my expectations.”

Grab a New York-style slice at Noli’s Pizza for lunch, then pop next door for a quick trim at The Surly Chap Barbers. Or try a tequila and taco at Mula. Settle into one of the seats at Archetype Coffee with your laptop and a cup of joe. Want to relax with a pint of beer or glass of wine post-work? Consider Scriptown Brewing or the Corkscrew’s newest location along Farnam.

Blackstone6

The corner of 40th and Farnam has historically been a hub of commerce. Lund feels its latest reinvention is just another life cycle in a strip that once housed such long-time notable businesses as the Admiral Theater and Kaufmann’s Pastry Shoppe.

Kleveland Clothing shop owner Katie McLeay Cleveland says her mom remembers popping into Kaufmann’s when she was a child. Now the daughter is the next generation of shop owners along Farnam. Kleveland Clothing carries a mix of eclectic, affordable, new and vintage clothing and accessories. Local artists create much of the jewelry available.

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The boutique’s unique merchandise fits the non-homogenized Blackstone vibe. “My store needed a specialty location,” says Cleveland. “It’s not a strip mall business. And the developers are invested in the neighborhood to make it work.”

“Development that is in context with the overall neighborhood” is what Lund, also president of the Blackstone Business Improvement District, feels the area needs. That means converting old row houses into updated townhomes or incorporating new construction seamlessly into its environs. It also means attracting young, forward-thinking business owners who have the energy and vision to make something old new again.

Thus far the Blackstone neighborhood has balanced revitalization with regard for the past. As Maser puts it, “The houses are still old and the streets quiet, but now, with more retail shops and restaurants flourishing, we have all the excitement of a modern city within walking distance.  It’s the best of both worlds.”

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Blackstone1

The Object Enthusiast

June 26, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in May/June 2015 The Encounter.

For artists dreaming of making a living from art, Emily Reinhardt’s life must seem like the ultimate fantasy. Every day, the 26-year-old turns down high-end retailers and specialty boutiques who are clamoring to carry her distinctive ceramic vases, tumblers, vessels, tableware and signature ring dishes. Demand is so high, in fact, she’s having difficulty keeping up with orders.

Object Enthusiast 5

It’s a great problem to have, one Reinhardt never would have envisioned several years ago. That’s because she didn’t set out to be a ceramist. She initially studied photography at Kansas State University, but after receiving oblique praise from a professor while taking a ceramics class, she realized clay was her medium. “For my first project, I made sculptural mounds with indentations to hold bowls, and a professor walked by and said, ‘That’s pretty good,’” Reinhardt recalls. “My teacher said, ‘He never says that! You should definitely change your major!’ I walked right over to the office and made the switch.”

The professor was Yoshi Ikeda, a ceramist known for works imbued with serene symmetry. He saw something in Reinhardt, so much so that when he retired, he gave her his kiln and wheel. “He told me, ‘I wouldn’t give this to any of your other classmates,’” she remembers. “Yoshi had a way of seeing something in you before you saw it. Without that equipment, I never would have been able to do what I’m doing.”

Object-Enthusiast-6

Before then, however, Reinhardt needed a lucky break, one that came via a broken foot in 2013. Her boyfriend received a job in Omaha, but instead of joining him that summer, she had to wait until September. In the meantime, she prepared for the move by opening her store, The Object Enthusiast, on Etsy. “I ended up doing it purely as a way to get rid of pottery,” she explains. “I was just getting rid of stuff. I wasn’t planning on starting a business. I really didn’t think it was feasible.”

Feasible it was. Shortly after opening, Etsy contacted her about featuring her work on its homepage in September. Reinhardt’s profile skyrocketed. “It led to a lot of sales,” she says. “I had to make everything to order. That first holiday season was insane!”

Object-Enthusiast-3

Things got crazier. In 2014, retailer Anthropologie approached Reinhardt about carrying a limited run of her small dishes, which can be used for rings, bracelets, and other delicate sundries. Additional retailers quickly took note, and today Reinhardt’s elegant ceramic wares can be found in shops as far away as Australia as well as closer to home at Hutch in Midtown Crossing.

All of this has led Reinhardt to move her studio from her cramped basement into a downtown workspace, where she is expanding her collection to include tableware as well as other new items.

The young artist associates Omaha with much of this success. “When I moved here, I started making what I wanted to make,” Reinhardt reflects. “I feel like I can kind of equate all of the good things that have happened with Omaha. This is such a great place.”

Object Enthusiast 2 Object Enthusiast 1

 

 

New Beginnings on Park Avenue

May 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It wasn’t until Dave Wingert was in his 20s that he learned, that, like himself, his father had been an actor and radio personality. And it wasn’t until that time that he learned the full circumstances surrounding his father’s death. He had committed suicide the day Dave was born.

“I inherited his talents to a T,” Wingert says. “I also inherited his melancholy.”

In December 2014, Wingert had his suicide planned. He’d recently been let go from KOOO when the station changed formats—he’d served as morning host since his departure from KGOR in 2012. He was in the middle of a run of A Christmas Story at the Omaha Playhouse. He was going to have to leave his downtown condo. He couldn’t imagine leaving it.

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When the Playhouse show closed, he thought, he’d just leave altogether.

He started writing letters to his friends. And then he realized he couldn’t do it.

“It leaves such a wake,” he says. “I have friends who have people they’re still missing. You can’t do that.”

So he opened up to his friends. He started looking for a new place. After combing through numerous apartments downtown, he walked into a lofty apartment in The Unitah Flats, an Urban Village Development property at 29th and Leavenworth streets. There he found his new home.

“This place really was a life-changer,” he says. “To start a new chapter, your environment is important.”

The City of Omaha might agree. It approached Jerry Reimer and Scott Semrad, owners of Urban Village Development, in 2011 to come up with housing solutions for a four-block section at and around Park Avenue and Leavenworth Street—a notoriously difficult intersection plagued by drug activity and buildings in various states of disrepair.

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“It was a hard project,” Reimer says. “The buildings were in awful condition.”

Urban Village, established in 2008, had been avoiding Park Avenue in its work to renew multifamily housing in Midtown; once it decided to tackle the project, the only real place to start was with a blank canvas. The buildings were gutted. Roofs were replaced. Buildings originally designed to contain specific numbers of units—which, over time, had been divided up to include more units—were outfitted with only the number of units intended.

The goal was to marry the best new-construction amenities—granite countertops, stainless steel appliances, lofty ceilings, washers and dryers, walk-in closets—with Midtown character; exposed brick walls, wood floors, and, especially, well-working windows.

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Reimer was careful to say the project, while respectful of the buildings’ history, wasn’t about historical preservation.

It was about a better future.

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Wingert’s apartment in the Unitah is filled with things from his previous home—contemporary chrome and glass tables, a grey sofa, wood, and glass storage pieces. The walls are studded with vibrantly hued art and wall sculptures mostly done by local artists and friends. Twelve-foot ceilings and 8-foot colonial doors in crisp white gave him an airy space to fill.

“Everything found its own home,” Wingert says.

Several of his windows overlook a landscaped courtyard that’s part of the development; the others offer views of the neighborhood streets.

“I can sit at my computer or on my couch and watch 20- and 30-somethings walking their dogs outside,” Wingert says. “It’s a village. I feel that energy in the building.”

Of course, the hope now is that future improvements will come to Park Avenue—commercial and mixed-use space both. Reimer said the Park Avenue project couldn’t have happened without the model Mutual of Omaha’s Midtown Crossing created; he’s encouraged now by emerging developments like the Blackstone District.

“I hope it will come down to Leavenworth,” Reimer says. “It’s a big dream, but I think it could be the new Dundee someday. And if Park Avenue and Leavenworth can be successful, there’s not a project in Midtown that couldn’t be successful.

For now, for Park Avenue and Leavenworth, and for Wingert, things are beginning.

“Right now, I don’t need anything,” Wingert says. “Things have to move forward or move back. The nature of Omaha has gone away from the center and it’s starting to come back.

“I love it here,” he says. “I love making a difference in the city. This is my home.”

It’s all as it should be, he says.

“The universe always takes care of you.”

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