Tag Archives: North Omaha

Curly Martin

June 14, 2018 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

If Curly Martin has something to say, you can best believe you will hear it if you’re within earshot. 

“Man, tell me who came up with this idea for a story about the Chitlin’ Circuit, I know it had to be a white boy,” Martin says during a boisterous conversation. “First, make sure he gets it straight; it’s not chitterlings. It was called the Chitlin’ Circuit!”

While chitterlings—chitlins for short—are a soul-food staple made from the small intestines of pigs, the Chitlin’ Circuit refers to venues in the South (and into the Upper Midwest) that supported traditional rhythm and blues acts. Martin finds the term as repulsive as its namesake.

“I know they think the Chitlin’ Circuit was for the mediocre musicians, but let me tell you, the Blues and R&B Chitlin’ Circuit was different from the Jazz Chitlin’ Circuit. Jazz players ruled Omaha and always stayed sharp. We dressed like pimps and players because that was our clientele.”

There are still jazz heavyweights living on Omaha’s northside, and Martin is testament to the fact. In the music room of his modest home, nestled near Belvedere Point, he collects an assortment of recording equipment and memorabilia: a 1972 Fender Rhodes keyboard, albums worked on with smooth-jazz innovator Grover Washington, and an award for the 2017 Best Jazz Musician in Omaha from the Omaha Entertainment and Art Awards.

“They told me I would have to pay to pick it up, but somehow it wound up here,” he says of the OEAA award. 2017 was an eventful year for Martin. In addition to the local award, he was also nominated for a Grammy for Best R&B Album alongside his world-renown, West Coast producer/songwriter son, Terrace Martin.

“Grammy-nominated for Velvet Portraits and Homer’s didn’t even have the album,” Martin recalls. “I brought Terrace to Make Believe Recording Studios to record that album, but these fools in Omaha won’t acknowledge it! There’s even a song named ‘Curly Martin’ my son did with Robert Glasper. Now that’s a tough tune.”

When asked if there are remnants of the jazz scene he once knew in Omaha, Martin scoffs.

“The ‘decision-makers’ on the music scene don’t like me because I’ll tell them to their faces they can’t play,” Martin states unapologetically. “I don’t think Omaha artists have enough range, and they’ll get mad at me for telling them the truth!”

One of the few people Martin considers an ally is Kate Dussault, founder of the Hi-Fi House. After hosting a series of successful Jazz Labs with Martin, she acknowledges him as an unappreciated artist in the local music scene.

“Curly is a hoot, but he is passionate about passing his knowledge on to the younger generation,” Dussault says. “He is more akin to a mentor than an academic teacher. I can recall him saying that you can go to class all day and do your homework, but where is the inspiration?”

“They don’t even know that I sold out the Holland Center back in February, man,” Martin asserts. “I brought out some of the best guitarists in the world that still reside in North Omaha like Wali Ali and Calvin Keys or saxophonist Hank Redd. These guys have worked with The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and Tony Bennett. Musicians around here aren’t as diverse as we were, so they can’t compare to back in the day.” 

Martin goes on to describe the Jazz Circuit lifestyle: thousand-dollar diamond rings, mohair suits, and alligator shoes that had to match the belt. They would play seven days a week traveling between the Blue Note in Minneapolis, Allen’s Showcase in North Omaha, O.G.s in Kansas City, KC Lounge in Denver, and the BTW Hotel and Lounge in San Francisco.

“Man, we rotated through those clubs throughout the ’60s,” Martin reminisces. “Mr. Allen at the Showcase let a lot of us jazz players get our feet wet, but there was also Alice’s Lounge, Shirley’s, and the Black Orchid in North Omaha. Even for the white folks, if they wanted to hear the baddest of the bad they had to come to the northside and downtown!”

Morning breakfast dances from 6-10 a.m. on holidays, Sunday jam sessions, and good music playing on every corner is the North Omaha jazz mecca that Martin remembers.

“I was probably 14 when I started drumming for my first band, Daddy Long Legs and the Rocking Nighthawks. I even had a gig downtown at Mickey’s with a checkerboard band called Danny and the Roulettes because mixed-race bands were popular. We were jamming downtown when the so-called riots of ’69 went down. After that uprising, our era started to wind down.”

These days, Martin focuses on the future. With a new album in the works and another project with Dussault upcoming, he is eager to give back to his community. 

“They tried to get me involved with WeBop, but I’m not trying to be a babysitter,” Martin says, referring to the early childhood education program. “I want to get kids when they’re serious about their craft, and show them that North Omaha has a rich background. I can’t let them bury our history; this generation can see me and say, ‘If Curly lived this wonderful life then I can do it, too.’”


Terrace Martin produced Velvet Portraits and is producing his father’s upcoming album. Follow @terracemartinmusic on Facebook for updates. 

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine. 

Wanderings Of A Wordsmith

May 2, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Frank S. O’Neal published his first book of poetry in 2010 at age 62. In 2017, the Nebraska Arts Council exhibited his surrealist poetry video (a collaboration between the scribe and cinematographer Jason Fischer) for O’Neal’s poem “I Do Not Use The N-Word.”

The African-American wordsmith uses his craft to actualize activism as a historian and North Omaha resident.

The versifier is also a voyager: “Had I not traveled, I would not be able to write,” O’Neal says.

He started globetrotting in 1968 when he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard. He trained in the medical field and traveled with the Icebreaker Support Section. The seafarer sailed across the North Pole and the South Pole. During the return journey from his cruise to the Antarctic, he and his fellow Coast Guard members were pleased to learn that they would be coming through Rio de Janeiro during the famed Carnival—but Lady Luck was not on their side that night.

“We had to wait,” O’Neal says. “The last night of Carnival, we were sitting there, in Rio, waiting on a ship. By the time we got ashore—it was over. We got them back, though. My commander had us stay there three extra days.”

After his discharge from the Coast Guard in 1974, he worked for Bethlehem Steel in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, as an industrial paramedic driving an ambulance from the work sites when an injury or accident was reported.

O’Neal relocated to Omaha in 1978, but not for long. In 1980, he traveled with his then-girlfriend to Dallas, Texas.

“I figured it was a good opportunity,” the lighthearted lyricist says. He found a job with a hospital, and in 1983, he switched careers and began to work in communications installation for Motorola.

He also began to rework himself into a rhapsodist. At age 35, O’Neal began to write as a way to reflect on his experiences. He’d been in and out of relationships, of homes, of cities, and he saw a world that engaged and perplexed him.

“I think he’s a talented writer. He writes with honesty, authenticity, and courage,” says Lisa Pelto, president of Concierge Marketing Inc., the company that has published his books.

In 1990 O’Neal switched from a salaried employee to a contract position at Motorola. After the corporation secured a contract to provide a mobile-communications network in Kuwait, O’Neal joined the team arriving in Kuwait City one week after the U.S.-led military liberation of the Persian Gulf state in early 1991.

“We went through Kuwait…seeing all the broke-down cars, all the tanks, fires,” O’Neal says with a shake of his head. “I thought I was in hell.”

In a scrapbook filled with mementos, a fiery mushroom cloud rises over an oil field on the first page. Other photos in the book show the newly liberated city at its worst…and best.

“That was an experience I needed to have as far as the circle of life,” O’Neal says. “The beauty of working overseas was being able to hear stories from people in other countries.” 

During his time in Kuwait, he toiled 12-hour days, setting up the infrastructure to put in a computerized communications system for oil wells. It was a grueling job, but one O’Neal worked with his signature confidence, and not much sleep.

O’Neal’s time in Kuwait enabled him to float further. In 1993, he traveled to Jamaica to be part of the crew creating the infrastructure for a new communications system.

He waxes poetic about embracing the culture, and he picked up the Jamaican patois language within a couple of months.

“It was beautiful being on the island for that long,” O’Neal says. “You can take seeds of any kind, and within the germination period the plant will grow. I’ve never seen soil so fertile.”

He now considers Jamaica his second home. He contentedly adventured through the U.S. on communications assignments until 2006, when he returned to Omaha to help his ailing parents. He spent time with his father, Frank Seavron O’Neal, in the last three weeks of his father’s life gathering family history, listening to stories he never heard before…and garnering advice that would impact his life.

“Frank Sandy, finish it,” he says, recalling his father’s advice (both men had the middle initial “S.”). O’Neal had shown his father a collection of poems that would eventually appear in his first book of poetry.

He took his father’s advice. Three years later, O’Neal’s first book came out in print, and he began reading at poetry engagements, meandering the Omaha metro. He has assembled four anthologies, is regularly petitioned to perform, and he could not be happier.

“He has a voice that is worth listening to,” says Pelto, his publisher who is white. “Initially, when I read the poems, I thought it was a good peek into the life of a black man.”

Each step of O’Neal’s story reads like a chapter in a book.

“This has been a beautiful journey,” he says. “I enjoy my life to the fullest, because every bit of my life has had a purpose and a meaning to it.” 


Visit Frank O’Neal’s Facebook page, @franksoneal, for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Free Space

February 11, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Eli Rigatuso has a knack for uncovering beauty. He has been known to stop his car to investigate a particularly exceptional flower in somebody’s yard. He is a man who happily recounts being stopped in his tracks by an unexpected patch of wildflowers blooming through the underbrush.

This devotion to the smallest of details in life has characterized Rigatuso’s unique vision from a young age. “I was always fascinated by trying to capture little things,” he says of his earliest explorations of visual art as an 8-year-old with a camera. Prints of close-up photos of the wonders of everyday life, as seen through his personal lens, stacked up as he developed an artistic eye for the unexpected.

Walking into Rigatuso’s North Omaha home is like encountering a surprising glimpse of a lilac decorating your route to work. Now a professional photographer and videographer, his affinity for finding the unexpected extends to his growing collection of works from local artists.

Rigatuso welcomes visitors on a guided exploration of his 21-piece collection. “I’ve had people walk in here who have said the energy in this place is unbelievable,” he says, gesturing to the massive, awe-inspiring painting of a young man with soulful eyes that greets guests. Equally impressive is the drag queen painted on a plastic shower door that divides the living room and kitchen. Next to that are the elegant photos of the annual Metropolitan Community College Intertribal Powwow. The entire collection radiates a peaceful energy that’s undeniable.

Perhaps that energy is a hopefulness—a sense of truthfulness that can only be communicated through the work of local artists. Rigatuso uncovers art everywhere, and throughout his tour, he reiterates that his collection is defined by the profound story behind each piece. His voice trembles as he recounts the moment he first encountered the centerpiece of his collection—the young man with the soulful eyes. “It just literally took my breath away. The moment I saw it, I started crying.” He later learned the subject of the painting was a friend of the artist’s who had died of AIDS.

The artist, John Muñoz, was happy to negotiate with Rigatuso to ensure the work would be displayed in a home where it would be appreciated. When Rigatuso unrolled the painting after purchasing it, he was surprised to discover a second painting in the bundle. “I felt like it belonged to you, too,” explained the artist. Now hanging next to the young man in the living room, the painting is a complementary representation of a mother nurturing her children. It turns out, the paintings are both done on repurposed canvas posters from Muñoz’s day job at Whole Foods.

Many of Rigatuso’s pieces showcase repurposed materials. The collection also contains art done on particle board, a cabinet door, rescued pieces of discarded plastic, and sheet music. The artists run the gamut—a local coffee-shop owner, students, DJs, and everything in between. Each tells a unique story.

Another central piece to the collection features a mysterious woman in shades of blue hanging in the bedroom. It was painted by a stylist who cut Rigatuso’s hair on a day he spent celebrating his trans identity. On the mantle rests a painting of a fiery girl. It was purchased from a 20-year-old he happened to follow on social media. There is even photography from Rob Gilmer, owner of Council Bluffs’ famous home-cooking hot spot, Dixie Quicks.

Rigatuso’s diverse collection has got people talking. He has witnessed his home transform into a museum of Omaha artwork. “Everybody knows that I’ve got a lot of cool art. It’s kind of become a thing.”

But the private museum is about much more than buying art; it’s about cultivating community. “I want people to be encouraged by the fact that people see what they do as something that they want to own.” Rigatuso says. The real goal is “to be able to create an environment for people to come
and be a part of.”

This desire to create a welcoming space for all types of artists comes from a place of love rooted in Rigatuso’s own experience. “I’ve had an extraordinary life,” he declares with a laugh. “For the first 50 years of my life, I was something that the rest of the world could accept, and I was dying inside. And when I came out as trans, I feel like I set myself free.”

By creating a space where even beginning artists can feel their vulnerability is welcomed, Rigatuso hopes to free them of any doubts about the value of their creativity. “I really think that when you’re engaged in art, we’re engaging a part of ourselves that is true vulnerability,” he says. “When you paint or you photograph or you capture something and you have the courage to share it, you’re actually sharing a piece of yourself. And that to me is huge.”

As his collection grows, Rigatuso says he hopes to curate an art show next spring or summer. “If anything, I want to leave a legacy of art.”

Visit elirigatuso.me to find out more. 

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Encounter.

The Buffalo Bill House

December 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It was built in 1895, four years before the Trans-Mississippi and International Exposition made its temporary home on Omaha’s north side. It’s rumored that one of the expo’s directors lived there; the location offered convenient access to the massive 184-acre tract just down the street.

Today, the Victorian mansion at 2438 Manderson St. stands as an example of what’s possible when restoration tops demolition as an option. The home’s revitalization story begins with Dave Jeffers, owner of Shamrock Waterproofing in Omaha.

Back in 2013, he was in the neighborhood doing roofing work for a Habitat for Humanity home when he first noticed the property. “It was vacant, the yard was full of weeds, and there was a condemned sign on the door,” he says.

It got the history buff and preservation enthusiast thinking. Dave’s brother, Nick, was looking for a place to live in Omaha, and the home’s restoration would give Jeffers a chance to honor one of his favorite historical figures—William Frederick Cody, better known to many as Buffalo Bill. The American scout, bison hunter, and showman brought his Wild West Show to Omaha for the 1898 expo.

“I’ve always been interested in preserving homes, and this project fulfilled a lot of needs,” says Jeffers, who lives in the Bemis Park neighborhood.

The house is located in North Omaha’s Neighborhood Action and Fact Association, an active group that lobbied to make the home a tour stop during the 2017 Neighborhoods, USA Conference held in Omaha last May.

Intrigued by what he saw, Jeffers headed to the Douglas County Assessor’s Office to do research. Following some negotiation, he bought the property for roughly $4,500 with a mandate to address the existing code violations. Years of neglect were evident throughout the once-grand Victorian beauty (built to impress with its tall, slender footprint, bay window, decorative woodwork, and wrap-around porch).

“By the time I took possession, the furnace had been stolen, but a previous owner had blown insulation in the walls, so the house was well insulated,” Jeffers says.

On his fix-it list: an entire kitchen “do-over,” warped floors from leaking hot water radiators, damaged windows on all three floors, and the most daunting task of all—a roof in severe distress. “The whole reason this house went into disrepair is because of the roof—it’s large, steep, dangerous, and expensive to fix,” Jeffers says. “If you fall off it, you’re finished.”

Back inside, all of the period light fixtures were missing, and decades of paint had to be stripped from the original woodwork—a gorgeous tiger oak with an incredible patina.

On the first floor, the fireplace room was the perfect fit for one of Jeffers’ most cherished finds, a Victorian fireplace mantel he bought at an antique store 40 years ago. It rises majestically from floor to ceiling and would easily fetch five figures on today’s antique market. “I knew it was special when I bought it, and I’m glad it finally has a home after all these years of being in storage,” Jeffers says.

A grand, L-shaped staircase off the front entrance leads to four bedrooms and two baths. A giant bison head mounted above the first landing seems to monitor foot traffic.

Upstairs, one bedroom serves as an office, and the others are named for Buffalo Bill, Sitting Bull, and Annie Oakley. The female sharpshooter’s room, not yet finished, runs the width of the house. Generous in size and decorated in a rich red-and-gold paint pattern that mimics period wallpaper, it features a bedroom, a charming sitting room area, and two circular windows overlooking Manderson Street.

When it came time to begin furnishing and finishing the home, Jeffers turned to his love of antiques and is trying to stay as period as possible. “It’s hard to find early American oak furniture, but I’ve learned the art of the bargain—it’s just a matter of being patient,” he says. “I only shop during sales. That’s where I save money.”

And although most of the major restoration tasks have been finished, there’s always something to do with a home this size. A first-floor bathroom is in various stages of completion, the large wrap-around porch has yet to be tackled, and plans call for replacing the existing fence along the sidewalk with period-like wrought iron railing.

“So often we see homes that have no business being on the demolition and condemnation list; places that have easily fixed code violations end up at the end of the wrecking ball instead of being promoted for sale,” says Kristine Gerber, Restoration Exchange executive director. “There are people like Dave who have the skills and desire to turn these homes around and keep the character of the neighborhood intact. Let’s continue to support efforts by places like the Omaha Land Bank to get these homes back on the tax rolls instead of becoming empty lots that do nothing for our older neighborhoods.”

Visit the Omaha Municipal Land Bank at omahalandbank.org for more information about condemned and distressed properties waiting for a new lease on life. A version of this article was originally published by Restoration Exchange Omaha at restorationexchange.org.

This article was printed in the January/February 2018 edition of Omaha Home

Encounter Destinations (Nov./Dec.)

November 6, 2017 by
Photography by Debra S. Kaplan

Kelly Newell had a great idea—a consignment-style retail store—and needed a great location for it. She whittled her options to two bays, one in well-established Dundee, the other in Omaha’s redeveloping north downtown. “That was really promising,” Newell says of the latter choice. “Lots of potential.”

She climbed into her car one night by herself and drove between the two sites. Somehow, the choice became clear for where she would launch Scout: Dry Goods & Trade. “Dundee was hands-down the winner,” she says. “These are my people. There was already a community established, and I felt great movements could really be started here. There are so many innovative people here—and the walkability of the neighborhood and how pretty it is—and so much a thriving neighborhood.”

That was 10 years ago. Now, Scout is thriving right in the midst of its beloved home. “We just finished up our best summer ever and are really excited about the future,” says Newell, whose store has been named best clothing consignment shop in the Best of Omaha contest each year since 2012.

Scout (5018 Underwood Ave.) isn’t strictly a consignment store, but pretty close to one. The store buys modern and vintage men’s and women’s clothes and accessories from its customers, paying them in cash or store credit on the spot. That means no waiting for items to sell.

It took a while to get the concept rolling. “It was pretty bare-bones when we first opened,” Newell says. “I just had clothes from friends of mine. Pretty sparse.”

Now, Dundee and folks from throughout Omaha have embraced the store, as evidenced by the more than 23,000 Facebook and 15,000 Instagram followers (Newell does all her own social media) and the long lines that form outside the store most Sundays for its popular “Dollar Sale.”

“There’s so much more of a community built up around it,” Newell says. “To have so many people have knowledge about Scout and really love Scout. It’s just really people taking it into their lives. That means a lot.”

ilovescout.com


AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Don’t be that guy—the one who waits for Christmas Eve to start his Christmas shopping. Rather, get it done early at Aksarben Village when it hosts the annual Physicians Mutual and WOWT Omaha Holiday Market Dec. 2 and 3 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. The family-oriented, German-inspired outdoor market will feature 50-plus vendors and local artisans hawking gourmet jams and jellies, cheeses and baked goods, jewelry, arts and crafts, and more. That includes holiday tunes, gobs of seasonal eats, and you-know-who visiting Dec. 3 from 2-4 p.m.

aksarbenvillage.com

BENSON

Yeah, Benson rocks on the weekends. But they can crush weeknights, too. That’s especially so at Reverb Lounge (6121 Military Ave.), which hosts its next Music Crush Wednesday, Nov. 18 (admission $10). Held three times each year, Crush puts the spotlight on up-and-coming singers, rappers, and producers. Fresh sounds on a weeknight—nice.

reverblounge.com

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

The Blackstone District might have a great history, but its future is looking even better. That much was clear in late summer when GreenSlate Development and Clarity Development announced they were bringing more growth to the district—the $22 million Blackstone Corner apartments and shops at 3618 Farnam St. The six-level structure will include 112 apartments, underground parking, and street retail space, all ready by 2019. That’s one year after two other big projects should be complete. First to the finish line this spring should be GreenSlate’s $2.2 million Blackstone Knoll with lofts and retail/office space at 39th and Farnam. Later in 2018 comes the $8.3 million Blackstone Depot, a GreenSlate/Clarity project featuring 56 new apartments, mostly studios and one-bedroom units, near 38th and Harney.

greenslatedevelopment.com

CAPITOL DISTRICT

There are 333 rooms in the Capitol District’s brand-spanking-new Marriott Hotel, but at least two don’t require an overnight stay to enjoy the first full-service hotel to be built downtown in 10 years—Society 1854 and Burdock + Bitters. The former, led by executive chef Brent Hockenberry, offers a regionally inspired menu featuring American cuisine with frothy goodness on tap from local breweries. The latter is Marriott’s bar and lounge with a lineup featuring an international collection of whiskey, seasonal and local beers, and handcrafted cocktails. Who knows? After all that fun, you might need a room after all.

downtownomahamarriott.com

DUNDEE

When does anything these days happen ahead of schedule—let alone on time? Well, it’s happening at Dundee Theater, the 92-year-old icon Film Streams has been renovating all year. According to plan, the doors should open before 2017 says adieu. The next generation of Dundee moviegoers will be treated to numerous updates: state-of-the-art projection and sound technology; a second entrance on the theater’s north side with an outdoor gathering space; a 25-seat screening room; and a community-centered lobby featuring delicious fare from Kitchen Table.

filmstreams.org

MIDTOWN CROSSING

The new art at Midtown Crossing’s optometrist Definitive Vision is getting lots of second looks—especially from those who see the world in black and white, so to speak. A Midtown centerpiece since 2011, Definitive Vision renovated and doubled its space at 3157 Farnam St. this year. The new digs were unveiled Aug. 1 at a grand reopening bash. The highlight was the debut of a large-scale version of a functional Ishihara Color Test plate, used to determine if someone is color blind. Omaha artist/illustrator Joe Nicholson created the mural and now Definitive Vision GM Dan Florence is checking with Guinness World Records to see if it’s the world’s largest such eye test at more than 10 feet in diameter. “I don’t want people to just go to the eye doctor,” Florence says. “I want them to have an optical experience.” Seeing is believing.

mydefinitivevision.com

NODO

Want to score BIG with your art-loving friend or family member this year? Get the oh-my-gosh-it’s-perfect-for-them gift at the Hot Shops Art Center’s 17th Annual Winter Open House Dec. 2 (Noon to 8 p.m.) and Dec. 3 (Noon to 5 p.m.). More than 80 artists will be on hand and at work pouring bronze, working clay, forging iron, and blowing glass in the 56 studios and shops. Drawings, paintings, sculptures, pottery, and much more will be on sale. See more in person at 1301 Nicholas St.

hotshopsartcenter.com

NORTH OMAHA/
24TH & LAKE DISTRICT

The future of the 24th and Lake District is bright—but it will be just a bit brighter Saturday, Dec. 2, thanks to the holiday lights making for a very festive Christmas in the Village at 24th and Lake. Now in its seventh year, the holiday tradition and community celebration is presented by the Empowerment Network, OEDC, North Omaha Arts Alliance, Family Housing Advisory Services, and Love’s Jazz and Arts Center, in partnership with more than 80 organizations, businesses, ministries, and community groups.

empoweromaha.com

OLD MARKET

Jumpstart your holidays the best way we know how—with a Thanksgiving night kickoff to the annual Holiday Lights Festival featuring more than 40 blocks lighting up Downtown Omaha. The fun begins at Gene Leahy Mall, 14th & Farnam.

holidaylightsfestival.org

SOUTH OMAHA/
VINTON STREET

Gallery 72 is still going strong after 45 years. Now located in the heart of the Vinton Street Art District, the gallery was launched in 1972 by Roberta and Robert Rogers. It exhibits and represents established and emerging artists, offering a wide range of contemporary art and fine-art prints in 1,800 square feet of gallery space under state-of-the-art lighting. Visit Gallery 72 in person at 1806 Vinton St.

gallery72.com

This article was printed in the November/December 2017 edition of Encounter.

Destinations

August 31, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

AKSARBEN VILLAGE

Everyone knows drinking beer is good for you, right? Turns out when you have a cold one, it’s good for others, too. You can prove that Sept. 7 at the 11th annual Brew Haha, supporting Habitat for Humanity of Omaha. Some of the Big O’s best breweries and restaurants will distribute samples from 5-9 p.m. in Aksarben’s Stinson Park. Tickets are $50 in advance, $60 day of event.
aksarbenvillage.com

BENSON

The pizza gods taketh and the pizza gods giveth. It didn’t take long for Benson pizza partisans to have that giant hole in their pizza-loving hearts filled after the March closing of longtime favorite Pizza Shoppe. Satisfying the void at 6056 Maple St. is Virtuoso, operated by David and Brenda Losole. If the surname founds familiar, it should—David is a member of the family that runs South O’s Lo Sole Mio restaurant. He knows Italian fare, but he really knows pizza as the only certified pizzaioli—pizza maker—in Nebraska to graduate from Tony Gemignani’s International School of Pizza. Virtuoso is promoted as Omaha’s sole artisan slice house—you can only get the stone-baked pizza by the slice.
facebook.com/virtuosopizza23

BLACKSTONE DISTRICT

Emerging as one of Omaha’s most popular street festivals, the Blackstone District’s Farnam Fest blows up the neighborhood Saturday, Sept. 16. The annual event celebrates the district, its patrons, and all the businesses that call it home. The fun starts at 11 a.m.—music at 4 p.m.—in the parking lot behind Mula at 3932 Farnam St. The 2017 slate features local and national acts, including Timmy Williams of the Whitest Kids U’ Know, Shannon and the Clams, White Mystery, Miwi La Lupa, and BOTH. Craft beers, food, and fun also on tap.
blackstonedistrict.com

CAPITOL DISTRICT

A place to park. A place to visit. A place to live. What a difference the change from spring to summer made in the Capitol District, which opened three facilities in June. First came the 500-stall parking garage along Capitol Street between 10th and 12th streets. Then the Capitol District Apartment models opened and pre-leasing began. The 218-unit structure offers tons of first-class amenities, including wicked views of Omaha. Finally, in July, the district’s anchor feature opened its doors—the 12-story, 333-room Omaha Marriott Downtown at the Capitol District.
capitoldistrictomaha.com

DUNDEE

Kevin Alexander knows burgers. That’s why thrillist.com sent the food and travel site’s “national burger critic” on a year-long odyssey to find the best beef between buns. He hit 30 cities and downed 330 burgers. Alexander’s stops included Omaha, where he crowned the cheeseburger at Dario’s Brasserie in Dundee as No. 1 in O-town. No wonder given the creation’s “salty-and-peppery outer crust,” Gruyère cheese, caramelized onions, and toasted bun. Don’t buy it? Go try it: Dario’s is at 4920 Underwood Ave.
dariosbrasserie.com

MIDTOWN CROSSING

“Night, the beloved. Night, when words fade and things come alive. When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again.” Okay, chances are French novelist Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wasn’t talking about the Turner Park Night Market when he wrote that. But Turner Park will come alive Sept. 22 when it hosts a mash-up of live music, games, a mini food festival, and arts, crafts, and produce vendors.
midtowncrossing.com

NODO

UPDATE: After the September/October issue went to press, the Stoned Meadow of Doom Fest moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

It will be a couple of really loud nights Sept. 29-30 at Slowdown for the second annual Stoned Meadow of Doom Fest. The name originated with a YouTube channel that features the world’s largest subscriber base for underground rock artists. But why stream when you can get it live? Stoned Meadow of Doom Fest will feature 26 independent, underground, and metal bands from across the United States. The lineup includes Bongripper, Cambrian Explosion, Telekinetic Yeti, Year of the Cobra, and others blasting away at Omaha’s premier music venue.
theslowdown.com

OLD MARKET

Nothing on the calendar for Sept. 1 or Oct. 6? Then book the Old Market’s First Friday art crawl right now. The free event is held 6-9 p.m. on the first Friday of each month and celebrates creativity with a visit to galleries and with artists. Get creative while exercising.
facebook.com/OmahaOldMarket

SOUTH OMAHA/VINTON STREET

The oracle has moved to Vinton Street. No, not that oracle (the one with billions). Rather, Oracle Art Supply, which opened shop at 1808 Vinton to provide artists of all levels and abilities everything they need to get their Bob Ross on. They also offer a book-lending library—with free checkout—and one-on-one customer service.
oracleartsupply.com

NORTH OMAHA/24TH & LAKE DISTRICT

Put on your walking shoes and take a trip down the historic “Street of Dreams” in the 24th and Lake District. The North 24th Street Walking Tours begin at 11 a.m. at Dreamland Park at 24th and Lizzie Robinson Drive. Hosted by Restoration Exchange Omaha, the tour features more than two dozen points of interest, including the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cornerstone Memorial, Love’s Jazz and Arts Center, the Carnation Ballroom, the Omaha Star, and plenty of other stops where history was made—and still is. Tour cost is $10 per person or $15 per couple.
restorationexchange.org

Fair Deal Village MarketPlace

August 23, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

As a child, Terri Sanders visited the original Fair Deal Cafe on 24th Street with her father to eat breakfast or lunch, and experience a vibrant North Omaha.

Sanders says the cafe, known from the ’40s to ’70s as Omaha’s “Black City Hall,” was a popular meeting spot for politicians and local African-American leaders.

Now community leaders say the Fair Deal Village MarketPlace, a recently completed $2.4 million economic development project built on the footprint of the café, will increase commuter traffic and dramatically change the North 24th Street business corridor.

“The businesses are successful, and again—it’s a revitalization,” says Sanders, 59, a member of the Omaha Economic Development Corp. and the development’s site manager. “You never return to what it was, but you can certainly revitalize it and go forward into the future.”

OEDC partnered with Omaha-based architecture firm Alley Poyner Macchietto for the project, which was built between March 22 and Dec. 3, 2016. OEDC is a nonprofit that benefits North Omaha, which has a history of poverty and other socio-economic hardships.

Officials also are branding the development, located at 2118 N. 24th St., as an entertainment and arts district. In addition to a reinvented Fair Deal Cafe, the development includes the Fair Deal Grocery Market and eight Omaha-based artisanal businesses. The grocery store, which focuses on healthy foods, is open seven days a week, and the Fair Deal Cafe is closed on Mondays.

“It brings positive [change] to the corridor,” Sanders says. “These businesses provide not just economic development for the business owners, but it also provides jobs to support them.”

The other eight tenants include: Hand of Gold, a nail salon; Fashun Freak, a women’s clothing and accessory store; ABE (All Black Everything), a men’s contemporary clothing store; LikNu Boutique, a women’s clothing and accessory store; Mike’s Custom Creations, a custom shoe and cleaning business; Divine Nspirations, a Christian gift shop; It’z Poppin, a gourmet popcorn shop; and D-Marie Hair Boutique, a hair salon.

“I think by virtue of the businesses located there, it’s an artist area,” Sanders says. “It’s a historical district—first of all—and arts and culture are a part of that.”

But here’s the twist:

The majority of the development, just south of 24th and Burdette streets, is constructed via an arrangement of shipping containers. The seemingly unusual approach to building the structure is becoming a popular trend across the world.

“I think the container concept, in itself, is unique. We’re the first [commercial] container site in the State of Nebraska,” Sanders says. “It’s an economical way to provide retail spaces to businesses that were either home-based or internet-based on a consistent basis.”

More than 50 commercial spaces created from containers exist across the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, and even Australia. Experts say the model effectively ups foot traffic. The alternative structure serves as a cost-effective and durable approach to community redevelopment.

Each container at the Omaha marketplace is fitted with heating and air conditioning, Sanders says. Six of them are 8-by-20 feet, and two are 16-by-20 feet. She also says the visual appeal of the development has increased foot traffic on North 24th Street.

“I noticed when there are activities at the Union [for Contemporary Arts], there are people that come down to the Fair Deal to eat and shop,” she says.

James Thele, planning director with the City of Omaha, describes the project as a solid foundation for future economic development along North 24th Street.

“We envisioned, as a community, North 24th Street as being an arts and entertainment center,” says Thele, who pointed to the nearby Union for Contemporary Arts.

The city’s contributions to the project included a $370,000 federal community development block grant and $195,000 in tax increment financing—or TIF, a common incentive that allows developers to use a portion of future property taxes to cover initial costs.

City officials also acquired an adjacent property to the marketplace, which will be converted into a parking lot connected to the new entertainment district.

Edward Dantzler, a city development section manager, says the 35-space lot will include two handicap accessible stalls. In total, the lot will cost $370,000, with completion in May.

“The parking lot and stalls will be reserved for the Fair Deal project,” Dantzler says.

Thele says while it’s “hard to argue” about the benefits of jobs and new business in North Omaha, it is important to see other prospects of the development.

“It attracts attention,” Thele says. “It creates a buzz, and that’s important.”

Sanders says further revitalization on 24th Street will help North Omaha continue to grow and become a destination for visitors throughout the city.

“And even though we’ve not been open six months, I’m starting to see that vibrance returning to the community,” she says.

Visit oedc.info for more information.

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

Baseball and Soul Food

July 3, 2017 by
Photography by Sarah Lemke

When baseball still ruled as the national pastime, Omaha showcased the game’s still prevalent but loosening black-white divide. In 1947, the year Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, the barnstorming Omaha Rockets began to play. In an era when entire leagues and teams were drawn along racial lines, the all-black Rockets faced both segregated and integrated foes. A few Rockets went on to make history or gain fame. Most faded into obscurity.

Although the Rockets were not formally in the Negro National League, an association of teams made famous by Satchel Paige and Buck O’Neil, the Rockets were an independent semi-pro farm club of the league’s famous Kansas City Monarchs.

The Omaha team even trained with the Monarchs. Three former K.C. players— Horatius Saunders, Mack Massingale, and James “Cool Papa” Bell—variously managed the club.

Donald Curry pays homage to this black baseball history at his Omaha Rockets Kanteen. The soul food eatery inside the Lake Point Building (at 24th and Lake streets) is packed with memorabilia relating to black ballplayers and teams. Dedicated menu items include Octavius Cato’s Jerked Turkey Taco, the Willie Mays Soul Wrap, and Birmingham Black Baron Sweet Potato Pie.

Curry’s Southern Pitch soul food truck features the same concept.

The Omaha native operated similar-themed food businesses in Chicago, where he befriended ex-Negro Leaguers. One, Alvin Spearman, informed him of the Rockets. Curry knew Omaha was a stomping ground for the Monarchs. Learning that the city fielded a black team, which enjoyed close currency with the Monarchs, sweetened the pot and provided his current establishment’s name.

Curry says he’s created “a living memorial” to black owners, managers, and players in admiration of “their fortitude” pursuing professional baseball careers despite lacking the talent or opportunity to play higher-level organized ball. He likes the lessons imparted.

“They didn’t cry or complain about the situation,” he says. “Everyone goes through things, and everyone is denied certain things in life. But if you keep your head up and push forward, you can overcome those obstacles and succeed in what you set your mind to. They created their own leagues and styles of ball. Some of them became pretty well-off for that time.”

The vast majority of black ballplayers, just like their white counterparts, never played for a paycheck, but for love of the game. Whether competing for semi-pro, town or company baseball teams, or fast-pitch softball teams, they lived out their diamond dreams. 

Curry hopes to add Rockets’ materials to “the treasure trove” of signed photographs and other lore displayed at Kanteen. He may name some dishes after Rockets. Curry’s collection includes personal scrapbooks of Pittsburgh Crawfords legend Jimmie Crutchfield.

The team’s owner, Will Calhoun, launched the Rockets after he got the “baseball bug.” He rented out flats at 25th and Lake, which he generously called a hotel. Touring black athletes, denied by other establishments, stayed there. The Tyler, Texas, native and World War II veteran got into the game just as minor and major league strictures lifted and the Negro Leagues declined. Calhoun pressed on anyway, boasting, “I’ve got a little money. I know why so many of these teams failed. They tried to get by on a shoestring and didn’t have anything to offer the public.” He promised to “add a little more show to my Rockets.”

The Omaha World-Herald termed the Rockets his “noble experiment.”

The team made Legion Field in Council Bluffs its home park and barnstormed across Nebraska and into Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, and Colorado via its own bus. The club even went into Canada and the Pacific Northwest. Its opponents included town teams and other touring teams, such as House of David.

At least one Rocket, Kenny Morris, claimed local ties. The former standout Boys Town athlete played outfield and third base for the Rockets. Mickey Stubblefield, William McCrary, and Eugene Collins all spent time with the Rockets between moves up and down organized baseball. Stubblefield, a journeyman pitcher, became the first black in the Kitty League and among the first blacks in the Nebraska Independent League. He ended his career in McCook, Nebraska, where he raised a family of 10. He later moved to Atlanta, Georgia. In 2011 he returned as Grand Marshal of McCook’s “Heritage Days” festivities.

Dick “Night Train” Lane was a multi-sport star in his native Austin, Texas. He then moved north to live with his mother in Council Bluffs, where a baseball scout signed him to play for the Rockets. He played one year of football at Scottsbluff Junior College in Nebraska. After entering the U.S. Army and excelling on military teams, he signed with the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and went on to a Hall of Fame career.

Teams like the Rockets faded as baseball popularity waned and televised sports cut into attendance. Ever the promoter, Calhoun paired his Rockets with the Minneapolis Clowns in 1950 to try and boost crowds.

The Rockets soon disbanded but Curry celebrates them within larger black athletics history. His Kanteen is now home to Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame displays.

His food, culled from family recipes, celebrates African-American cuisine—collard greens, cornbread dressing, red beans and rice, mac and cheese, candied yams—only prepared healthier. Smoked turkey, for example, replaces ham hocks. Olive oil replaces butter.

Curry takes seriously the Kanteen creed: “Enjoy the food, digest the history.”

“We might as well be a museum serving food,” he says.

Visit omaharocketskanteen.com for more information.

This article appears in the July/August issue of Omaha Magazine.

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.