Tag Archives: Pete Festersen

Omaha Land Bank

December 28, 2018 by
Photography by Midland Pictures & Omaha Land Bank

Cities around the United States experience problems with blighted neighborhoods, in which certain houses and lots go from assets to deficits. Such sites often become magnets for vandals and vagrants.

Locally, some of these problems found an answer with the creation of the Omaha Municipal Land Bank in 2014. The nonprofit is funded in part by donations.

“The Land Bank was created for the City of Omaha by the Nebraska Legislature to be a catalyst for community development,” says OMLB Executive Director Marty Barnhart. “Our role is to address these distressed properties. Folks can donate properties to the Land Bank they no longer want to care for, or are no longer able to take care of.”

OMLB matches properties with buyers who demonstrate the vision and means to redevelop sites. Buyers get nine months to renovate a home, or two years to build on a vacant lot. The hope is that revitalization encourages neighbors to improve their own places. 

The first step is to acquire the properties, and that project takes time and money, especially when it comes to clearing a title on properties whose owners can’t be reached. As a subdivision of local government, OMLB has the power to cancel taxes and municipal liens levied against properties. It can bypass red tape to make purchasing and redevelopment go much quicker. It can also sell properties at lower prices, thus reducing the burden on purchasers to establish equity, borrow money, or make improvements.

“If you think about the city and the county, they could do the kind of things we do, but it would take ordinances, public meetings, and a lot of things to put through their boards,” Barnhart says. “It would take a whole lot longer than the Land Bank with our statuary authority.”

OMLB began selling property in early 2017. The available inventory is listed on its website. The 50-plus properties sold through last October went to “a variety of different individuals and partners,” Barnhart says. “We’ve seen single-family houses transformed and reoccupied.”

He acknowledges the sample size is too small yet to show ripple effects in neighborhoods. But there’s no doubt a long-abandoned house at 2002 Country Club Ave. that was an unsafe eyesore got saved from the rubble heap, redone, and reoccupied.

2002 Country Club Ave. (before)

“It was one of the first big success stories of the Land Bank,” says Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, who serves District 1 where the house is located. “That had been a problem for that street for 20 years. We couldn’t find the owner. It was condemned. There were holes in the roof. Animals were in there. It never quite made the list, though, to be demolished. Eventually we did get it onto the list, not wanting to demolish it if we didn’t have to because it was otherwise a very nice property. But it was headed towards demolition until the Land Bank stepped in and finally got a response from the property owner, who was very grateful to sell.

“The Land Bank listed it for a fair, reasonable price and a young couple was able to buy it and rehab it. It’s in great shape today.”

Other transformations are in progress.

An OMLB presentation at their church convinced Carol Windrum and Tim Fickenscher to take on a single-family house redevelopment at 3155 Meredith Ave. Motivated to reverse blight, they used the Land Bank as a social entrepreneurship tool. They purchased the century-old property in January 2018 for $12,500. OMLB shepherded them through the makeover process—the couple’s first time renovating. That included helping find a contractor, who, at the couple’s behest, used as many recycled and reclaimed materials as possible.

3155 Meredith Ave.

The house listed for $77,500 last fall, and Family Housing Advisory Services and mortgage lender Omaha 100 are helping identify prospective low-income candidates to get it sold.

In the Park Avenue area, Brenda and Kurt Robinson seized a chance to prevent another “hole” in the neighborhood when, courtesy of OMLB, they rescued a two-story, 130-year-old house at 2911 Woolworth Ave. for $25,000.

If not for their action, this house might have faced the same fate as others torn down in the area.

“It’s a great structure—super sound. There’s very little we had to do except extra bracing here and there. It’s got a lot of cool exterior features—corbels and fascia we’re working hard to keep. Previous owners maintained all the original woodwork, including cased openings. They were pretty sensitive to the original architecture—thank goodness,” says Brenda, who likes having OMLB as a partner.

2911 Woolworth Ave.

“The Land Bank has a mission I can get behind, keeping sturdy old houses alive as really cool places of history as well as homes for the future,” she says.

For greater impact, OMLB targets areas by assembling multiple properties and lots for development. That’s what the organization is doing in the area around 40th and Hamilton streets.

This once-picturesque neighborhood struggled with crime, litter, debris, high turnover, and ill-kept rentals. Since a slumlord relinquished problem properties there and new businesses went in, things have stabilized, says Walnut Hill Neighborhood Association President Murray Hayes. But vacant lots are still an issue.

Walnut Hill is also a focal point due to the Walnut Hill Reservoir, a 16-acre parcel owned by Metropolitan Utilities District. The Land Bank is asking MUD to donate the inactive site for redevelopment. MUD’s weighing what to do.

Omaha City Councilman Ben Gray (District 2), who serves on the Land Bank’s board, says OMLB is ideally suited to be a player in the reservoir’s remaking because the nonprofit’s rules prevent a developer from letting it sit idle.

Barnhart feels OMLB could give a developer a deal that doesn’t require tax increment financing. By assembling and holding properties for developers with the right plans, he says, OMLB protects against speculators.

Gray adds that OMLB is well-poised to address Omaha’s affordable housing shortage in areas of need like this.

“We know we can get nonprofits to do affordable housing, but we’re trying to assemble enough property to entice private developers,” he says. “We’re working on creating solutions to help meet the financing burden developers might face trying to do affordable housing. If we leave it with nonprofits, we’re only going to get so many houses. If we can include the private development community, it increases our ability to get that done at scale.”

Festersen says a proposed city ordinance would create a new relationship whereby the city law department will foreclose on those liens. That will allow the Land Bank to get it back into productive reuse, and on the tax rolls, by purchasing the property. That, and the measures the Land Bank have already taken, are the reasons Gray says, “I think you’re going to see some major developments through the Land Bank in the next two to three years.”


Visit omahalandbank.org for more information.

This article was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

2911 Woolworth Ave.

Nick Manhart

January 18, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The sign on the pedestrian bridge that spans Dodge Street connecting Memorial and Elmwood parks is somewhat out of date, says Nick Manhart.

“It says ‘Most beautiful bridge.’ But the sign is completely rusted, which is ironic,” says the longtime Dundee resident.

The sign once had truth to it. The pedestrian bridge was built in 1968. In 1969, the American Institute of Steel Construction named the bridge “The Most Beautiful Bridge in the U.S.”

That was almost 50 years ago. The bridge is now structurally sound, but rusted. Something needed to be done to bring the iconic treasure back to its previous beauty. And Manhart is determined to do it.

The stay-at-home father has lived in the area most of his life. As a child, he walked the bridge for eight years to and from St. Margaret Mary School.

Today, the five children of Manhart and his wife, Dr. Carolyn Manhart, walk over the bridge to St. Margaret Mary School just as their father did. He has a strong interest in rehabilitating the Dodge Street pedestrian overpass in time for its 50th birthday in 2018.

He found it difficult to get others to feel the same passion. He contacted the City of Omaha and received no response. But the story interested World-Herald columnist Erin Grace, who wrote about his campaign.

Grace’s article caught the attention of Pete Festersen, the city council member who represents the area. In March, the group Friends of the Bridge was organized.

“Without Pete’s leadership and advocacy, we would not have had the success,” says Manhart. “We were able to ultimately raise $300,000.”

The donations were collected through a form on the Dundee Memorial Park Association. DMPA then distributed the funds to Friends of the Bridge. Friends of the Bridge also raised money through a series of neighborhood activities, such as parties prior to the annual Memorial Park concert. Money poured in from 24 different zip codes, spanning the country from Portland, Oregon, to Washington, D.C.

Out of total restoration costs, $150,000 will come from the City’s bridge maintenance fund.

The bridge brings back fond memories for many ex-Omahans. Its rich history started with a program in the early 1960s, launched to construct pedestrian bridges around the city. Between the 1960s and 1980, 19 bridges were built.

The Memorial Park bridge was the only pedestrian bridge in Omaha’s network of 19 where aesthetics were taken into consideration, says Manhart.

“We are planning an event for next fall when the work is done,” he says. “We would like to recreate the event.”

The event Manhart wants to recreate is the ribbon-cutting ceremony from April 1968, when city dignitaries, school children, and volunteers came to help inaugurate the new bridge.

The plan is to start work on the bridge after the Memorial Park Bank of the West “Celebrates America” concert in July 2017. The hope is for the bridge to be open again before school starts.
Renovations to the bridge—also known as the Dodge Street Overpass—will include lead paint remediation, rust removal, repainting, and the repair of decking.

Manhart’s passion for the bridge has not abated. Born in 1969, he says, “I am confident it will outlive me and generations of other people will benefit by it.”

Visit dodgestreetoverpass.org for more information.

nickmanhart2