Tag Archives: Riverfront

Rachel Halbmaier

July 20, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Rachel Halbmaier is a woman with ideas, and she has the ability to convey these ideas in a way that makes people excited for what will come next. That’s why the former director of events and promotions for Lincoln’s entertainment district The Railyard is Greater Omaha Chamber’s Director of Riverfront Development for Missouri Commons. The job, which she accepted in February, is to oversee the activation of the riverfront area by increasing its usage for community events.

“I was uniquely qualified,” she admits, referencing her time in Lincoln. That position demanded that she plan and execute events while juggling the company’s social media and traditional promotions, and manage the staff of the Railyard Ice Rink and the Railyard Ambassadors.

“I have a lot I want to accomplish,” she says.

Donn Seidholz, chairman of the steering committee for Missouri Commons, revealed that more than 40 resumes from around the country were received for the position. “Clearly she was the heads-and-tails best pick,” he says. “She was absolutely the best choice for the job,” he says, adding that her “passion, excitement, and enthusiasm are infectious. We’re thrilled with Rachel.”

“We needed someone who could share the passion to activate the riverfront,” Seidholz says.

Halbmaier envisions events at the riverfront that will draw locals, and also compel people to travel here to attend. “We’re going to bring people together to make memories,” she predicted.

“I’d love to see a world-class festival down there, but I’d also like to see the space activated Monday through Friday as well. Maybe a music festival, or a food and wine festival. Or a triathlon, or a fashion show on the bridge, or maybe a pop-up dog park,” Halbmaier mused, overflowing with ideas on how to activate the available space. “I want to enhance what’s already there.”

Relationship-building is a critical part of this position, and she anticipates spending her first year connecting with community leaders and other people to understand what the riverfront can become while also fueling support for development. Growing up in Kenesaw, Nebraska, and attending school in Lincoln means that she didn’t necessarily have ample experience with the riverfront, but that is not an obstacle for her. Seidholz praises her proactive work ethic, stating, “She didn’t wait around for us to tell her what to do or who to meet.” Seidholz laughs and says that just when he thinks of someone with whom Halbmaier should meet, he finds out Halbmaier has already reached out to him or her. 

Her coming goals for the riverfront include bolstering the bond between Omaha and Council Bluffs, and “getting people down there and making them feel welcome.” Seidholz says Halbmaier can accomplish “just about anything,” and “has the full, undying support of everyone on the committee. The support has been unbelievable from Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh and Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert.” This strong support, coupled with Halbmaier’s relentless drive, will most likely result in some great things to come for the riverfront.   

Visit omahachamber.org for more information.

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

Back to the River

August 27, 2015 by

This article appears in July/August 2015 The Encounter.

The Asarco lead refinery along the Missouri riverfront was Omaha’s largest company in the mid-1880s. In fact, in the early 1900s, the Omaha plant was the largest lead refinery in the world.

The company then known as American Smelting and Refining Co. was looked upon as a good
corporate citizen.

But a century went by and people began learning how lead could pollute the Missouri River and the air, as well as possibly affect their health. Asarco began facing scrutiny, especially from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Not only was there a question of pollution, but the riverfront area that sustained other heavy industrial companies, including four battery companies, was unattractive and unappealing.

“The riverfront was drab and dismal and it was embarrassing to come to Omaha out of Eppley with all the industrial and junk yards and Asarco, which had the largest land piece on the riverfront,” Former mayor Hal Daub says.

Cleaning up the area was a first step toward a renovated riverfront. For Daub, focus on the riverfront began in 1995 with debate on renovating the old Civic Auditorium that sat in downtown Omaha. Daub proposed that, instead of spending city funds fixing up the auditorium, the city should clean up the riverfront and build a new auditorium there.

At the same time, he also saw developing the riverfront as key to downtown renewal. Prominent business leaders were telling him they might move their companies from the dying downtown.

Daub wanted a cleaned-up riverfront to anchor the renovation of downtown. So he picked up the phone and called Asarco’s corporate office in New York.

A former U.S. congressman, Daub knew his way around the Superfund and federal rules on cleaning up sites determined to be hazardous to human health.

“I knew Asarco qualified as a Superfund and that Nebraska could shut down the plant,” Daub says.  “We got the title to the land and $50 million for cleanup from Asarco.”

He is quick to point out that Asarco was cooperative.  “They understood the dilemma they faced in a changing environment and they agreed.”

The facility closed in 1997 after 110 years.  Demolition ended in late 1999, completing the largest cleanup of lead-contaminated yards in history.

The closing of Asarco paved the way toward Omaha’s riverfront development. Today Lewis & Clark Landing and Storz Brewing Company sit where Asarco was located.

In 2000, the city added a second project in the revitalization effort, buying 107 acres from Union Pacific where the railroad’s shops sat near the river, after cleanup efforts directed by the EPA.

The cleanup also made way for the new convention center-arena in 2000, the project that had first turned Daub’s attention to the riverfront. Voters approved bonds to build near the riverfront what is now the CenturyLink Center Omaha.

The Union Pacific land also now hosts TD Ameritrade Park, the Hilton Hotel, and parking lots, according to Greg Peterson, who was then the city’s assistant planning director.

Union Pacific and Asarco were both important to an integrated plan for development along the riverfront, says Daub.

“Sometimes you have to tear down old stuff because you can’t see past the ugliness of what’s there in order to envision what could be there,” says Daub.

ASARCO

The Greenhouse is why Marge Tilton stays downtown.

January 16, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

It’s a chilly Wednesday evening in Downtown Omaha, and Marge Tilton is just coming home from a yoga class. It’s been a busy day for the 86-year-old personal assistant. While the temperature decreases and the Old Market’s hustle and bustle continues outside her building, Tilton sits in her warm loft in The Greenhouse without hearing a peep.

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“Years ago,” she recalls, “there was a big sign on this building that read ‘If you lived here, you’d be home by now.’ That intrigued me, and so I decided to check it out.”

Tilton’s one bedroom, 720-square-foot loft boasts an open floor plan with a washer-dryer and access to an underground garage. Each loft is unique in its own way with high ceilings and exposed brick and piping. Sizes of the lofts range from 625 square feet to 1120. The building also features a fitness center and a security and intercom system. Most impressive though is its location across ConAgra Foods’ Downtown campus, a feature that has attracted an eclectic mix of residents from grad students to retirees.

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“I feel like I don’t have to go out to be part of the action,” Tilton says. “I can just open my blinds, and it’s all right here. I feel like I’m a part of Downtown.”

Assistant Manager Mary Whittington says many of the building’s tenants share Tilton’s views on the property’s prime location. “It is in the middle of the Old Market,” she says. “For retired people, it gives them kind of a young feel, and for grad students, it’s the location that appeals to them as well.”

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The lofts occupy the former McKesson-Robbins Warehouse on 9th and Farnam streets. It’s one of the few remnants of Jobbers Canyon, an industrial and warehouse district that solidified Omaha as a central hub for the transportation boom in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Also known as Nash Block, the nine-story, Renaissance Revival-style structure itself was designed by Thomas Rogers Kimball, the architect-in-chief of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition. Kimball also designed such extraordinary Omaha structures as the St. Cecilia Cathedral, the St. Francis Cabrini Church, and the Downtown Omaha Public Library. Construction of the McKesson-Robbins Warehouse was funded by Catherine B. Nash—one of Omaha’s wealthy elite—and completed around 1905.

Tilton adores the history of the building and especially likes the way it was renovated to make lofts in the 1980s. These condos still have some of the best views in Omaha of Downtown and the Riverfront. Tilton takes advantage of that view every New Year’s Eve when she hosts a small party in her loft. She and her guests are able to watch the fireworks from the comfort of her fourth-floor space.

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The parties shouldn’t be too much of a problem for other residents. “A lot of older buildings, especially warehouses, have very thin walls, and you can hear everything,” she says. “But I’ve never had a problem with noise since I’ve lived here.”

If she ever had an issue, Tilton says she is confident that management would take care of it right away. The responsive management, coupled with the sights of one of Omaha’s most alluring districts, is exactly why Tilton has lived in the Greenhouse for so long.

“I couldn’t be happier here,” she says. “Fourteen years later, I still get excited when I pull into the garage.”

How to Ride the River City Star

June 20, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The strains of “Folsom Prison Blues” as played by a one-man band is the perfect soundtrack to a riverboat tour. I bet there’s rich folks eating/In a fancy dining car/They’re probably drinkin’ coffee/And smokin’ big cigars. You are not those rich people, and this is not their sophisticated evening. This is where you embrace the river rat heritage bestowed upon you by dint of being in Omaha.

For the past eight years, the River City Star has hosted 60- and 90-minute cruises up and down the Missouri River from early April through mid-October. Just north of the Lewis and Clark Visitors Center and off of Gallup Drive, plastic palm trees and tropical trinkets guide you down a gangplank to a two-story riverboat. On blistering summer days, the kitschy décor fits.

Sightseeing tours happen every Sunday, no reservations required (but you really should anyway). Lunch and dinner cruises do require reservations and feature a cash bar and live entertainment, either by Win Lander or Joey Gulizia. Bartender Katie serves up Watermelons, exactly the drink that was so popular at the now-closed Anchor Inn. “It’s the drink on the river,” says Tami Bader, director of sales. “And there’s not a bit of watermelon in it.” Vodka and a few other liquors form the secret recipe.20130515_bs_6243_Web

Arrive. Early. If your dinner cruise is at 6:30 p.m., that means the River City Star pulls away from the dock at 6:30 p.m. Get there 15 minutes ahead of time to pick up your tickets at the office and get settled on the boat. Top floor definitely, if it’s a sunny day.

Take the time to soak in your surroundings. Stand at the back of the boat as it pushes off and watch as the twin John Deere diesel jet-drive engines froth up the water for the first time. If there’s a speaker on the sightseeing tour or live music during the dinner cruise, listen to it all. Try to get Lander to tell you why he doesn’t play Elvis.

The River City Star chugs north on the Missouri past the Illinois Central swing bridge, now permanently swung open. “The only way to see it now is from the boat,” Bader says. At Narrows River Park in Council Bluffs, the boat turns south to go underneath the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, breeze past the Downtown Omaha riverfront, and make a final turn just before Harrah’s Casino.

Captain Stephen Hosch.

Captain Stephen Hosch.

Depending on the day, your captain might be Stephen Hosch or Ken Merlin. Captain Hosch isn’t shy about divulging his knowledge of the river. As the River City Star trundles past Freedom Park within the first few minutes of the cruise, he waves his hand to encompass the variety of navy relics on the Nebraska shore. “That’s the Marlin there,” Captain Hosch says. “A ’50s training sub. And the Hazard over there, that’s a minesweeper from World War II. It supported a convoy in Okinawa. It was one of the few steel sweepers.” Incidentally, the USS Hazard is listing a tad these days, after floating on the 2011 flood that reached her on-shore resting place. When the flood finally receded, the Hazard settled back down at a bit of a tilt.

The Missouri is an adaptable lady, but if you look closely, you can still see the damage from the flood a couple years ago. Captain Hosch points out that the eddies swirling between manmade jetties and flood-deposits of sand may produce holes 20 feet deep underneath the river’s surface.

The Loess Hills are in perfect view at this point of the cruise, all golden with evening sun and accented by the earthy smell of the Missouri. As the River City Star turns south, a completely different view presents itself, the Downtown Omaha skyline.20130515_bs_6355_Web

It’s about this time that you should really head down to the buffet (if you’re on a dinner or lunch cruise) to enjoy some grilled barbecue chicken or roast beef, roasted potatoes or perhaps green beans with almonds. If you eat quickly, you can be done in time to see pedestrian reactions when Captain Hosch lets a kid sound the foghorn underneath the Pedestrian Bridge. Stay above deck to see how many swallows’ nests you can count, neatly lined up in the hundreds underneath the lip of the I-480 overpass.

On the way back north to the River City Star’s dock, Captain Hosch points out a channel cut into the Iowa bank. It may look like one of the Missouri’s natural changes in character, but the captain says it’s manmade, a place for catfish and sturgeon to lay eggs in safety. He’s seen deer, beaver, catfish, and huge paddlefish on his many tours up and down Omaha’s section of the river. “And have you seen all these geese?” he asks. “Looks like they’re all out dating tonight.”

The River City Star is inspected by the Coast Guard annually and certified for 149 passengers. Find the latest information on cruise times and prices at rivercitystar.com.

Q&A: Rebecca Harding

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

The Omaha native and a principal with TACK Architects shares her passion for design, the people who inspire her, and the reasons she’s excited about working in her hometown.

Q: Tell us a bit about TACK Architects. What makes the firm unique?

A: We are an Omaha-based architectural studio founded in 2011 by Jeff Dolezal, Chris Houston, and myself. We’re a fairly young but tested firm, combining 45 years of experience between us. In that time, we’ve created thoughtful, unique projects, integrating our passion for detail and design. We work with a wide range of clients across the nation, providing works of architecture and interior design in the form of high-end residential, commercial, and cultural projects. TACK references a course of action, or method, in order to achieve a goal, especially one adopted through rigor and critical thinking. This is especially true of our work, where good design is a process that vets out and tests ideas. Our design philosophy explores notions or craft, tectonic expression, sustainability, and contextual specificity, while working hard to understand our client’s objectives, budget, expectations, culture, and mission.

Q: Where does the name “TACK” originate from?

A: We wanted to differentiate ourselves with something meaningful that referenced our work and disposition; something people would remember. Within the context of sailing, to “tack” means to change the direction of movement of the sail in order to maximize the benefit from the wind. We felt the term evoked a sense of freedom and determination. Leaving our comfortable corporate careers behind was scary, but exhilarating at the same time. The three of us have been friends and collaborators working on several projects together for over 10 years. We trusted each other’s talents and passion to build a company together at a pivotal time in all our lives.

Q: Why did you decide to pursue your career in Omaha?

A: Returning to Omaha in 1994, after receiving my Bachelor of Architecture from Cornell University and traveling abroad over a six-year period, was a choice I made for several reasons. Omaha was at the inception of major architectural developments and making its mark as a changing and dynamic Midwestern city. The opportunity to begin my career with well-established architects was ripe and I was ready to reconnect with my roots. My time away from Nebraska and having the opportunity to study in places like Italy, Russia, and Scandinavia provided me with priceless educational experiences in different cultures and the ability to view works of art and architecture that have influenced me over the years. I returned to Omaha with an appreciation beyond my expectations. Omaha is a very special place where people are passionate and hardworking, with ethical beliefs in line with my own. As the city is in the process of expanding new redevelopment efforts, such as the Riverfront, Aksarben, and Downtown and North Omaha, I have the unique opportunity as an architect to help shape the future physical environments in and around Omaha that the next generations will enjoy for years to come.

From left: Ryan Henrickson, Rebecca Harding, Jeff Dolezal, and Chris Houston.

From left: Ryan Henrickson, Rebecca Harding, Jeff Dolezal, and Chris Houston.

Q: Any mentors that have influenced you? Other influences on your design tastes, methods?

A: My father is an oral surgeon and an amazing artist. As children, he used to show my sister and me some pretty gruesome slides of some of his surgeries. I was fascinated by how he could turn a mangled face back into something beautiful again. The precision with which he manipulated bone, muscle, and cartilage while controlling proportion and angles was magical. The combination of science and artistry was a concept I have been obsessed with since I can remember. The practice of architecture is very similar (although a life is not on the line). Other influences include Bauhaus architect, Le Corbusier, for his pure and streamlined designs in architecture and furniture; and Modernist architect, Sverre Fehn, for his sensitivity to context and beauty. Both of these elements can yield very diverse design solutions, but to me, they are very important to the foundations of architecture. It’s true that beauty is somewhat subjective, but beauty can be universal elements like proportion, scale, rhythm, etc. For me, it manifests itself in everything from a field of corn in the middle of summer (viewed from any elevation or angle), to the reflection of the sky in a puddle of water in the driveway.

Q: What are some trends you’re seeing in residential and/or commercial architectural design in Omaha?

A: When I first started practicing in Omaha 16 years ago, it was difficult to get clients to stretch out of their comfort zones. Reputation and trust comes from past projects and what you’re able to physically show the client that’s real. Most people have a hard time understanding abstract concepts or unusual materials until they see them, or can touch them. However, architecture isn’t just about design in the physical sense. We work with many clients on strategic facilities planning; where we help them make decisions on how much space they really need or can grow into. I think this type of service is what makes us really valuable, not just that we’re good designers but we also help people plan their projects and make good decisions at the beginning of the process. This planning works for most project types: residential, commercial, retail, corporate offices, etc. We definitely are seeing an upswing in the market right now.

Q: Tell us a bit about you personally. What do you enjoy in your leisure time?

A: I was born and raised in Omaha and attended Westside High School. I was a competitive figure skater up to about the age of 12. When I retired the skates, I took up many other sports and have continued to be active in my adult life. I enjoy running…Not only is it great exercise, it’s great therapy. The stresses of life and work seem to melt away with every step on the pavement. I hope to sign up for another marathon in 2013. I have been married to Brinker Harding for 13 years and have two daughters, Elizabeth (10) and Grace (7). I am truly blessed by them! They remind me what is really important in life—family, humility, love, joy.