Tag Archives: visitors

Home Away From Home

February 24, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Volunteer firefighters at the Bennington rural fire station believe saying, “It’s quiet,” could spell the difference between a boring night and one that ends badly.

When the firefighters’ beepers buzz, there is no telling what could be on the end of the call.

“I thought a GI bleed was the worst thing I’d ever smelled, but charred human flesh was worse,” Kim Miksich says.

As a volunteer firefighter for the past year, Miksich expects the unexpected.

At first glance, it seems unlikely that this petite blonde could strap on a 70-pound pack of gear and venture into the smoky darkness of a fire. Yet, a tough determination and reliance is obvious as she recalls her first training runs. Miksich’s heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature heated up just like the flickers of flame as she stepped into the pitch black. Even though she had an experienced firefighter to guide the way, it was still pretty scary.

Miksich, a 20-year veteran of nursing at Bergan Mercy Medical Center, realized at 41 years old that she no longer had a choice. She felt compelled to follow her dream of fighting fires, even if it meant not getting paid.

“I dove in headfirst and went for it,” Miksich says.

It was a longing Miksich harbored for almost 20 years. It took her almost a year to get in good enough shape to pass the Candidate Physical Ability Test.

Miksich now volunteers at least three days of 12-hour shifts a month, staying overnight in the wide-open space of the station.

It was a huge life change. Married for 13 years, she would now have to spend nights away from her husband (who was supportive of her extra hours at the station). “He’s more worried about the dangerous aspects of the job,” she says.

Miksich, along with 44 other volunteers, covered 708 calls, 185 fires, and 523 rescues last year. All for free. Pride in service is evident all over the station, from the clean floors to the gleaming red, yellow, and blue firetrucks, to the smoke-stained coats.

The station—which opened in 2015—is immaculate. The cleanliness of the trucks and living quarters reflect this just as much as the hours the firefighters put in to save lives.

Assistant Chief Ben Tysor believes money normally spent on salaries can be spent on the facility, allowing them to better serve citizens.

It is a far cry from the former small white building down the street. It is no rinky-dink, country-bumpkin fire station. Donated by Darrell and Coe Leta Logemann, the warm brick of the building draws in visitors and volunteers. Tall, stately windows with squares outlined in bright red reflect the rustic scenery.

Opening the door, it feels a bit like a church. The stillness is a reminder of death, danger, and destruction. In the tribute room to the left, a pillar of the Twin Towers tilts to the side in a concrete frozen reminder of what could happen without courageous souls willing to risk their lives for others. The job, “a constant unknown,” matters as visitors stroll past a case filled with helmets, suits, and photos.

Fingers of sunlight reach out to an old hose cart, purchased in 1912 for $13 by the Village of Bennington (a historical reminder of those long-gone firefighters who remain part of the squad).

Chief Brent Jones continues this “family” feeling by staying in touch even with volunteers who have left.

“I spend a lot of time there. It is like a second home,” Jones says.

One of his toughest days recently included 10 calls in a 24-hour period. He hadn’t slept, so downtime in one of the black leather chairs created much-needed relaxation and peace. About eight of these same movie-style recliners are in one room facing a flat-screen television.

Firefighters can also make a meal in the vast kitchen complete with a center island. A stainless steel refrigerator and freezer filled with frozen pizzas, a slab of prime rib, or other items labeled with volunteers’ names fill the insides. Or they can help themselves to a pop from the fountain machine or fresh salted popcorn.

It’s meant to be a home away from home. Upstairs, eight bedrooms complete with bed, television, and desk give it a laid-back vibe. A full locker room comes in handy when someone comes in to use the modern weight room which overlooks the trucks (a reminder to be ready to leave at a moment’s notice—perhaps using the fireman’s pole behind a closed door).

Volunteers must meet three Mondays out of the month for emergency medical or fire training and business meetings. A big time commitment, but necessary.

“[Volunteering] is a disease. Once it is in your blood, you can’t get it out,” Jones says.

Jones, a 14-year volunteer, loves the challenge. But mainly, it is his way of serving the community. Jones spends 25 to 30 hours a week in Bennington, and about 56 hours on his regular job as a firefighter in Lincoln, where he has worked for the past 16 years. His wife also volunteers when she isn’t working as a paramedic with Midwest Medical Transport.

Although downtime seems like a minimum, pranks are still played. Jacked up trucks, water dumped on heads, and snakes in the lockers are classic.

One firefighter laughs as he plans to scratch at the door of a co-worker who believes a ghost roams the station randomly leaving the showers and sinks running.

Some of the firefighters believe they bring the spirits back after a trip. Although it is possible, the building may just be too new.

“Just don’t say the word quiet,” Jones says again. “Something will happen.”

Visit benningtonfirerescue.com for more information.

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

Omaha’s Saint: Father Flanagan and the Cause for Canonization

February 20, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A small, framed black-and-white photo hangs on the living room wall of the Rev. Clifford Stevens’ modest apartment, located on the south campus of Omaha’s famous Village of Boys Town. It shows Monsignor Edward J. Flanagan sitting at his desk, looking up at several teenage boys standing around him.

“That’s me, second from the right,” declares Stevens, pointing to a dark-haired, good-looking 16-year-old with a dimpled grin. “That picture was taken in 1942 to commemorate the school’s 25th anniversary, the year I came to Boys Town.”

As someone who knew the tall, affable Irish priest personally—and those numbers keep dwindling—Stevens never doubted his mentor and biggest champion would one day travel the road to sainthood.

“He was very warm and gentle, with the kindest smile I ever saw in my life,” says Stevens, still energetic and sharp at age 91. “He was very considerate and completely dedicated to the welfare of children.”

The longtime Omaha priest and prolific author recently discontinued presiding over daily Mass at Dowd Chapel, the Catholic house of worship on campus, to concentrate on writing his third biography of Father Flanagan. Stevens expects publication by the fall as part of Boys Town’s centennial celebration.

“Boys Town has been around 100 years and I’ve been part of it for 75 years,” he says with a mixture of pride and wonder.

Those who have benefited directly from the safe haven created by Father Flanagan for poor, orphaned, abused, neglected, or at-risk boys (the school opened its doors to girls in 1980) need no convincing of the priest’s Christ-like presence on earth. Convincing Rome, that’s another story. It takes years and enormous preparation, as dictated by ancient Catholic canon law.

Four boxes filled with leather-bound dossiers attesting to Father Flanagan’s “heroic virtue” arrived at the Holy See in Rome in June 2015, the result of a 2 1/2 year investigation into the priest’s life by the Omaha archdiocese.

“They literally put Father Flanagan’s whole life on trial here in Omaha,” explains Steve Wolf, a member of the Boys Town alumni group that helped ignite the quest for sainthood in 1999. “Everything that could possibly be known about Father Flanagan, through any number of sources, was all examined thoroughly.”

Although 2,000 names precede Father Flanagan’s on the list of sainthood causes, the boxes from Omaha have not sat idly in some Vatican room.

“We know the tribunal in Rome is reviewing the work of the Omaha archdiocese because they’ve been communicating with us here, trying to clarify information or asking for additional testimony,” Wolf says. “It’s absolutely an active, open case, and that’s encouraging.”

Will Rome agree Father Flanagan led a life so good and so holy in service to others that he put his own life in peril? Does he meet the requirement of “historic virtue?” Wolf, a 1980 graduate of Boys Town, sees no other conclusion.

“He received death threats many times because he was without prejudice or discrimination, integrating Boys Town with blacks and kids of Jewish faith,” he says. “The Ku Klux Klan once threatened to burn Boys Town down,” prompting Father Flanagan to respond, “What color is a man’s soul?”

If the case for sainthood didn’t exist, “[Omaha] Archbishop [George] Lucas would never have signed off on it and sent the boxes to Rome,” says Wolf, who readily admits Boys Town turned his life around. The father of five girls now heads The Father Flanagan League: Society of Devotion, an organization made up of alumni and lay Catholics that focuses on fundraising and forwarding the cause of sainthood through an international groundswell of support. Wolf credits the hard work of Boys Town historian Tom Lynch with enabling a speedy local investigation into Father Flanagan’s life.

“When I was hired by Boys Town 30 years ago as a graduate student in history, our archives weren’t organized,” explains Lynch, chairman of the historical commission that gathered written material for the sainthood cause. “We had about 2 million documents and half-a-million pictures just dumped in the building without rhyme or reason.”

Every day for more than 10 years, Lynch picked up pieces of paper, read them, then placed them in the proper category until the archives became a major resource center. Lynch and his “great crew of volunteers” eventually created a timeline accounting for nearly every day of the priest’s life, from his birth in Ballymoe, Ireland, in 1886, to his death from a heart attack in 1948 while on a goodwill trip to post-war Germany.

Lynch created the Hall of History, where thousands of visitors come every year to learn the story of Boys Town and the man who founded it. When the representative Rome sent to Omaha to investigate the sainthood request saw all the required material on display, he told Lynch, “You’ve taken about 25 years off the process.”

Those closely involved in the cause, though sworn to secrecy, cautiously think all the requisites for beatification and canonization exist. A separate tribunal in Rome is examining two of the 17 alleged miracles attributed to Father Flanagan (after his death), where someone was cured after praying to him, defying medical explanation. If proved, the Vatican will declare him Blessed, followed by a declaration of sainthood.

Father Flanagan began his life with people praying to God on his behalf, offering up pleas for divine intervention. On the day he came into the world, Eddie Flanagan, the eighth of 11 children born to a sheep farmer and his wife in County Roscommon, Ireland, turned blue, then purple and started convulsing. The midwife told the family the baby wouldn’t last the night.

But Eddie’s grandfather, a veterinarian, unbuttoned his flannel shirt, wrapped the newborn in a blanket and held him against his chest. He paced in front of the large kitchen hearth all night, holding the baby close. By morning, the baby’s coloring had returned to normal. Prayers had been answered.

“We believe he was born prematurely, which would explain why the family was so worried those first few days,” says Wolf. It would also help explain why Eddie was susceptible to respiratory problems all his life—health so fragile it nearly derailed his deep desire to follow his older brother, Patrick, into the priesthood.

Illness forced him to leave the seminary twice, once in Yonkers, outside New York City, the other time in Rome. After nearly dying from double pneumonia while studying in New York, his brother Patrick, who had been dispatched from Ireland to minister in “the Middle Western Plains of Nebraska,” suggested Eddie stay with him in Omaha. “The air is clean and brisk here, where your lungs can heal,” wrote Patrick.

The younger Flanagan regained his health in Omaha, but “the archbishop didn’t want him! He thought he was too sickly to become a priest and wouldn’t let him study here,” says Stevens, shaking his head. “So he got a job as an accountant at the Cudahy meat packing plant in South Omaha. That’s where he acquired his business skills.”

The young man finally finished his seminary studies in the warmer climes of Innsbruck, Austria, and returned to Omaha after his ordination in 1912. Five years later, on Dec. 12, 1917, Father Flanagan opened his first Boys Home at 25th and Dodge streets. He had found his calling.

People who only know Father Flanagan from Spencer Tracy’s Oscar-winning performance in the 1938 movie Boys Town may understand his mission, “but they don’t know this man,” says Wolf. “He was a consultant to world leaders on youth care after World War II. Who did President Truman send to Japan and Germany—countries we had defeated—to assess the problem of displaced or orphaned children? A priest. This priest.”

Almost 70 years after his death, Father Flanagan can still reach out from beyond the grave and touch souls, Wolf believes. He experienced it personally.

Raised in Omaha as a Baptist by a single mom, Wolf had shrugged off all organized religion by the time he graduated from Boys Town, and he held a particular disdain for the Catholic Church. Wolf returned to campus for an alumni convention in 1999, shortly after the group announced plans to seek sainthood for their founder.

“I was sitting in the very last pew of Dowd Chapel for a special Mass that I felt obligated to attend,” he relates, “and I looked over my right shoulder and there’s Father Flanagan’s tomb right there in that little room. Suddenly, I was just overcome, almost crying. Here I am trying to do something to honor him, and I realized I’m not even the kind of kid he would have wanted me to be.”

At that moment, Wolf’s conversion to Catholicism began.

Even historian Tom Lynch, who has immersed himself in all things Flanagan his entire adult life, came away from the tribunal experience with renewed respect for the sanctity of Boys Town’s founder.

“People laughed at him, told him it would never work because he wanted to treat the kids humanely,” Lynch says. “There are no fences or gates around Boys Town. No physical punishment. He was very much their champion.”

As Omaha awaits a decision from Rome, which could take years, Father Flanagan’s legacy continues to better the lives of more than 2 million children and families, with outreach programs and medical services on 11 Boys Town campuses from New York to California.

Father Flanagan must have sensed that his belief in the basic goodness of children would bear fruit. Shortly before his death, he wrote, “… the work will continue, you see, whether I’m here or not, for it’s God’s work, not mine.”

Visit fatherflanagan.org for more information.

Timeline of Father Flanagans Life

July 13, 1886 – Edward Joseph Flanagan born in Leabeg, County Roscommon, Ireland. Parents: John and Honora (Larkin) Flanagan.

July 18, 1886 – Edward Joseph Flanagan baptized, St. Croan’s Catholic Church, Ballymoe, Ireland. Father Crofton officiated. Godparents: Patrick and Mary Jane Flanagan.

August 27, 1904 – Edward Joseph Flanagan arrived in United States aboard S.S. Celtic, White Star Line.

September 1906 – Edward Joseph Flanagan entered St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York.

May 31, 1907 – Left St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dunwoodie, New York.

July 4, 1907 – John, Nora, and Edward Flanagan arrive in Omaha, Nebraska.

July 26, 1912 –  Edward Joseph Flanagan ordained by Bishop Elder for the Brixon Diocese in St. Ignatius Church, Innsbruck, Austria.

July 27, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan celebrated his first Mass in the Jesuit Church at St. Ignatius Church, Innsbruck, Austria.

August 25, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan celebrated his first Solemn High Mass at Holy Angels Church, Omaha, Nebraska.

September 5, 1912 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Patrick Parish, O’Neill, Nebraska.

March 15, 1913 – Father Edward Joseph Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Patrick’s Church, Omaha (Pastor: John T. Smith).

February 2, 1915 – The Rev. John T. Smith died. Flanagan became acting pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish.

Mid-January 1916 – Father Flanagan opened the Workingmen’s Hotel in the Old Burlington Hotel, leased by St. Vincent de Paul Society.

July 9, 1916 – Father Flanagan assigned as assistant pastor, St. Philomena Parish, Omaha, Nebraska (Pastor: James W. Stenson).

Early September 1916 – Father Flanagan moved Workingmen’s Hotel to Livesay Flats where he could care for 300 men.

December 12, 1917 – Founded Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home.

December 12, 1917 – Flanagan celebrated last Mass as assistant pastor, St. Philomena. Relieved of all parish duties.

May 8, 1919 – Flanagan became a citizen of United States of America.

February 24, 1920 – Articles of Incorporation for Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home filed with state of Nebraska.

Summer 1921 – Began construction of five buildings on Overlook Farm: two school buildings, two dormitories, and a refectory/dining hall.

October 17-22, 1921 – Father Flanagan’s Boys’ Home moved to Overlook Farm.

July 2, 1922 – Elected president of Omaha Welfare Board.

September 1925 – Inauguration of periodical radio broadcasts for Father Flanagan broadcast over WOAW, sponsored by Woodmen of the World Insurance.

March 1927 – Father Flanagan moved into new home, Father Flanagan House.

October 12, 1930 – Radio program ”Voice of the Homeless Boy” expanded outside of Omaha.

October 23, 1937 – Flanagan appointed Domestic Prelate with title of “Right Reverend Monsignor” by His Holiness, Pope Pius XI.

November 21, 1937 – Investiture service for Father Flanagan to Monsignor, Boys Town Auditorium.

December 2, 1937 – Appointed to Childrens’ Committee of National Conference of Catholic Charities.

February 20, 1939 – Honorary Life Member of the Boys’ Republic of Arlington, Virginia.

June 26, 1939 – Father Flanagan received First Annual Humanitarian Award from Variety Clubs International. Presented by founder, John W. Harris, at Fontenelle Hotel, Omaha, Nebraska.

November 1939 – Father Flanagan appointed to Board of Diocesan Consultors to succeed Monsignor A. M. Colaneri.

April 2, 1941 – Father Flanagan appointed by governor of California to Governor’s Committee on the Whittier State School.

May 27, 1942 – Father Flanagan received certificate for Distinguished Service on Behalf of the National War Savings Program, U.S. Treasury Department.

November 3, 1942 – Father Flanagan began weeklong war bond tour, during which he sold almost $3 million in bonds.

February 1944 – Father Flanagan made life member of the National Humanitarian Award Committee, Variety Clubs International.

September 5, 1944 – Certificate of Service from U.S. Navy, Letter from Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal to Father Flanagan.

October 17, 1944 – Father Flanagan received letter naming him Number One War Dad in America by the National Council, American War Dads.

February 1, 1946 – Father Flanagan named to National Panel for Study of Juvenile Delinquency Problems by U.S. Attorney General Tom Clark.

April 7, 1946 – Father Flanagan appointed member of the Naval Civilian Committee by Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal.

November 1, 1946 – Father Flanagan received the Kiwanis Medal for Distinguished Service from Kiwanis Club of Lincoln, Nebraska.

February 28, 1947 – Father Flanagan received an invitation from Secretary of War Robert P. Patterson to tour Japan on behalf of war orphans, etc.

April 7, 1947 – Father Flanagan left Omaha for Japan and Korea at invitation of Secretary of War Robert Patterson and General Douglas MacArthur regarding juvenile welfare.

July 8-11, 1947 – Father Flanagan went to Washington, D.C., to report to Secretary of War and Navy and President Harry S. Truman.

May 15, 1948 – Died, Berlin, Germany.

May 17, 1948 – Funeral for Monsignor Edward Joseph Flanagan in Berlin Cathedral. Conrad Cardinal V on Preysing, Bishop of Berlin, officiated.

May 21, 1948 – Funeral for Edward Joseph Flanagan in The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception, Dowd Memorial Chapel, Boys Town, Nebraska.

Steps Toward Canonization

by Thomas Lynch

Attaining sainthood follows three phases and four steps of recognition. The phases are pre-diocesan, diocesan, and Roman. The levels of recognition are (in sequential order) Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, and Saint.

The pre-diocesan phase requires a spontaneous or groundswell of devotion. The Father Flanagan League: Society of Devotion initiated this first phase of the process.

Omaha archbishop George Lucas initiated the second phase by appointing a tribunal to investigate the life and virtues of Father Flanagan. This is the diocesan phase, during which the candidate is recognized as Servant of God. In a formal ceremony during June 2015, the archbishop advanced the cause to the Vatican for further investigation.

Currently, Father Flanagan is in the Roman phase. A tribunal appointed by the Vatican further investigates the life and virtues of Father Flanagan and the miracles associated with him. The canonization process takes many years. To be canonized a saint, there must be proof of at least two miracles attributed to Father Flanagan that have occurred after his death.

The Vatican determines whether he would be recognized as Venerable based on investigation of miracles attributed to Father Flanagan after his death. After being recognized as Venerable, additional miracles (miracles not already submitted for his canonization cause) must be submitted and verified for Father Flanagan to be formally recognized as Blessed. After the tribunal makes recommendations to the pope, he decides whether to declare the priest a saint of the church. Confirmation of sainthood is then scheduled for an official ceremony at a later date.

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

Women’s Impact on Tourism

December 20, 2016 by

Who makes the travel decisions in your family? I am betting the majority of you will answer, “I do” (if you are a woman) or “my wife/girlfriend does” (if you are a man). It is typically the woman who plans the family vacations, it is the woman who figures out a way to get the cousins together for a reunion, and it is usually the woman who figures out the logistics of taking their child on college visits. It is also more than likely a woman who plans all the business trips in your office. Experts estimate that women make 70-80 percent of all consumer purchasing decisions, which includes the $947 billion spent on travel each year. 

Not only are they making the travel decisions, more and more women are traveling. At the Women in Travel & Tourism conference early this year, it was revealed that the average traveler was once a 28-year-old male—now it’s a 47-year-old female. This is one of the reasons the advertising we use to convince consumers to travel to Omaha targets women between the ages of 25-54.

Women make the majority of the travel decisions, and on the other side of the coin they also make up nearly 70 percent of the travel, tourism, and hospitality workforce. Think about it: who normally checks you in at the hotel, cleans your hotel room, serves you at the restaurant, takes your ticket at the airport, and plans most of the events, meetings, and conventions? Women. However, experts contend there is a marked underrepresentation of women in senior positions, with women holding less than 40 percent of all managerial positions.

This isn’t the case at Visit Omaha, Omaha’s official tourism authority, where 82 percent of the staff are women and 57 percent of the senior leadership team are women, including our V.P. of convention sales and our V.P. of marketing and communications. If women make up a significant portion of your customer base, it makes sense that they should be represented on management teams. Research shows that companies with gender-balanced teams have a higher ROI, and those are numbers we can all support.

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

Omaha Tourism Trivia

August 26, 2016 by

With the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials in the city this past summer, out-of-town visitors were front and center, but do you know how many out-of-towners visit Omaha during a typical year?

Take a guess:

A    250,000

B    1.2 million

C    750,000

D   11.9 million

If you guessed B or C, you are like most people we ask, but the answer is D. According to research conducted by Tourism Economics—an Oxford Economics Company, 11.9 million visitors come to Omaha every year. We define a visitor as someone who travels to Omaha from more than 50 miles away. About 60 percent of those are day visitors, folks who travel in from places like Shenandoah, Iowa, to go shopping, out to eat, to see their doctor, or to take in a performance and then return home. The other 40 percent are overnight visitors—people who come to visit relatives, families who want to enjoy a long weekend getaway, fans who travel to Omaha for sporting events or concerts, convention delegates, and business travelers. While we at the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau (OCVB) don’t have much control over where your relatives live, or with whom you do business, we do have an impact on leisure travelers and convention delegates.

Our convention sales team focuses on bringing convention business here. They travel the country promoting Omaha to groups such as the Council of Engineering and Scientific Society Executives, which met in Omaha in July. The organization is made up of 200 associations that also hold meetings throughout the year, so this one meeting could garner even more convention business in the future for the city. Last year alone, the convention sales team was responsible for 291 meetings here in Omaha, and those meetings brought in more than $125 million to our local economy. 

Our marketing team focuses on building Omaha’s reputation as a great leisure destination, a place where families, couples, and friends can enjoy a fun getaway. In addition to purchasing national advertising to brand Omaha as a visitor destination, the marketing team also targets the drive market, a 250-mile radius around Omaha. A 10-month-long regional advertising campaign in Kansas City, Des Moines, and Sioux Falls paid off. According to independent surveys conducted by Scarborough Research, a total of 402,212 visitors from those cities came to Omaha for an overnight visit during 2015, a 9.3 percent increase over 2014. Think about it: if each of these visitors spent $100 while in Omaha, that’s a $40 million payoff for our city.

So next time you’re on Jeopardy and they ask how many people visit Omaha each year, aim high…we do. B2B

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

Keith Backsen is executive director of the Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

Visitors Spend a Record $1 Billion

August 26, 2013 by
Illustration by U.S. Travel Association

Imagine Omaha hosting 40 College World Series events every year—in essence, that’s what actually happens in our city. New economic impact research shows 5 million out-of-town guests visited Omaha in 2012, the equivalent of holding the CWS in our city dozens and dozens of times. But more importantly, the research shows Omaha is no longer a one- or two-trick pony, where people only visit to attend the CWS or Berkshire Hathaway’s Shareholders Meeting. Our city has developed into a year-round destination.

Research conducted by Tourism Economics shows more people are visiting Omaha and spending more in our city than ever before. In 2012, research shows visitors spent $1.025 billion dollars in Omaha, a 13 percent spending increase in two years. As expected, visitor spending is highest during the second and third quarter during the typical summer travel season; however, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent during other times of the year as well—more proof Omaha’s tourism engine is running full time.

The fact that tourism is a year-round business also impacts each of us directly in the form of tax relief. When visitors eat in our restaurants, stay in our hotels, and shop in our stores, they are bringing new money into our local economy. Tourism Economics reports that visitor spending saves each Douglas County household approximately $655 a year in taxes.

These new numbers make it clear that the more visitors spend, the more we save—simple math that adds up to a big return all year long.

Questions or comments? E-mail us at info@visitomaha.com.

Dana Markel is Executive Director of Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau.

They Get a Great Time. Omaha Gets a Great Return.

February 25, 2013 by

Omaha welcomes about 5 million overnight visitors every year; visitors who come to our city for a variety of different reasons—maybe it’s a business meeting, a college visit, or just a nice weekend getaway. You probably don’t think twice about them, but twice is exactly what you should be thinking.

According to the Nebraska Division of Travel and Tourism, each dollar spent by tourists in Omaha is re-circulated in the economy to produce an additional $1 in business and income, creating an overall economic impact of $2. For example, a tourism dollar that goes for gasoline is spent by the business owner to pay the cashier, who then spends the dollar to buy groceries—it’s the multiplier effect.

3723 USTravel TTWFA flyer.indd

Take a Kansas City family of four visiting Omaha for a weekend. They need a place to stay; two nights at a hotel will run them around $200. They don’t have a kitchen; that means they will eat out four to six times while they are here, so add another $280 to their tab. The family plans to go to the zoo; with admission, snacks, and souvenirs, they’ll likely spend $130. While shopping, they spend another $230. Add in incidentals like gas…and when the weekend is over, they’ve spent a total of $1,000. Considering their money doubles as it trickles through the economy—that one family made a $2,000 economic contribution to our city.

A recent Omaha tourism economic study showed overnight visitors drive an additional $1 billion into our economy annually. That’s a significant boost to our city’s financial health!

Too bad visitors don’t wear a big ‘V’ on their shirts so we could thank them personally for their impact on our local economy!

Can you tell me how to get to…?

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

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

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

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

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

Dusty and Marlina Davidson

Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In a fit of late-night online browsing in 2004, Dusty and Marlina Davidson responded to a quirkily written classified for an Old Market apartment: “Super fly loft. Huge windows, two bedrooms, 2,000 square feet.”

With their minds set on moving out of their bland rental into something with a little more character, the couple stopped by the downtown loft the next morning. And moved in the next week. “It was a blink of an eye sort of thing,” Dusty says.

Neither of the Council Bluffs natives had lived downtown before, but both were ready to be in the heart of Omaha. They cite the energy of the Old Market, the Farmers Market (“We go down once a week and get stuff from our ‘garden,’” Marlina says, laughing), and the never-ending supply of things to do.

20130122_bs_2597 copy

The spacious loft seems TV-show ready, with exposed bricks and piping and scarred concrete. Contemporary décor, set off with pieces from IKEA, local designers, and heirlooms, keeps the two-bedroom apartment looking Young Professional Modern and not College Student Artistic.

The foyer is long and narrow, with a tiny seating area, a few plants, and gorgeous floor-to-ceiling windows framed by heavy, white curtains. “It’s a weird space,” Dusty says, but the bar is down there, and it’s a good overflow area for entertaining. A little bit of a library adds an intellectual flare to the area, thanks to Dusty’s grandmother gifting him three or four classics on his birthdays. “I wish I enjoyed reading as much as I enjoy books,” he says.

The couple has considered buying a place but, as Marlina says, “We love the location, the frontage, the windows.”

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“The food truck,” Dusty adds with a sigh, pointing out where Localmotive parks right outside on 12th and Jackson every night. “We can’t be bothered to move. It’s sort of like inertia on some level, but we really love our place.”

A few years into living in their no-name building, the Davidsons made the acquaintance of local designer Jessica McKay of Birdhouse Interior Design. With her help, the couple learned how to give their personal style a voice in their Old Market home. “We bought a few pieces,” Marlina says, “but really I think it was more about what do we have and how do reorganize it so that it makes sense.”

One long-loved piece takes pride of place in the loft’s entryway: a bright blue Ms. Pac-Man arcade gaming console, built by Dusty as a gift for Marlina when they were dating. “He bought it as a black box,” she explains, noting he had an artist friend hand paint the iconic character on the console because it was her favorite. An old CRT television is the screen and is hooked up to a computer loaded with thousands of arcade and Nintendo games. “It’s fun when we have people over for the holidays or a party,” Marlina says.20130122_bs_2642 copy

You won’t find them entertaining much during the summer, however. For the past two years, the Davidsons have rented out their apartment to College World Series visitors and escaped the season’s craziness with a European working vacation. “I’m fine never seeing the College World Series again if we can get someone to pay us to go to France,” Dusty says. The couple plan to rent an apartment in Paris again this summer, a scheme that pans out nicely for his work as a serial entrepreneur with Silicon Prairie News and Flywheel, and her summers off from lecturing in communications at UNO.

If that sounds good to other young professionals in town, the Davidsons are all encouragement. “I think there’s more of us down here than people realize,” Dusty says. “There are places to be had. You can find them.”