Tag Archives: Wal-Mart

Omaha by Design

July 12, 2017 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When a new West Omaha Wal-Mart was being proposed in 2000, Connie Spellman remembers, someone questioned the difference between its uninspired, big-box design and a Wal-Mart with gabled parapets, lots of windows, and other visual details seen in Fort Collins, Colorado. An attorney responded that the Colorado community had adopted a set of design standards, sparking a conversation that eventually led to the 2001 establishment of Omaha by Design as an initiative of the Omaha Community Foundation.

“Omaha by Design was founded by three leading business owners in the community: Bruce Lauritzen, Ken Stinson, and John Gottschalk. They had the foresight to see that Omaha needed this capacity,” says Julie Reilly, who has been Omaha by Design’s executive director since 2015. “Without their leadership we would not have started down the path when we did and the way we did.”

Omaha by Design, now an independent nonprofit, works to improve the physical places in the community, using urban design principles and best practices as tools to address the issues of revitalization, development, environmental sustainability, and mobility while encouraging the creation of engaging and attractive places. Their projects range from the Benson-Ames Alliance, on which Omaha by Design serves as the project manager, to Public Art Omaha’s website and app.

“You need to have that voice that brings together the community, the city, developers, artists, the passionate environmental people,” says Spellman, Omaha by Design’s initial executive director. “It’s all about collaboration, engagement, and working together.”

In the beginning, it took “faith and patience,” she adds. At the time, there were no urban design professionals in city government.

“We were able to work with the community, and the developers, and everyday citizens, and the city [government] to create an urban design for the entire city,” she says.

That was the easy part.

“We learned you have to change the existing codes to implement the master plan…this is where it became more difficult. But after two years of constant negotiation, especially with the development community, the citizenry, and the city—who were wonderful—we passed all of the zoning codes and the urban design plan unanimously,” Spellman says.

Zoning code changes ultimately adopted via City Council approval were widespread. For instance, requirements for tree planting on new streets and individual lots became more stringent. A new designation, Area of Civic Importance, was created to allow for special guidelines protecting these designated areas and governing their development, from site layout to landscaping of access roads and parking. Another designation, mixed-zone, made possible walkable neighborhoods that connect to pedestrian-oriented, mixed-use centers at major intersections.

“We thought we would be lucky if we would see changes in 20 years,” Spellman says. “Well, we started seeing changes in two years.”

Since 2001, Omaha has seen neighborhoods revitalize and business districts resurrect or develop, and the people of the community now not only understand the term “urban design,” they see it firsthand, Reilly says.

“Looking at what Omaha by Design has done over the years, I think the most important thing is contributing to the concepts of urban design and policy, becoming part of the conversation for our city,” she explains. “The actual citizens and residents understand what urban design and policy best practice can bring to making their lives better in Omaha.”

The current membership of the board of directors and advisory committee represents more sectors of the community than ever, Reilly says. As a new nonprofit, “We’re still finding our way to a recipe that will allow our board of directors and our advisory committee to have the best impact for the organization but also be conscious of their volunteer contributions in terms of time and energy,” she explains. “We’re bringing people together from different sectors to discuss issues that are ultimately common between those sectors…We all want a better Omaha, a better greater metro area, a vibrant, livable city for all. Who wakes up every morning and thinks about the future of Omaha? We do.”

Visit omahabydesign.org for more information.

Julie Reilly

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

The Return of the Midnight Movies

May 25, 2017 by
Illustration by Derek Joy

Let’s respect our inverted pyramid and get this out of the way: 4925 Dodge St., née the Dundee Theater, will once again play movies at midnight. They will be regular affairs, maybe/maybe not weekly, and they will be appropriately subversive.

But they’re not going to attempt to recreate the showings that took place there every weekend from 2000 till 2013, when the theater “closed for renovations” (but everyone sort of understood that was that).

It’s probably for the best.

Because part of what made those midnight shows great, let’s admit, was that they took place in that time between cars and bars: when a generation of millennials learned the world was their oyster, when they were amenable to going anywhere, but piddling few places would let them in.

Even now, most theaters’ “late” showings start before 11 p.m., the same time it becomes illegal to step foot in city parks. Come 11:30 p.m., unless there’s a concert somewhere, your options are a lone donut shop and a slew of diner chains, convenience stores, and Wal-Marts. It’s a bleak affair. There are even reports of teenagers gathering in parking lots, like those Polish wood ants that made a go of it in an abandoned nuclear bunker.

With that backdrop, knowing the basics of supply and demand, it’s little wonder that midnight movies were such a success. Midnight movies had long been off-again/on-again during the life of the Dundee Theater. But their most recent incarnation began in 2000, when two employees approached owner Denny Moran with the idea.

“An old theater like the Dundee just sort of screams MIDNIGHT MOVIES,” says former manager Matt Brown.

Moran agreed, but only as an experiment, only for a couple months.

The crowd shifted depending on the film. Fight Club brought the meatballs, Nightmare Before Christmas turned out the Hot Topic set. Sometimes parents would come with their kids. Then, there were the loner old guys clutching dog-eared sci-fi paperbacks.

To a kid, the city felt cold and conservative and corporate, says Jon Tvrdik, an Omaha filmmaker. Midnight movies were a blinking neon XXX sign in a town of church marquees. Tvrdik and his friends basked in the oppositionality.

“It was a nod from the establishment—which was any business that didn’t sell records—almost as if to say, ‘We see you out there, weirdos of all stripes, and we have a home for you and your cinema obsessions at night,’” Tvrdik says.

After two months, the good outweighed the bad. Midnight movies stuck.

Slowly, they evolved into more than just movies shown at a time when most people are hitting the hay.

One night Brown was showing a new employee, Jon Sours, the theater’s collection of trailers. Inexplicably, there were several for Changing Lanes, that overwrought 2002 movie that premised a whole plot out of Samuel Jackson getting into a fender bender with Ben Affleck. As the movie trailer’s narrator describes it: “An ambitious attorney. A desperate father. They had no reason to meet—until today.”

Sours insisted that this was one of the better bad trailers, and made the case for playing it before each and every midnight movie. Brown upped the ante, suggesting they play it twice.

And things sort of snowballed from there. Before long, they were playing it three or four times, upside down, in the wrong aspect ratio, backward.

The audience ate it up. Soon, they were shouting out lines from the film by memory.

“I felt like a proud father,” Sours says.

“Film,” by the way, means film. As in 35 mm. The Dundee Theater never went digital. The adherence to analog made for all sorts of charming hijinks. During Goodfellas, for example, the projector went haywire, so every scene became a weird game of Where’s Waldo? (Except with dangling microphones instead of a bespectacled guy in stripes).

It also meant that every week brought new and exciting questions about just how badly things could go wrong.

Film reels arrived to the theater scratched, spliced, and re-spliced. They were missing frames and wrapped thick with tape. And that was when they came at all. The delivery company lost a print of Jaws the day it was supposed to show, and staff had to scramble when the last remaining copy of Say Anything was destroyed; but sometimes the best ideas are borne of necessity—that night, they dug up a copy of Changing Lanes.

“We needed something to show, and we had been playing that trailer in ridicule for months,” Brown recalls. “I think some of our regular clientele were jazzed to show up and see that we were actually playing the film and not just the trailer four times in a row.”

For the most part, though, things were uneventful in the projection room. The real action was in the calamitous crowd. It was a party. A movie-watching party with a few hundred friends you didn’t know you had.

Rocky Horror Picture Show drew the costumed freaks. Purple Rain became impromptu karaoke, with people running to the front of the theater to take the lead on their favorite song. The Princess Bride was an odd communal script reading. And every now and then, during any movie, someone would kick over a clandestine bottle of something, and you’d have to listen as it slow-slow-slowly rolled all the way down the theater floor before coming to its merciful stop.

Maybe the end of the Dundee Theater was merciful, too.

Film Streams was competition, technically. But the truth is it was never close, and they were running up the score.

The Dundee had standing water in the basement and a heater rusting through. Film Streams had a brand new facility and a membership that paid to keep it shiny. The Dundee had day-glo  photocopies. Film Streams had a marketing budget.

The last midnight movie was The Room, widely considered one of the worst films ever made. It had been a regular in the repertoire.

Only about 150 people showed up that night—not at all capacity, and not even close to a record for a midnight showing.

But for Brown, who steered that ship for 13 years, it was the perfect payoff.

“They were so appreciative that we were taking some time to do a final screening of this weird little freak show movie that they all came to love, and they all came to party,” Brown says, fondly recalling the cult classic’s spoon-throwing ritual. “So many plastic spoons. It felt very communal. It was great.”

Even today, people tell Brown how much those movies meant. Their whole idea of cinema, their platonic ideal of a moviegoing experience, is based on seeing, say, Clockwork Orange or Fight Club at midnight at an art deco, formerly vaudeville theater in midtown Omaha.

Since announcing the acquisition of the Dundee, people have peppered Film Streams founder Rachel Jacobsen with questions about a reboot.

The first meeting with the Dundee neighborhood association was expected to be a dry to-do to discuss traffic flows and parking and other crushingly adult things.

Instead, people showed up specifically to advocate for the return of midnight movies.

Film Streams wants to pay respects to its predecessor, Jacobsen says, and midnight movies were a big part of what made the Dundee the Dundee. But she wants them to be different; she wants to dress up the basic concept in new clothes that are a little better fit for the new ownership.

She talks about a movie that might be the perfect balance—a French film with feminist undertones and cannibalism.

She could also open it up to “Members Select,” to let those dues-paying members pick the films they’d like to see.

Midnight movies are a big part of the theater’s recent history, sure. But Jacobsen seems well aware that much of the passion she hears could be standard-issue nostalgia.

“There’s not too many places that a teenager can go after midnight, someone under 21,” she says. “Maybe part of it is the age group that was going; they think of it as real glory days. We’re not going to try to recreate it. We couldn’t. But we’ll try to do our own version that honors the history.”

That’s no surprise to Brown.

“I seriously doubt they [Film Streams] are going to be laying out the red carpets for a bunch of 17-year-olds dressed like Frank N. Furter and Riff Raff with packs of hot dogs and bags of rice shoved down their pants to toss around,” Brown says. “I think that ship has sailed.”

Maybe it is all schmaltz for being young and dumb and the places that let you get away with it.

Tony Bonacci, a local film director, compares the midnight movies to that dive bar in stumbling distance from your front stoop. You know every nook and cranny and stain on the floor. You could pick the exact tone of green in the carpet off the Pantone color wheel. You nod to “Metaphorical Ed” who comes in after work and grabs his place at the bar, which is empty, because everyone else knows it belongs to “Ed,” too.

You love this place.

Then it goes under and is sold. Cheap draws give way to microbrews and craft cocktails. The new place is clean. There’s a great jukebox. The carpet is pried up and original hardwood restored. “Ed” found a new place to hone his alcoholism, and the new crowd is well-dressed and mannered.

It’s a good bar. A great bar. You like it. Still, something nags.

“It’s just a totally different vibe,” Bonacci says. “It’s like, ‘Man, can’t we just have that back?’”

Tvrdik, though, thinks the updated version will be, well, a lot like the rest of us—older and wiser. Still out to have a good time, it’s just what constitutes a good time has changed: less like you’re staying up past your bedtime to watch something scandalous and more like your favorite professor is playing your favorite film.

“A more mature version of what it was,” Tvrdik says.

Visit filmstreams.org for more information.

This article appeared in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Booming Blair

February 25, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

In tough economic times, growth typically becomes stagnant if not nonexistent for many communities regardless of population or location. However, the city of Blair has not suffered from such an effect. In fact, the business community in the city of just over 8,000 has seen significant growth in recent times.

The community is home to numerous national chains and caters to a wide range of niche markets, such as shopping at Country Gardens and Bra-Ta Boutique, in addition to numerous thrift stores and dining at Our Specialtea (which also holds high tea), The Driftwood Inn, and Blair Marina. Another unique area is the Healing Garden Railroad at Memorial Community Hospital, were visitors can sit outside and dine between May and November. Blair is also home to the 18-hole River Wilds Golf Course.

Harriet Waite, executive director of Blair Area Chamber

Harriet Waite, executive director of Blair Area Chamber of Commerce

Recent additions to the area, which have aided in the growth within the business community, include Skywerx Aviation, a fixed-base operation at the Blair Municipal Airport focusing on serving airplanes, charter flights, and airplane hangar space. Blair is also now home to a premier conference and reception space, the South Creek Conference Center. A first-class reception hall, South Creek can host up to 600 guests for a sit-down event (including tables) and up to 1,000 if seated theater-style. The facility will help to serve the Greater Omaha area as an option for large private or corporate events.

Tristan Gustafson, left, with Sam Kremke of Skywerx Aviation

Tristan Gustafson, left, with Sam Kremke of Skywerx Aviation

“Blair is really growing and has become a such a wonderful community,” says Harriett Waite, Executive Director of the Blair Area Chamber of Commerce. “We have long-established businesses that people want to go to and have been able to integrate new and different companies.”

And while small communities often shy away from welcoming large corporations to the area, Blair has been able to use the addition of national names to their benefit. “The larger retailers who have come into town have helped the local business grow their specialty brands,” Waite says. “The continued support of local businesses has really helped to keep our local economy strong.”

Marilyn Neff, manager at the South Creek Conference Center

Marilyn Neff, manager at the South Creek Conference Center

The ability to attract national corporations, including Wal-Mart, Cargill, and Evonik at the Blair BioCampus, is a credit to the city administration and their vision for economic development, says Waite. “The larger businesses have helped us to attract people from a larger market as people have seen what else we have to offer, which has helped us promote the great local businesses we have. We meet lots of niches.”

Not hitching their wagon to one business has also allowed for economic success, according to Executive Director of Gateway Economic Development, Paula Hazelwood. “Since Blair hasn’t relied heavily on one business the community has been able to grow,” Hazelwood says. “The mixture of new and existing businesses, have also meshed well, and businesses have done a nice job of preparing and updating their marketing. We’ve had a diverse business base for some time now, but have recently experienced a higher influx of retail service. Customer service has been and continues to be a key for local businesses. Blair is really a hot community right now.”

Sandy Carmichael, owner of Country Gardens/Blair Florist with staff

Sandy Carmichael, owner of Country Gardens/Blair Florist with staff

Hazelwood adds that government has also been integral. “Our local government is extremely pro-business and does a great job in helping to recruit and expand business in the area,” she says. “Dealings with government can often help or hinder progress, and we are so thankful our government is there to help and wants businesses that are successful.”

Blair City Administrator Rod Storm cites similar factors, while also indicating the benefit of the city’s proximity to the Omaha Metro. “Blair has benefited from a vast amount of industrial growth, while retail has continued to expand,” Storm explains.

Rod Storm (right), Blair city administrator with Mike Lewis, vice president of corn milling with Cargill.

Rod Storm (right), Blair city administrator with Mike Lewis, vice president of corn milling with Cargill.

“A lot has to do with the location. Being as close to Omaha as we are, you can kind of get the best of both worlds. There’s a good, solid economy in the area, and the growth has provided jobs in and around the area.” Blair remains active in economic development, which has “created a good public-private partnership and made it successful for our community,” explains Storm.

Forward thinking has also benefited Blair, comments local resident Mike Mackin, who has lived in the area since 1975 and was the co-owner/manager at SE Smith and Sons Hardware in Blair for 18 years. “When I moved here it was an old river town,” Mackin says. “It’s become a very progressive community, and the Gateway Development has done a great job in helping the area grow.”

Amy Hanson, owner of Bra-Ta Boutique

Amy Hanson, owner of Bra-Ta Boutique

Any number of individuals, organizations, and factors are to credit for the current state of the business community in Blair. And each one is quick to offer praise to the next, which shows yet again why the area has achieved such success and prosperity. With that blueprint, Blair should only continue to flourish.