Tag Archives: MECA

The Old Market Business Association

March 25, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Potential business owners often dream of being independent and making their own decisions. Businesses in Omaha’s Old Market district have that freedom.

“We’re not in a mall where one management company organizes us,” says Troy Davis, the group’s president. Davis has owned Curb Appeal Salon & Spa at 10th and Jackson streets for 17 years.

At the same time, the business owners are not isolated. The common thread between these independent companies is the Old Market Business Association (OMBA).

The OMBA has neither office nor staff. But the nonprofit does have 50 members who meet monthly and share information about what’s going on in the historical business district. There are two member categories. An active member must have a business located at either side of 10th to 14th streets and Leavenworth to Farnam streets. Businesses outside the area can join as associate members.

Troy Davis

Troy Davis

They’ve got each other’s backs. In January, when a fire destroyed M’s Pub and devastated nearby businesses, the OMBA immediately jumped into action. Member David Kerr of The Tavern started a crowd funding page for the displaced employees within 12 hours of the disaster. Members called an emergency meeting and discussed how they would help.

“We’ve always been a tight-knit group, but it really shows in times of tragedy,” says Davis. “The whole Old Market community came together for the businesses, their employees, residents, and everybody who was touched by the tragedy.”

Shoplifters in the Old Market also face a band of brothers and sisters. “Within minutes, the police department notifies the Old Market Business Association, and we immediately notify members,” says Davis.

Sharing information at the group’s monthly meetings are representatives from the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, MECA, the Downtown Improvement District, and the City of Omaha. Representatives from major events, such as concerts or conferences, also attend.

“We learn what groups are coming to Omaha, where they are staying, the demographics and how many [people], so we can be better equipped to take care of those people,” says Davis.

Another major member benefit is the website—oldmarket.com—which collected more than 170,000 visits last year. The website is a perk for members who can advertise their business and promote specials.

The group’s largest and best-known event is the annual “Old Market Trick or Treat.” Held the Sunday before Halloween, the event is a partnership with Metro Area Transit, Metro Community College, the Literacy Council, and a private donor. It provides children a safe place to trick or treat.  A unique event-within-the-event is “Books Are A Treat.” In October 2015, 12,000 new books—all from a private donor—were handed out to families.

Independent but united through the Old Market Business Association, the active businesses are an eclectic group ranging from galleries to restaurants. Contributing to this independence is the decision by property owners not to rent to franchises in the Old Market district, except those that are locally owned or businesses that started in Omaha.

“Unique, small, independently owned businesses are what makes the Old Market have the charm it has,” says Davis.

“That’s why the Old Market is cool. And the place to be.”

Visit oldmarket.com for more information.

Building a Meca

October 7, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Diane Duren remembers the desert days of Downtown Omaha.

“I was here when there was not much happening, even after work and on weekends,” says Duren, who’s either studied or worked in the area for nearly 40 years, today as an executive vice president at Union Pacific.

Now, Downtown is dynamic.

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That’s thanks in large measure to the work of Omaha’s Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, the nonprofit that runs CenturyLink Center Omaha, TD Ameritrade Park Omaha, and the now closed Omaha Civic Auditorium. According to a recent economic study, the CenturyLink Center Omaha has generated nearly $5 billion in economic benefit for Omaha.

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As the newest member of the MECA board of directors, Duren wants to spread the good word.

“I’ve spent 10 years watching the growth and development,” Duren says. “Seeing what MECA has done…has been truly amazing. It’s made downtown more vibrant.

“The MECA Authority itself, I think, is doing a lot of things very, very well. I don’t always think that we are telling the story as well as we should. We need to tell the story very broadly and the public needs to understand what’s happening and what we’re doing.”

The biggest MECA-related story earlier this year wasn’t exactly good press. The MECA board voted to extend board-member terms from five to seven years. That would have lengthened the stay of existing board member Jim Vokal. Instead, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert, who asserted the board didn’t have the authority to change member terms, appointed Duren to replace Vokal. That was a way, Duren says, of getting some “diversity of thought” onto the board.

A Creighton graduate, Duren joined Union Pacific in 1985 after starting her professional career with Deloitte, Haskins & Sells in Omaha. She’s held a variety of roles with the railroad, working for departments including finance, marketing and sales, and agricultural products.

The Omaha City Council voted unanimously to support Duren’s nomination. The MECA board conceded, and in May, Duren joined the
five-member board.

Duren is no stranger to board play. Among her main responsibilities at Union Pacific as corporate board secretary is facilitating the railroad giant’s board meetings. She also oversees Union Pacific’s human resources department, its strategic planning and administration of resources such as its heritage fleet and planes (yes, Union Pacific still owns trains).

“It’s not a 40-hour workweek,” she says. “My iPad is on all night long.”

When it’s not on, she’s spending time with her husband, Drew Collier, and their four sons, ages 20 to 29. When extended family comes over, Duren does all the cooking, often for two dozen or more people. To get away, she and Drew head for snowshoeing, skiing, fishing, and other outdoor pastimes in Sun Valley, Idaho, where they own a home.

But Omaha is home base.

“The things that have impressed me is really the sense of community that’s here, the philanthropic work that’s done,” says Duren, who is extensively involved in the community, serving organizations including the WCA, Arthritis Foundation, Girl Scouts, American Red Cross, and Children’s Hospital and Medical Center. “If you look across any city in America, you don’t see that kind of giving back.”

Duren is just starting to tell the story.