It’s an indisputable fact, according to Scott and Sara Baker. Their apartment north of downtown has the best views in the city, bar none.
With their oversized living room windows offering sights of the Omaha skyline stretching from the Missouri River to midtown and their balcony overlooking the Loess Hills sweeping up to the horizon, it’s hard to argue against their logic. If nothing else, it sure beats staring at white picket fences and manicured lawns.
“We both came from the suburbs wanting a change, and I think the most surprising difference has been the sounds,” says Scott, Omaha store director for Nebraska Furniture Mart. “We traded leaf blowers, barking dogs, and kids playing outside for motorcycles, ambulance sirens, and plenty of hustle-bustle.”
The Bakers wouldn’t have it any other way. And plenty of other Omahans echo that sentiment, if the deluge of developments in the North Downtown (NoDo) neighborhood is any indication. From the revelry of the Capitol District to apartment buildings and hotels cropping up seemingly overnight, the transformation of this space promises a new urban center. Old Market, you’ve got some competition.
“It’s been fun to watch restaurants, bars, companies—you name it—all come in so quickly,” Sara says. “Three years ago, it was ratty buildings and parking lots. Now, it’s just beautiful.”
Extending from Creighton University’s campus to the CenturyLink Center (now known as CHI Health Center Omaha), NoDo comprises approximately 80 blocks and has been central to the history of the city. The area is even credited as the spot where Omaha’s first subdivision, Scriptown, was founded in the mid-1800s.
Today, NoDo is known as a haven for the ultra hip (à la the Slowdown and Hot Shops Art Center) and uber chic (think riverfront condos and youth-driven apparel retailers), but for 75 years it was home to Squatter’s Row, a village of shacks made from materials found in the city dump. For those lucky enough to call Omaha home in the late 1800s, they would also know this area for its notorious red light district, “the Cribs”—home to more than 100 brothels.
Even the Bakers’ complex, the Tip Top Apartments, has a unique history. It was first constructed in 1916 as a factory for the Ford Motor Company, meaning the Model T may have been produced in what now is Sara and Scott’s bedroom. Paying homage to the past, a water tower bearing the Ford name still stands atop the building.
“When I moved in, I liked the history of the building and even the fact that it was sort of off the beaten path and the area was a little more gritty,” Scott says.
Oh, how times can quickly change. So what’s new in NoDo? Seriously, what isn’t? Bringing new meaning to “build it and they will come,” the Capitol District has become Omaha’s newest hotspot. While not all of the district’s planned establishments are finished, visitors today will find an upscale Irish pub, a country music bar, and a Wall Street-themed watering hole where drink prices rise and fall depending on popularity.
Beyond residential and entertainment use, the vibrant area has also increasingly become home to commercial properties. In December 2017, Kiewit announced that the company is moving its headquarters just west of TD Ameritrade Park. With the addition of a parking garage for employees, construction costs are estimated as high as $76 million with a completion date as soon as 2020.
“Hopefully this is the start of a positive cycle—these new businesses moving down here will bring people and they, in turn, will figuratively usher in even more development,” Sara says.
The Bakers are most looking forward to a proposed makers district. According to a conceptual document from Future Forward LLC, a Peter Kiewit Foundation-led investor group, this district would include public event space, gardens, and retail kiosks, all designed to establish a creative community for entrepreneurs and artists alike.
“A place like a makers district could give Omaha something it hasn’t seen before,” Scott says. “I found that if you ever get tired of living in suburbia, a move to North Downtown right now is good for the soul. No matter what you like, there are things to do and people to see everywhere.”
Just as it was hard to imagine the potential unearthed from NoDo’s transformative revival, the Bakers never pictured enjoying life east of 72nd Street so much. Heated and cooled underground parking? The Tip Top’s got that. A shorter commute for both of them? Check. Impeccable people-watching from the comfort of their own couch? Ding-ding-ding!
“We were empty nesters who just wanted an adventure,” Scott says. “The plan was after a year or two of living together here that we’d build a house or buy something cool like flipping an old gas station or something industrial. But this view, well, it’s pretty tough to leave.”
This article was printed in the September/October 2018 edition of OmahaHome. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.