Building a Vision at 1416 Dodge St.
May 23, 2019 12:39PM
By Anthony Flott
The empty lot at 1416 Dodge St. is seen as a field of dreams for many companies, but getting steel and glass to rise there is not a case of build it and they will come.
Rather, the approach is they will come, and we will build it.
Everything is in place for a building to rise at the former site of Union Pacific headquarters: a cutting-edge design, tax incentives, support from the city, attractions from the nearby Capitol District, and a strong economy.
Before any building starts, however, tenants must be signed, and the developers are especially anxious to sign an anchor company that wants high-rise headquarters alongside downtown Omaha’s other corporate digs.
That is why, when asked to speculate when the first spade of dirt might be turned at one of the city’s most prime pieces of real estate, developer Jason Lanoha was clear and to the point:
“As soon as we secure the necessary tenants,” said the president of Lanoha Real Estate Co., which purchased the property in 2014. “I will tell you we have real progress happening.”
That is a welcome change after a decade-plus of relative dormancy. Union Pacific left the site in June 2004, moving across Dodge Street to its 19-story home at 1400 Douglas St. Demolition ensued and was completed in 2008. It has remained a one-block square of grass ever since.
Not for want of effort or vision. In 2005, Kansas-based developer Townsend Inc. proposed the Wallstreet Tower project, a 32-story mix of condos, offices, and a hotel. That went nowhere.
Lanoha purchased the lot in 2014 from WallStreet Tower LLC investors and proposed a mixed-use building 10 to 25 stories high with room for offices, condominiums, and more. That, too, went nowhere.
In early 2019 came a new vision, a $200 million high-rise with a concept borrowed from another market that would be unique to Omaha—an “offset core” structure. Elevators and other building-related space (i.e., storage, HVAC, etc.) are at the building’s center; that structure is surrounded by two towers—one being 27 stories, the other 30.
Inside is nearly 700,000 square feet for corporate offices, retail spaces, hotel rooms, entertainment, and parking. Ceilings are 15 feet high with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. It also features an 11th floor “sky lobby” with space for restaurants and bars, a fitness center, and outdoor seating.
“The concept is simple,” Lanoha says. “By offsetting the cores, the result is a wide-open floor plate of natural light. It will be the best place to work.”
This third proposal for the site, though, excludes housing—the focus is on business.
“The name of the game is talent attraction,” Lanoha says, “and this building will do that for our tenant partners.”
With all the site has going for it, why hasn’t development already occurred, especially considering progress at nearby NoDo and the Capitol District?
Kevin Andersen, deputy chief of staff for Economic Development and Development Services with the City of Omaha, cites two factors dating to 2007.
“Within that time frame you’ve got the recession and the overall real estate market tanking,” Andersen says. “The city itself and this part of the world weathered that extremely well, but the level…to finance this kind of investment, it just wasn’t there.”
While the economy has rebounded, there’s also a sort of Omaha ethos to development that can make it harder for vision to become reality.
“Omaha’s economy is wonderful. It is extremely stable,” Lanoha says. “However, it moves slower than some larger cities and therefore projects that are normally seen in larger cities take a little longer to pull together.”
Development could have occurred by now—but that could have meant leasing the site to a food truck and calling it good, not developing a high-level, large-scale project that would add revenue and visual impact to the city skyline.
“This is where I give a lot of credit to Jason in that I’m sure he had multiple opportunities to really kind of under-develop in a way that doesn’t maximize his potential,” Andersen says. “I’m encouraged by his faith in the Omaha market to really hold out for the bigger fish.”
Lanoha amplifies the point.
“We’ve had other opportunities to develop the site but we have committed to doing what is right for our city,” he says. “This is the best piece of dirt in downtown and it deserves something tall, and these things take time.”
But time is money. According to the Douglas County Assessor’s website, in 2018 the empty lot was valued at $1,033,100 and taxes were $22,213. That’s down from its 2016 valuation of $1,584,000 with $33,989 paid in taxes. Two lots over, First National Bank had taxable value of $3,877,100 for land and $126,462,900 for property ($130,340,000 total). First National paid $2,802,531 in taxes in 2018.
Another factor slowing the project is Omaha’s talent pool. The talent is not in question—just the depth of the pool.
“The low unemployment rate has been one of our biggest challenges and biggest priorities for landing and making a project like this a success,” Andersen says.
The 1416 Dodge site is one of three areas in Omaha about which Andersen is most often asked, along with the former Omaha Civic Center and Crossroads Mall.
“It’s definitely a priority in terms of overall development of downtown,” he says.
Andersen says he talks with Lanoha about once a week and that the city is taking a more proactive role seeing it get developed. Discussions have focused on parking and transit, incentive packages, PACE funding, and more. “Those are certainly all on the table,” Andersen says.
Lanoha says the city and Mayor Jean Stothert have “been a huge help and are aligned with us in making this happen.”
For now, his company is focusing on pre-construction budgeting, engaging its design and construction team, and marketing to end-users.
Of course, they are also looking for that major tenant employer from within or outside Omaha.
“There are always conversations being had,” Lanoha says.
Soon, he hopes, the conversation is about who is coming—and what is being built.
Visit lanohadevelopment.com for more information about the development company.This article was printed in the June 2019 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.