Tying North Omaha to Strong Families and Vibrant BusinessesMar 01, 2021 11:34AM ● By Dawn Gonzales
Photography by Bill Sitzmann
A person can learn a lot about a neighborhood by spending some time picking up trash during a community cleanup day. According to LaVonya Goodwin, one learns about the people and problems associated with it.
She spoke from experience, as she has organized multiple cleanup days over the last few years, specifically along and near North 24th Street, right in the heart of her North Omaha neighborhood. Cleanup days so are successful they have ignited major change among residents and business owners who want something better.
Goodwin, an Omaha native, has strong ties to North Omaha, especially North 24th Street. Her father-in-law, Dan Goodwin Sr., operated the longest running barbershop in Nebraska, Goodwin’s Spencer Street Barbershop. Now, Dan Goodwin Jr. continues the legacy of the shop, owning the building and a home nearby. LaVonya is acutely familiar with all that goes on near the neighborhood and its vibrant and storied history that stretches back before the race riots of the 1960s.
“If we think we are fighting race now, what were our great-grandparents fighting back then?” Goodwin asked. “There has been an us-against-them mentality. Lack of trust, a racially charged environment, and violence in the streets. It makes it hard to communicate when there is all this going on and it is hard to communicate it in a racially charged [year].”
Goodwin said that the environment of 2020 brought up all the past realities of race and still has people wondering if we believed a lie about America being past the racial biases and inequities, specifically on North 24th Street. “You can’t sweep the reality under the rug. You still have to motivate people for a new day,” Goodwin said.
Her motivation comes from a vision she has for making her community better. To not only engage those who live and work near North 24th Street, but to get the City of Omaha involved. The neighborhood cleanups that Goodwin established while leading the Global Leadership Group, a local nonprofit established to “restore North 24th Street to a place where strong families live, vibrant businesses thrive, and beautiful neighborhoods grow” was the spark needed for change. Cleaning up was just the start. It would take many conversations and enough people who wanted to be included in the action of creating a more vibrant neighborhood to make a change for the better.
“In 2018 we realized there was a need for a business improvement district,” Goodwin said. “It is amazing what you learn about a community by picking up trash. You can’t walk along the sidewalks because they are original brick sidewalks, never concrete. People with disabilities were maneuvering in the street because it was safer to do that than navigate the uneven bricks which were laid decades ago.”
She said that there are many commercial property owners and a strong rental population in the area. The business district would give the group what was needed to help repair infrastructure and improve aesthetic. By February 2019, she and her group of volunteers had invited everyone in the area, with about 70 people who wanted the idea to move forward. Goodwin began with an interim board of 11 community members who were committed to the process, and on June 2, 2020, the group received approval from the City of Omaha for the creation of the North 24th Street Business Improvement District. This is one of only six in Omaha.
Goodwin explained that there is a bureaucratic process to establish a business improvement district, and she makes it clear that it is not a neighborhood association, not a business association—it is established by state statute with the board being appointed by the mayor and approved by city council. This BID (business improvement district) is the first of its kind for North Omaha. Consisting primarily of commercial property, the district is bounded by Meredith and Cuming streets from 22nd to 25th streets.
Chris Rodgers, Douglas County Commissioner representing District 3, has known Goodwin since summer 1992 when the two worked as college interns at the Omaha World-Herald. “LaVonya has the organizational skills and the know-how to get it done,” Rodgers said. “The time was right for this business improvement district to happen and she has the work ethic and authenticity to have it all come together.”
Rodgers also said that with her commitment and family ties in the North Omaha community, Goodwin has the support from business owners to help make it successful.
Three part-time groundskeepers were hired and started in August to assist with litter control. Goodwin wants results that people can see immediately, and she is working to ensure there is visible progress. Vacant lots have been cleaned up, the Global Leadership Group has purchased some of these, and a community garden has produced food and friendships among those tending it.
“Now we are getting our arms around it. We will soon launch a streetscape plan that will be like the Benson BID and will include a $1.3 million landscaping and street plan,” Goodwin said with excitement.
As a city councilman, Rodgers said it is his job to make sure the corridor is strong. “North 24th Street is powerful in its symbolism. It is the heart of North Omaha and you can just feel the momentum growing,” he added.
Goodwin said the end goal is economic development of this once thriving business district. “The riots were the beginning of the decline. I want to see multiple businesses return to the area…a pharmacy, grocery stores, doctors, dentists, movie theaters, making it more attractive to residents and businesses.”
This article was printed in the March/April 2021 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.