Gene Leahy Mall Renovation Initiative/11th Street Project

Gene Leahy Mall, a 21.5 acre expanse of green, is the heart of downtown Omaha. Since its completion in the 1970s, it has served as a refuge from the hectic pace of business, industry and entertainment that swirls through the downtown grid of city streets. After three decades of wear and tear, however, this civic jewel has lost its luster.

Not content to let the tarnishing process continue, Omaha by Design launched the Gene Leahy Mall Renovation Initiative in late 2004. After holding a series of design workshops and public hearings to determine what Omahans sought from the city’s signature gathering space, the nationally renowned Michael Van Valkenburg Associates of New York was commissioned to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the mall’s strengths and shortcomings.

The firm recommended an $11 million renovation to address three areas of concern – safety and visibility, accessibility and urban connections, and activity and programming. The overarching goal is to reclaim the somewhat forgotten mall for citizen use, much like New York City did with Bryant Park. Its location in downtown Omaha makes it the perfect pedestrian connection to a host of nearby attractions.

Due to the cost of the project, the renovation is being completed in phases. The first phase focuses on the mall’s west end opposite the W. Dale Clark Library. The City of Omaha has torn down non-essential walls and cement structures along Farnam Street to extend the west end’s terrace area. Trees have been trimmed to improve visibility. The plan calls for the creation of a series of handicap-accessible paths, a new fountain at the entrance, the transformation of the west end’s existing pool into an interactive water playground, and an expanded play area for children.

11th Street Project

In conjunction with the Van Valkenburg analysis of Gene Leahy Mall, the firm identified 11th Street as an area of focus. This important corridor links the Old Market with Gene Leahy Mall. The analysis recommended an expansion of the Old Market’s unique character along 11th Street. Its landscape, like its buildings, should continue to grow as a collage of materials and spaces. New improvements, both streetscape and architectural, should honor the spirit of the Old Market, using it as a model for new development. The quality of the pedestrian environment should guide all improvements.

The project calls for the restoration of the original brick paving along the entire length of the street, the addition of circular planters at strategic locations, the creation of sitting nooks along the route, the continuation of a canopy and lighting for the popular downtown Farmer’s Market, and the development of new spaces for artists.

For more information about the Gene Leahy Mall Renovation Initiative or the 11th Street Project, call 402.934.7055 or email info@omahabydesign.org.

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