In the 72 years Jeanette Fleming has lived on her South Omaha street, she's never seen anything like it.
A developer bought the entire city block to her east, is stripping all 20 houses essentially to their shells to rebuild and package them into a mini-village of rental homes.
Built as classic workers cottages around 1900, the cluster of mostly 1½-story houses sharing a common alley is bounded by Vinton, Spring, 21st and 22nd Streets.
“It really shocked me,” said Fleming, who lives with her husband, Milo. “I thought, 'What are they doing?' As it progresses, I think it's going to be fantastic.”
While it is unusual to find, buy and renovate that many connected residential properties in one fell swoop, community leaders and real estate brokers believe that the project by Harvest Development I LLC could help accelerate revitalization of the Vinton Street business district and Deer Park neighborhood.
“Everything is growing, growing, growing,” said Larry Ferguson, who moved his photography studio onto Vinton Street in the 1980s when it was largely old taverns. “So I am really thrilled to see the investment in housing. It brings it back full circle.”
Indeed, the duplex rented by the Flemings is part of a separate face-lift project by a different landlord. Laura Sherman in December bought four buildings that contain eight dwellings near Vinton and South 23rd Streets, and she currently is sprucing up the properties.
Each structure will get its own distinct color, Sherman said last week while picking up trash and guiding construction workers. Sherman and her husband also own Regency Lawn, she said, and plan to install landscaping, a sprinkler system and a playground area.
At one time, Sherman said she considered buying the cottages now owned by Harvest Development but decided it was too large of a project to take on with her other commitments. “But I'm excited,” she said of the neighboring effort. “It just helps out my properties.”
Habitat for Humanity is focused on a broader area that stretches from Vinton to Martha and 16th to 24th Streets, said Oscar Duran, who works for Habitat and also is a leader in the Deer Park Neighborhood Association.
Within that area, Duran said, the nonprofit Habitat for Humanity has torn down four condemned homes, built three new ones, is rehabilitating two others and just acquired another condemned property to build upon.
The area was targeted, in part, because of its proximity to Castelar Elementary School, Duran said. “We wanted to make the area even safer.”
Within a stone's throw from the Harvest cottages is the historic Ak-Sar-Ben Beef building, which Arch Icon Development of Woodbine, Iowa, is hoping to redevelop into the Lofts on 24th.
Provided funding comes through, the now vacant Ak-Sar-Ben building at 3101 S. 24th St. — built originally as a pickle-processing company — would revamp a neighborhood eyesore and become housing for 20 low-income families.
Meanwhile, the nearby Vinton Street Commercial Historic District — where Vinton Street winds from near 19th to 17th — continues its resurgence. The strip is home to an annual festival and other neighborhood events. Previously boarded-up storefronts now are art galleries, eateries, Emerging Terrain headquarters and other shops.
Some apartments also have been upgraded, said Ferguson, and he said that has attracted higher-income renters.
The 20 houses that make up the Harvest Development project were bought as a single parcel from First State Bank for $410,000, according to Douglas County assessor records.
A representative from Harvest Development, who was listed on the real estate transaction, declined to be interviewed.
But John Heine of Investors Realty, who brokered the deal, said that Harvest Development plans to rent each of the refurbished homes. The homes will have new decks, new roofs, new windows, new drywall, new electrical and new plumbing.
It was unusual, Heine said, to find that number of inner-city homes with redevelopment potential owned by the same entity in one spot, especially for that price. “Everything has already been developed and parceled out,” he said. So, typical urban redevelopment involves buying single-family homes separately to refurbish.
With their proximity to downtown Omaha, Heine anticipates the cottages will catch the attention of young urban professionals.
Already, the residential area has the attention of historians and tourist groups. The housing has been pointed out during walking tours of the Vinton Street area as reminiscent of simple workers cottages built for employees of South Omaha industries such as meatpacking and railroading, said Vince Furlong of Restoration Exchange Omaha.
Fleming, who lived through seven decades of that history, and raised four children in that area, said any investment is welcome.
She remembers when Eastern European immigrants dominated the neighborhood now more heavily populated by newer waves of Spanish speakers.
While she knows fewer neighbors today by name, Fleming said she'd never leave.
“I've lived here all my life,” she said, her eyes darting to the Harvest construction project. “I'm hoping all this makes it better.”