A new apartment plan is in the works for the former Temple Israel site near Omaha's Fairacres neighborhood.
Christian Christensen proposes to erect two buildings with a combined 430 apartments at the synagogue's former home, 7023 Cass St. That's next door to the Omaha Community Playhouse and a couple of blocks from the Crossroads Mall.
Construction on the first phase could begin in the fall of 2014, and on the second phase a year later.
If that schedule holds, the Cass Street apartments would open before the proposed Crossroads Mall redevelopment.
Christensen said a renovated Crossroads would be good for business, but the prospect of it didn't drive the desire to build apartments at 70th and Cass Streets.
Demand is strong, he said, and the market for urban-style apartment living is expanding beyond the Old Market, downtown and midtown.
Christensen's plan is scheduled to go before the Omaha Planning Board in March. That's about one year after another developer dropped a proposal to erect a 10-building complex that could have housed upward of 600 college students.
Neighbors and City Councilman Pete Festersen had opposed that previous plan, from Campus Crest Communities Inc. of Charlotte, N.C.
The initial reception has been warmer for the new proposal, which Christensen is calling Cass Place. He is president of Bluestone Development, which has made a mark in Omaha's urban revitalization with new and renovated apartments and town houses in the Old Market, Little Italy and north downtown.
The approval process is just beginning. But Christensen's initial meeting with neighbors went much better than Campus Crest's meeting had gone, neighbors said.
“I think the attitude is 'Something needs to go there (on the Temple site),' especially given what's going on with Crossroads and all the exciting things happening in that corridor,” said Deanne Fairfield, president of the Fairacres Homeowners Association.
Christensen “is a local developer, not out of state like the other one,” she said. The development would be less dense than last year's proposal.
“And it's priced such that it's probably going to be more young professionals,” Fairfield said.
Bluestone expects an average monthly rent of $990. The vast majority of the units, about 325, would be studio apartments, and there would be about 50 one-bedroom and 50 two-bedroom apartments.
The buildings would wrap around a 1½-acre green space that would include a swimming pool for residents and a small park open to the public.
The fronts of the four-story buildings would be designed to look like a series of row houses with varying colors and roof shapes. That's an urban look meant to fit in better with the neighborhood than would a traditional box-shaped suburban apartment building, Christensen said.
The buildings would be close to a newly landscaped Cass Street. The parking lot would be behind the apartments, adjacent to the Playhouse parking lot.
The design has in mind not only the people who live nearby but also the apartment residents.
“It's more inviting for the neighborhood,” Christensen said. And if you live there, “you don't feel like you live on an island.”
Amenities for residents would track with the “geeky cool” vibe that Bluestone is seeking to create in the Spaces Apartments, its building at Park and Dewey Avenues. Cass Place would include a bocce court and fire pits outside, and a yoga studio, vinyl record listening room, dog spa and communal bike workshop inside.
Target market: Generation Y.
Christensen expects the Cass Place renters will be similar to Bluestone's customers at its other developments: Average age of 32, about $60,000 annual income and done with the roommate thing. He said that, generally, 17 percent of Bluestone's renters are students.
That's good news to Danny Rubin, who lives east of the proposed apartments. He was among the neighbors who worried that the Campus Crest apartments would become party central.
Rubin said it would be ideal if the vacant building — Temple Israel moved to a new home — could still be used as a synagogue or church. But that's not going to happen, Rubin said.
“Something is going to go in there,” he said. “Why not have someone who is reputable, who has a proven track record? ... I've seen some of the projects that Christian has done in Little Italy and the Old Market. I'm very impressed by them.”
City Council President Pete Festersen, whose district includes the area in question, attended Christensen's meeting with neighbors.
Festersen said his initial view was that the proposal is positive, but said he'll “continue to listen to the opinions of the neighbors as the project goes to Planning Board and eventually City Council.”