The main 16-acre park at the Heartwood Preserve redevelopment is poised to open in June, welcoming frisbee players, picnickers and more to the west Omaha site.
Heartwood spokesman Bart Emanuel said that while the park and amphitheater will open for social activities, certain aspects remain underway. Future phases include an ice rink, a band shell and reconstruction of the old Boys Town barn.
By June 1, he said, a giant tent will be installed in the park area to host community events until a more permanent structure is built.
Emanuel calls the park a key attraction of the overall 500-acre Heartwood Preserve owned by Applied Underwriters, a national workers’ compensation insurer. Rising on what used to be farmland near 144th Street and West Dodge Road are businesses, corporate headquarters and residences. A retail-focused town center also is planned. Other spaces have yet to be claimed.
Heartwood Preserve will contain roughly 80 acres of open space, trees, trails and 13 water basins. The basins not only will mitigate flood risk but also feature creative “land art.”
“Our fellow Omaha residents and friends from the larger region, starting June 1, will have a beautiful, fresh, well-conceived recreational and personal renewal space that has few peers in the U.S.,” Emanuel said.
Applied chairman Steve Menzies conceived the Heartwood redevelopment project that also is to include the company’s new operations campus on a 50-acre stretch southwest of 144th and Pacific Streets.
Construction of that operations campus remains largely suspended as Applied officials continue to evaluate the impact of COVID-19 on the building design, Emanuel said last week.
It’s been six months since Applied first suspended construction at the site to “protect” workers and suppliers and to reassess the layout. At the time, Emanuel said the pause was expected to last three to six months.
Emanuel said he has “no doubt” the future operations hub will be built. He said some “behind-the-scenes” and off-site construction assembly work is currently taking place.
Heartwood Park and the related Heartwood Greenway — a collection of rainwater detention basins that incorporate art — are being created by California-based Meyer Studio Land Architects (MSLA).
Along the winding Greenway water basin path will be various opportunities to, for example, play sand volleyball or socialize around a fire pit, Emanuel said.
David Meyer, founder of MSLA, said the water basin system was designed not only for beauty but also to store up to 169 acres of storm water runoff. The system will help prevent erosion, recharge aquifers and protect adjacent properties from flooding.
“This presents to the visitor a sculpture park of land art that celebrates the process of capturing rainfall,” Meyer said.
New Peregrine Hotel opens to guests, a feathered friend and a new market
The Peregrine Hotel is set to open for business Tuesday in downtown Omaha. And its managers are preparing for a slice of business they hadn’t imagined when the nearly $15 million rehab project launched a few years back.
Among guests planning stays at the historic structure at 203 S. 18th St. are “pop-up wedding” and elopement parties. That market segment was not so prominent before COVID-19 started restricting bigger gatherings, said David Scott, director of marketing and sales.
On a day this July, for example, the Peregrine will host eight back-to-back small weddings coordinated by Tiny Luxe Weddings, a wedding planning company started recently by two Omahans.
“They’re creating the magic,” Scott said of the Tiny Luxe entrepreneurs. “We’re just the host.”
He expects small wedding parties to continue to be a market force as many people have come to appreciate more intimate, less-fuss, destination-type settings.
The Peregrine Hotel stands out for other reasons as well. Take its mascot — a rescued peregrine falcon named Aero, who lives at Fontenelle Forest but will visit the hotel from time to time for educational and social purposes.
Aero will be at the hotel for a photo shoot this week related to the tiny weddings.
The Peregrine takes its name from live falcons that nest atop a neighboring office tower. Various features and creative touches within the hotel pay homage to the bird, including falcon figurines in bedrooms and nests that greet guests getting off the elevator of every floor.
The lobby restaurant called the Habitat will open to the public this week, too. At first it will be available publicly for dinner only; breakfasts and lunches are to be added later.
Conversion of the historic Saunders Kennedy building into the 89-room high-end Hilton Curio brand was announced about five years ago by owner ViaNova Development of Chattanooga, Tennessee. Various issues, including the pandemic, delayed the opening, said Scott.
North and South Omaha ahead of the pack in home appreciation gains
While Omaha area home values rose overall during the COVID-19 crisis, certain neighborhoods saw their houses appreciate better than most.
According to an analysis by the University of Nebraska at Omaha, the greatest gains were felt in inner city areas of North Omaha and South Omaha.
Steven Shultz, author of the study by UNO’s Real Estate Research Center, looked at roughly 180,000 sales of existing houses from 2000 through 2020 priced between $20,000 and $600,000 in Douglas and Sarpy Counties and parts of Washington County (excluding newly constructed dwellings).
During those two decades, he said, existing home prices appreciated locally by nearly 60%, an average of about 3% per year. Since the low point of the 2007-2011 housing market crash, prices rebounded by 51%.
In the one-year period from 2019 through 2020, the UNO study showed appreciation (using a mass appraisal method) increasing about 11% for the Omaha metro as a whole. At the same time, the study said, appreciation in North Omaha leaped about 19% and in South Omaha climbed about 12%.
Among reasons for the greater appreciation gains in North and South Omaha, Shultz said, is the growing demand for lower cost homes that are more plentiful in inner city areas. Those areas were slower to recover from the initial housing market recovery that began in 2012.
Shultz said North and South Omaha are seeing lots of investors paying cash for homes. He said on average, 14% of all Omaha home sales were cash only in 2020, compared with 39% in North Omaha and 24% in South Omaha.
(North Omaha was identified as ZIP codes of 68110, 68111, 68131. South Omaha encompassed 68105, 68107 and 68108.)
Meanwhile, Shultz’s analysis shows that during the pandemic, home appreciation in the suburbs of Douglas County rose about 9%; in central Omaha, about 4%; in Bellevue, about 9%.
Going forward, if the COVID crisis lessens, Shultz believes more for-sale houses will come into the current inventory-starved local market and gradually return price appreciation to its long-term historical average of around 3% per year.
Old Papillion hotel morphs into affordable apartments
An aging Papillion motel is being converted to apartments, offering an affordable housing option to residents of the growing Sarpy County suburb.
Omaha-based Collective Development bought the Liberty Lodge at 1409 East Gold Coast Road for about $1.37 million and plans to invest another $400,000 in renovations, said partner Max Honaker.
The plan is to produce 38 one-bedroom and studio apartments that will rent for about $695 monthly, plus a $125 utility reimbursement.
A special use permit was required, as the area was not zoned for apartments. Travis Gibbons, assistant planning director for Papillion, said city officials see the conversion as a positive (and a newer step for Papillion) in providing more affordable housing. He hopes the model can be reproduced in the community.
Collective Development has done a similar conversion in Omaha, turning an obsolete (and bigger) hotel into apartments. Gibbons noted that such projects are finding success in other parts of the country, especially as new construction costs rise.
In the case of Liberty Lodge, it was built in the 1980s as an extended stay with small kitchens and had become rundown, said Collective’s Honaker. Eleven people who had turned into “long-term” guests are to remain on as tenants with leases, he said.
Unoccupied units are to be upgraded first; the other 11 are to be renovated as tenants move out.
Honaker said the property’s proximity to Shadow Lake retailers should boost its allure to new tenants.
He added: “Buying an existing structure is an opportunity to deliver housing at a price that is lower than what would justify new construction, creating an option that is affordable to the working-class residents of Papillion.”