The University of Nebraska Medical Center has selected a team of developers to lead the $45 million renovation and redevelopment of the former Omaha Steel Works property on the west side of Saddle Creek Road.
The project will become an “innovation hub” with space for offices and community amenities.
The team of Denver developer Koelbel and Co. and Omaha’s GreenSlate Development will lead the work to renovate two existing structures on the site. The project will transform them into a mixed-use innovation technology campus where researchers can transform ideas into new ventures.
The 140,000-square-foot project will include a food hall and market, an event center and office space. Koelbel recently completed a similar center in Denver called the Catalyst Healthcare Tech Innovation building, which brings together businesses from across the health, wellness and health care industries.
The Lund Company will lead property management efforts for the project. The team was selected through a competitive bidding process.
“We will create a space that both advances UNMC’s mission and revitalizes (the) area in a way that will benefit our neighbors and the city of Omaha,” Dr. Jeffrey Gold, UNMC’s chancellor, said in a statement.
The renovation of the historic property will be just one portion of the innovation hub concept. Doug Ewald, UNMC’s vice chancellor for business, finance and business development, said the university will pick a developer yet this spring to build a new administrative tower near the southwest corner of Farnam Street and Saddle Creek Road.
Both projects are expected to breathe new life into the strip of land along Saddle Creek. Two years ago, UNMC officials indicated that relocating the four-lane arterial street to the west and creating a grassy, flood-preventing valley was improbable.
Jay Lund, principal for GreenSlate Development and a driver behind Omaha’s Blackstone revitalization, called redevelopment of the two structures and the Saddle Creek site one of the most significant in-fill projects in Omaha’s history.
Design work on the project will begin immediately, with the aim of breaking ground by the end of 2021.
In addition to the Denver technology hub, Ewald said, university officials also are looking at a technology hub in St. Louis with an eye toward replicating some of the best pieces from both in Omaha.
Ewald said historic preservation will be a priority for the renovation. The steel plant, later known as the Omaha Steel Castings facility, produced airplane fuselages and Higgins landing craft during World War II.
The university has briefed surrounding neighborhood groups on the plans. Their responses have been “extremely positive,” officials said.
“They’re pleased that we’re preserving as much of the history as we can, (and) they’re pleased that we will have some community amenities in there, as a destination point for the surrounding neighborhood,” Ewald said.
Ewald already has heard from residents who want to help the university pull together the history of the site so the university has the complete story.
The site also is known as the Voigtman property, named for previous owner Mike Voigtman, who operated a wood shop there after the steel plant moved to Wahoo.
Ewald said the university has completed work to clean up the former industrial site. State environmental officials have signed off on the work. The NU Board of Regents approved more than $4 million in 2017 to remove contaminated soil, underground tanks, concrete and other materials from the steel plant site.
The innovation hub will house a number of existing operations, including UNeMed, UNMC’s tech transfer office, and UNeTech, which coordinates the creation of business startups from UNMC and University of Nebraska at Omaha research. Also on the tenant list are UNeHealth, UNMC’s contracting and fiscal arm for industry-funded clinical trials, and UNO’s Nebraska Business Development Center.
Also included in the renovation would be mixed-use space, including bays that could be used by new health technology startups and spaces for restaurants and retail operations. A pedestrian connection also is planned across Saddle Creek to allow pedestrians to move safety across the busy street to the medical center campus.
The administrative tower, which also would include a parking structure, would provide up to 350,000 square feet of office space and allow the university to consolidate administrative offices that now are scattered across campus.
The administrative tower is closely tied to the university’s proposed Project NExT, a $2.6 billion-plus project that would include a new academic medical center and federal disaster response capability.
Federal officials announced earlier this month that Omaha has been selected as one of five pilot sites in the U.S. tasked with developing a federal program to bolster the nation’s disaster response capacity. The move marks a key step for local plans for the NExT project proposed by UNMC and clinical partner Nebraska Medicine.
The City of Omaha announced plans in late March to contribute $93 million over the next decade to support the proposed project and the planned expansion of the medical campus.
About $45 million, collected through the city’s occupation taxes on tobacco and vaping products, would support Project NExT. Another $48 million in city funds would go toward the expansion on the west side of Saddle Creek Road. Those funds would be used for public improvements, streets and a public parking garage.