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New RiverFront designs revealed, and the downtown Omaha park won't be a sea of green
special report

New RiverFront designs revealed, and the downtown Omaha park won't be a sea of green

Gene Leahy

This rendering of the Gene Leahy Mall’s water feature cove retains some familiar features and includes a host of new plants.

Omaha, meet the Missouri River.

A design team guiding the revitalization of The RiverFront in downtown Omaha want to introduce the mighty Mo through their design. Work started in March 2019 with the Gene Leahy Mall.

“We’re bringing the river to downtown Omaha, using many of the native plants and trees you would find in this region,” said Kyle Fiddelke, a partner in OJB Landscape Architecture, whose firm has been working on the project for the past four years.

Some local gardeners have been concerned about the plantings that will be used at The RiverFront, which includes the Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing. They didn’t want to see just a few sculptured beds in a sea of green grass.

“We should celebrate the prairie here,” one said.

The closer you go to the river, the more native and wild the plantings will be in the $300 million project, scheduled to be completed in 2024. That will draw more wildlife, birds and insects, as well as create new places to explore, Fiddelke said.

“If we made it 100% native, I think that would be great,” he said. “There needs to be some familiarity to common plants. We’ve done a good job of trying to mix the two — natives and non-natives — so there is a little bit of everything for everyone down there.”

OM-GLM-Render-20200401-Sculpture Garden-LG

This rendering shows the sculpture garden portion of the Gene Leahy Mall.

Plantings will be different in the three areas of the renovation, which is being done in phases.

The Gene Leahy Mall section in downtown Omaha will have a more curated landscape with some natives. Plants such as oakleaf hydrangeas, Russian sage and Siberian iris will have a high floral value and be well adapted to the Omaha area.

Trees of all varieties — maples, serviceberry, birch, oak and elm — will be introduced in the 15- to 18-foot range to give people places to hang out, socialize and enjoy picnics.

“We’ve kept grass to a minimum,” Fiddelke said. “In the Gene Leahy Mall, there will be about a 60,000-square-foot lawn area that anchors the mall for events and concerts. Surrounding it is perennials and grasses.”

Heartland of America Park, like the mall, will no longer be just pathways and slopes of green. There will be a large event lawn, as well as groves of trees and an ice skating ribbon in the winter that can also be used for roller blading and roller skating in warmer weather. Other play components include slides and swings.

The lake in the Heartland of America Park will be smaller, but its edges will be reinvigorated with native grasses, perennials and other types of plant life. Little bluestem, prairie cordgrass, coneflower, rudbeckia and others will give it a more natural look.


In this rendering of the Gene Leahy Mall, a cascading fountain can be seen near the familiar slides. 

The biggest change is that you’ll be able to see the Missouri. Fiddelke said many people don’t even realize that Omaha sits next to one of the largest rivers in the United States.

“We want to expose the river and provide that strong connection that everyone is sort of looking for,” he said.

Lost in the renovation was the master gardeners plot there, but Fiddelke said they are exploring ways to integrate them in the redesign.

“We are looking to partner with a variety of potential program partners such as the master gardeners and other educational groups through either a permanent garden or a scheduled educational demonstration,” said Katie Bassett, vice president of parks for MECA.

Lewis & Clark Landing will be more green and more of a destination. Sports and volleyball courts may be added, and the area will be made more welcoming for boaters. They’re even looking at adding an urban beach where people can play in the sand or just sunbathe. The crown jewel will be a one-of-a-kind, high-energy, high-stimulation play area.

When people are done playing, they can explore the native prairie plantings or walk the new riverfront promenade.

“People used to go there to walk the river,” Fiddelke said. “There’s going to be lots of reasons to hang out there all day long. I think it’s really cool.”

When the 90-acre project is done, it will be an active, vibrant, open space, Fiddelke and Bassett said. They cited places such as Millennium Park in Chicago, the Klyde Warren Park in Dallas and the High Line in New York, which have created not just a space people want to live next to but have also built a sense of community.

“This park is going to do a lot for Omaha and the region,” Fiddelke said. “It’s going to be right up there with these other spaces. People are going to be surprised when they see these places opening up.”

RiverFront Plantings


Aeryn Trident Maple

Acer Buergerianum ‘Abmtf‘

State Street Miyabe‘S Maple

Acer Miyabei ‘Morton‘

Autumn Blaze Maple

Acer X Freemanii ‘Jeffersred‘

Common Serviceberry

Amelanchier Arborea

Heritage Birch

Betula Nigra ‘Cully‘

White Eastern Redbud

Cercis Canadensis Var. Alba

Street Keeper Honeylocust

Gleditsia Triacanthos F. Inermis ‘Draves‘

Skyline Honeylocust

Gleditsia Triacanthos F. Inermis ‘Skycole‘

Shademaster Locust

Gleditsia Triacanthos Inermis ‘Shademaster‘

Stately Manor Kentucky Coffeetree

Gymnocladus Dioica ‘Stately Manor‘

Kentucky Coffee Tree

Gymnocladus Dioicus ‘Espresso‘

Skinny Latte Kentucky Coffee Tree

Gymnocladus Dioicus ‘Morton‘

Tulip Tree

Liriodendron Tulipifera

Spring Snow Crabapple

Malus X ‘Spring Snow‘

Exclamation! London Plane Tree

Platanus X Acerifolia ‘Morton Circle‘

American Dream Swamp White Oak

Quercus Bicolor ‘Jfs-Kw12‘ Pp 23632

Accolade Elm

Ulmus ‘Morton‘


False Indigo

Amorpha Fruticosa

New Jersey Tea

Ceanothus Americanus


Cephalanthus Occidentalis

Sixteen Candles Summersweet Clethra

Clethra Alnifolia ‘Sixteen Candles‘

Silky Dogwood

Cornus Amomum

Midwinter Fire Dogwood

Cornus Sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire‘

Red-Twig Dogwood

Cornus Sericea

Yellow Twig Dogwood

Cornus Sericea ‘Flaviramea‘

Pee Wee Oakleaf Hydrangea

Hydrangea Quercifolia ‘Pee Wee‘


Physocarpus Opulifolius

Dwarf Prairie Rose

Rosa Arkansana

Smooth Rose

Rosa Blanda

Dwarf Arctic Willow

Salix Purpurea ‘Nana‘


Symphoricarpos Albus


Symphoricarpos Orbiculatus

Emerald Green Arborvitae

Thuja Occidentalis ‘Smaragd‘

American Cranberrybush

Viburnum Opulus Var. Americanum


Black Adder Anise Hyssop

Agastache X ‘Black Adder‘

Common Chives

Allium Schoenoprasum

Arkansas Blue-Star

Amsonia Hubrichtii

Snowdrop Anemone

Anemone Sylvestris

Swamp Milkweed

Asclepias Incarnata

Heartleaf Bergenia

Bergenia Cordifolia


Echinacea Purpurea

White Swan Coneflower

Echinacea Purpurea ‘White Swan‘

Blue Globe Thistle

Echinops Ritro ‘Veitch‘S Blue‘

Rattlesnake Master

Eryngium Yuccifolium

Big Blue Sea Holly

Eryngium Zabelii ‘Big Blue‘

Little Joe Joe-Pye Weed

Eupatorium Dubium ‘Little Joe‘

Gateway Joe-Pye Weed

Eupatorium Maculatum ‘Gateway‘

Common Boneset

Eupatorium Perfoliatum

Ox-Eye Sunflower

Helianthus Helianthoides

Autumn Bride Coral Bells

Heuchera Villosa ‘Autumn Bride‘

Caesar‘S Brother Siberian Iris

Iris Sibirica ‘Caesar‘S Brother‘

Shreve‘S Iris

Iris Virginica Shrevei

Walkers Low Catmint

Nepeta X Faassenii ‘Walkers Low‘

Stiff Goldenrod

Oligoneuron Rigidum

Russian Sage

Perovskia Atriplicifolia

Mountain Mint

Pycnanthemum Virginianum

Black-Eyed Susan

Rudbeckia Hirta

Pink Delight Meadow Sage

Salvia Pratensis ‘Pink Delight‘

May Night Wood Sage

Salvia X Sylvestris ‘Mainacht‘

Giant Bur-Reed

Sparganium Eurycarpum

Hummelo Stachys

Stachys Officinalis ‘Hummelo‘

Blue Vervain

Verbena Hastata

Pure Silver Spiked Speedwell

Veronica Incana ‘Pure Silver‘


Virginia Creeper

Parthenocissus Quinquefolia




Big Bluestem

Andropogon Gerardii

Side Oats Grama

Bouteloua Curtipendula

Feather Reed Grass

Calamagrostis X Acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster‘

Common Lake Sedge

Carex Lacustris

Rosy Sedge

Carex Rosea

Elijah Blue Fescue

Festuca Glauca ‘Elijah Blue‘

Fowl Manna Grass

Glyceria Striata

Little Bluestem Grass

Schizachyrium Scoparium

Softstem Bulrush

Schoenoplectus Tabernaemontani

Prairie Cordgrass

Spartina Pectinata

Prairie Dropseed

Sporobolus Heterolepis

Omaha World-Herald: Inspired Living

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Marjie is a writer for The World-Herald’s special sections and specialty publications, including Inspired Living Omaha, Wedding Essentials and Momaha Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @mduceyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1034.

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