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$290 million riverfront plan in the works

Posted at 6:31 AM, Jun 12, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-12 19:21:16-04

"Transform" is a word you’ll hear a lot when describing the proposed improvements to the Gene Leahy Mall.

A $290 million proposal for a "transformational" riverfront plan is in the works, adding new amenities and keeping some existing ones. Tuesday afternoon, local officials unveiled plans to make the riverfront an area that people come from all over to visit.

Hoping to breathe new life into the city’s downtown riverfront, the city plans to transform three parks on the riverfront: the Heartland of America Park, the Lewis and Clark landing along with the Gene Leahy Mall.

“This will be an extraordinary park in an extraordinary city,” Mayor Jean Stothert said at Tuesday's presentation.

The three parks combined will total nearly 90 acres adding dozens of new attractions and keeping existing community staples like the two slides at the Gene Leahy Mall. 

“It wouldn’t be a visit to the Gene Leahy Mall without the slides,” Omaha resident John Hansen said.

He brings his kids Jane and Dave to the Gene Leahy Mall about once a month and said he looks forward to the proposed renovations. 

“Anything that makes this place a magnet to people who want to visit is always a good thing," he said.

Proposed renovations include a dog park; a spacious lawn for events; a ribbon-shaped rink for ice skating and rollerblading; a water plaza; and a walking promenade that extends to the river. The city also plans to raise the Gene Leahy Mall to street level and downsize existing water features to create one continuous park that leads to the Missouri River.

"We will not have to raise taxes to do this," Stothert said following the presentation.

Omaha resident Doug Shoeing has been coming to the park for 30 years, bringing his daughter and now his grandkids; he said he plans to come after the renovations are completed.

“I think it’s all good for everybody and getting rid of the slides would be bad," he said. "I’m glad they made the right decision there."

The new plan could cost up to $290 million. The mayor's office will contribute $50 million; the rest will come from the city’s philanthropic community, hoping to transform the riverfront and the city of Omaha.

Renovations could start as soon as next year; the project is expected to be completed by 2022.