The trees are being removed and concrete foundations are set to be poured in November, in the first phase of the revitalization of the Highlander neighborhood in North Omaha. The former site of the 300-unit Pleasantview Homes housing project, and some of the worst crime and poverty rates in the country, this area will be transformed within the next five years.
“It’s a little surreal,” says Othello Meadows, executive director of Seventy Five North Revitalization Inc., the non-profit Purpose Built Communities network member working to revitalize Highlander. Meadows, a North Omaha native and lawyer originally hired in 2011, has performed many roles over the last four years, he explains, including acquiring the 23-acre former Pleasantview site and nearby blighted land; selecting, negotiating and planning with Brinshore Development to develop the site; forging partnerships with local stakeholders, including the Charles Drew Health Center, the Urban League of Nebraska, Metro Community College, University of Nebraska-Omaha and Creighton University; and driving plans for the new Howard Kennedy Elementary School, set to re-open in August of 2016 with a new STEAM focus through an innovative agreement with Omaha Public Schools.
The first phase of construction is 101 rental apartment homes in a variety of designs, including garden-style, town homes and row houses, Meadows says, all built on the former Pleasantview site. Residents will move in at the end of 2016 and early 2017. Subsequent housing phases will follow and include opportunities for seniors and home ownership.
Several local small businesses have been hired as sub-contractors to work with Chicago-based Brinshore Development LLC. “In the first round of contracts, we broke the bigger one down into parts, so many smaller organizations and companies can participate” in the building process, Meadows explains. For example, one minority-owned small business was hired for tree removal, another for concrete excavation and debris removal, and another to provide security, he says.
“We’re trying to find as many opportunities as we can for emerging businesses within the larger scope of the project,” he adds.
There will be more opportunities for small businesses to get involved, as Meadows says several construction projects — in phases — are planned for the next four to five years. In addition to the mixed-income housing there is a 55,000-square-foot mixed use “community accelerator,” which will house local organizations and businesses that will bring vitality to the area.
“We will be building here for a long time,” he says, adding that he anticipates high demand for all housing. “There’s a real shortage of high quality rental and for-sale housing on the north side. There’s nothing like what we’re doing.”
The partnerships Seventy Five North has nurtured with corporate, non-profit, and health and wellness entities in Omaha also are unique, and examples of the city’s forward thinking, Meadows says.
“People are surprised when it comes to Nebraska — they think it’s tumbleweeds and stuff like that,” he chuckles. But Omaha thrives on business and community, he adds, which makes neighborhood revitalization possible. “It has a tremendous corporate citizenry that takes significant interest in what is happening in the broader community.”