Below is our board-approved testimony that was delivered at the City Council meeting on January 12, 2016. As you’ll see, we’re opposed to the amendment to the Downtown Northeast Redevelopment Plan (it passed unanimously). Unfortunately we had a little snafu and spoke as a proponent. That was unintentional and we apologize.
We’ve already devised a plan for the upcoming (sometime in February) City Council vote on the agreements between the City and building owners and the City and OPA. More to come on that front.
Alright. Here’s the testimony:
We support the mission of OPA and its importance to Omaha’s success. There is no doubt that arts are important to a city, and OPA is a good ambassador of the arts. With that said, we have several concerns with the recommended amendment to the Downtown Northeast Redevelopment Plan.
First, it’s evident to us from the case documentation and several public comments made by OPA that their new space would primarily be for parking – somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 stalls. We question this for several reasons:
What kind of downtown do we desire? One that is vibrant with several different uses, lots of activity, etc. Or one with abundant parking that makes it easy and inexpensive to park close to your destination. The latter isn’t the kind of place that people want to visit, nor is it good for tax revenues, yet it’s the direction that this plan contemplates.
We already have more than ample parking downtown as demonstrated in this map of the area. A 2014 City of Omaha parking study showed there are 41,063 parking spaces in downtown Omaha. Of that number, approximately 56% of the total parking spaces are used during typical peak weekday and 45% during typical peak weekday evening.
OPA’s planned parking garage isn’t essential to serve its patrons. The vast majority of the Holland’s activity occurs during the evenings, which is when your typical office worker from any number of employers within a 5-minute walk…Union Pacific, Omaha World Herald, Gavilon, and soon HDR…are – or will be – vacating their stalls; thereby, freeing them up for Holland patrons. OPA is building the garage to serve the needs of the 8 – 5 downtown office worker – not their patrons. Does this Council really support their migration into another line of business: parking? Or is our community better served when OPA stays true to their current, arts-focused mission?
The second reason we oppose these plans is because we respectfully disagree with the Planning Department’s conclusion that this project complies with the City’s Master Plan. In particular, it does not comply with the Downtown Master Plan for two reasons. The DT master plan calls for a more efficiently managed parking system. Core Principle #8 in the plan suggests Downtown Omaha should comprise a series of “park once” districts. OPA’s plans do not result in a more efficiently managed parking system.
The DT master plan states, and I quote: “Downtown Omaha currently has a significant amount of both surface and structured parking, most of which is used for less than fifty hours a week. In the case of structured parking, this is an extremely inefficient use of infrastructure.” End quote. We agree, yet the plan for 11th and Douglass calls for more parking.
The DT Master Plan also suggests the creation of a parking master plan that has an “overarching goal of effective deployment of what is a very expensive piece of public infrastructure. Quite simply, every parking space should be filled as often as possible. Empty spaces represent inefficiencies and potentially lost revenues.”
We agree. There are far too many empty spaces today, and constructing more without first effectively managing what we have today is not in line with the master plan.
The second reason the plans for 11th and Douglas don’t comply with the DT master plan is because OPA has made it very clear that they desire to demolish all three buildings. Yet as shown in this map from the DT master plan, those buildings are slated to remain with Holland development around them.
We’re also opposed to the amendment to the DT NE Development Plan because historical buildings create a great sense of place, which leads to improved walkability. Our friends at Restoration Exchange Omaha made this clear in their testimony.
Finally, $11 million in redevelopment bonds could be used for far better projects. OPA is selling their surface lot to HDR for approximately $3 million. Meanwhile, the City of Omaha will use redevelopment funds to pay the current historic building owners a total of $10 million for the properties. The City will then turn around and give them to OPA for free. For free. No strings attached. Why should OPA receive such a generous gift from the City with no expectation for what happens with the land? Are there not other nonprofits worthy of such a gift? There are far better ways for redevelopment funds to be used.
We understand and agree with the importance of getting HDR to build its headquarters and its own parking garage downtown. It’s critical, no doubt about it. Our main point is that there are other ways to accomplish that objective without demolishing Omaha’s dwindling history.
It is for these reasons that we encourage you not to approve the current plans. And we hope that all stakeholders involved will reconsider and refine their current plans to be more in line with the kind of downtown that Omahans truly deserve.