ConAgra and the Riverfront — a turning point

13 Dec

After the announced contraction of the Omaha workforce in 2016, ConAgra began plans to expand its Old Market campus with acres of new parking. Back when the ConAgra campus was built, it tried to conceal parking lots into brick-faced structures and then built more than enough parking for all of its buildings.

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The  photo above shows the ground between ConAgra and the Harriman Dispatch Center of Union Pacific. This area used to have 21 trees and acres of green grass in a swale. Now there spreads an area prepared for pavement for 99 parking spaces, dedicating the land to only one purpose. Once this dedicated parking area is complete, ConAgra has three more construction permits filed with the City of Omaha to build three more parking expanses after this one on its Old Market campus.

The questions we have to ask: what are we doing; what do we want?

The ConAgra campus has occupied prime riverfront real estate since the 1980s. Following both the decisions by the city to rededicate itself to developing our riverfront, and ConAgra’s decision to relocate their headquarters to Chicago — taking many Omaha jobs to the Windy City — this scar of parking acres serves to do nothing other than provide business-hour convenience to remaining ConAgra employees, while creating an off business-hour obstacle to developing an Old Market-style connectivity that extends from 10th Street to the Missouri River.

Think about what bounds Omaha’s famed Old Market. On the north, we have the Gene Leahy Mall — a beautiful space, but not conducive to connectivity. To the south, the rail right of way — this is a legacy feature still very much in use. When we look to the west, we encounter parking garages and existing commercial real estate. The hope for redevelopment in Omaha’s downtown lies to the east until the river — especially as ConAgra’s footprint recedes, allowing for more thoughtful river-focused development.

Squandering this opportunity on surface parking is merely thoughtless. Instead, we should be focusing our development on how to connect people and existing nodes to the river. Surface parking is an obstacle — thoughtful development is an asset.

Let’s make our future development focused on value — for everyone.

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