So, what can we learn about downtown Omaha? First off, from the downtown Omaha association, we discover that “successful growth and development of the Old Market, Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland of America Park, numerous residential properties, hotel facilities, the new arena and convention center, the First National Bank project, and other corporate building projects have boosted the popularity of Downtown Omaha, making it an attractive destination to live, work, and visit.”
Wait a minute: did someone mention “Old Market”? What’s that?
“The Old Market Omaha, is a premier arts and entertainment district featuring fine dining, shopping, corporate meeting facilities, hotel accommodations, upscale night life, and sought-after real estate. Located in downtown Omaha just minutes from Omaha Eppley Airport, the Old Market is close to several nearby attractions including Durham Western Heritage Museum, Omaha Civic Auditorium, Qwest Center Omaha, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo, and more.
Head to Omaha’s Old Market district, where exceptional gifts and dining are around every corner. From Harney to Jackson streets and 10th to 13th streets, unique shops, boutiques, pubs, more than 30 area restaurants and distinctive entertainment define this historic neighborhood.
Home of the new Holland Performing Arts Center, downtown is also a haven for the arts. The Holland Performing Arts Center, completed in 2005, provides a true concert hall environment with acoustics designed to accommodate the Omaha Symphony as well as other local and touring arts organizations and artists. The Joslyn Art Museum, the Orpheum Theater, the Rose Blumkin Performing Arts Center, and more are all located in downtown Omaha.
The Old Market district was crucial to the commercial development of Omaha as the wholesale jobbing area flourished in the 1880’s and continued well into the twentieth century. The district, then comprised of former light industrial and warehouse buildings and wholesale jobbing houses, served as the distribution center for a variety of goods shipped on the Union Pacific Railroad and its branch lines all the way to the west coast. Today, the Old Market Omaha is a multi-block collection of renovated brick warehouses, quaint storefronts, old-fashioned lampposts, uneven brick streets, horse-drawn carriages and street-side musicians.
The city has spent nearly $2 billion in new construction and development, including the $291 million Qwest Center Omaha, a new 40-story First National Bank Building, a riverfront university campus for the world-renowned Gallup Organization, and a National Park Service Regional headquarters building for Union Pacific.
Follow the brick-paved streets of history into an area of Omaha rich in history and bursting with the flavor of today. Enjoy an intimate dinner or shop for the latest fashions. “
That sounds like a lot of fun – even better than Bricktown! So we’re not the only city with an old town area after all…
So let’s take a tour, shall we?
First, downtown Omaha:
And, now, Old Market:
Chaos at Couch Park/Kerr Park today as storms destroyed nine tents set up for the first Farmers’ Market of the season. Photos provided by Downtown OKC Inc.
So, yes, it was a rough day out there today. Since the downtown Farmers Market was started a couple of years ago, its had the bad luck of being hit with drought or crazy storms. But the folks at OSU-OKC are dedicated to making Farmers Market a part of downtown’s revival, and I’m told they’ll be back next week. So, assuming the weather doesn’t go nuts next week, wouldn’t it be nice if the market were shown a huge vote of support next week with large crowds?
I’ve been thinking about all the downtowns I’d love to visit and learn from, and I think one of the cities that really keeps me curious is Charlotte, North Carolina. After all, it was this city, perhaps, that gave OKC leaders the initial hope that they too could land a major league team (Charlotte, home to the Hornets, and then deemed worthy of a quick replacement team when things went south between the city and Hornets owner George Shinn). And now, this in: Charlotte has a light rail system going downtown and to the city’s airport.
Voters approved creating light rail in 1998. The system opened in November, and reported initial ridership averaging 8,700 daily weekdays. By February, ridership was up to 14,000.
Charlotte has transitioned into a major financial center, and its downtown skyline includes a 60-story tower built for Bank of America. The city is home to seven Fortune 500 companies and its population is 630,000.
Here’s a link to the skyscraper page forum on Charlotte.
And here is a slideshow of downtown Charlotte:
Finally, let’s take a ride on the LYNX, shall we?
It’s always interesting to step back and look at downtown development in light of what’s going on elsewhere. Sure, we can visit the Tulsa World website and find the usual sibling bickering between OKC and Tulsa on any story that suggests OKC is doing something right with its downtown.
I’m not talking about that.
Instead, first let’s consider this blog by Texan “Durango”:
“Can the Star-Telegram please name the cities that envy Fort Worth? The only big city I’ve ever been to with a deader downtown than Fort Worth is Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ironically I was at a convention in their very nice convention center, that, apparently, unlike Fort Worth’s, is frequently used. It even has a large hotel attached to it that, unlike Fort Worth, they did not have to provide tax incentives in order to get someone to build a hotel. And though downtown Tulsa was not very lively it looked real nice, with a wide pedestrian walkway connecting the convention center to the downtown core. I was there on a Sunday. A lot of towns are pretty dead on Sundays.
Maybe the Star-Telegram should send a reporter to some other cities that really are both vital and revitalizing. Geez, just drive east 30 miles and see all those construction cranes all over downtown Dallas. Visit the downtowns of Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, Denver, San Diego, Chicago, Boise, Salt Lake City, Phoenix or even Oklahoma City and San Antonio and you’ll see very vital, booming, growing downtowns with downtown residential buildings being added.
Nothing happens or is happening in Fort Worth that hasn’t already happened elsewhere. For any city to envy Fort Worth Fort Worth would have to be trendy, would have to be doing something someone else isn’t already doing. The Star-Telegram needs to knock off their phony transparent civic boosting. Fort Worth is a perfectly nice town. Quit pretending it’s something it’s not.”
Now that’s a twist. You always hear about Fort Worth being a model downtown. And on my last visit, the city’s center – especially Sundance Square – was teaming with people enjoying a night on the town, strolling from restaurant to restaurant, listening to street musicians, hanging out at the Barnes and Noble.
It seemed. So much. Better. Than. Downtown Oklahoma City.
Sure, Saturday night, downtown Oklahoma City was packed with people. But tonight, well, I’m not so sure (I’m home now so obviously I’m going on a hunch).
But Durango has a point that can be said in any city getting too cocky about its downtown: one can always do better, and there’s likely another city that has pulled off the same miracle, the same triumph, the same incredible transformation. Or maybe it’s not the same. Maybe better.
I was intrigued by what I saw on visits the past couple of years to downtown Wichita, Denver, Fort Smith (yes!), Fort Worth, Dallas, Austin, Boston and San Antonio.
My last visit to Kansas City was about seven years ago. I’m pretty sure it’s changed a lot since. So where would I go, if my editors paid the tab?
I’ll start the list, and then you provide some additional suggestions for my bosses just in case they find that elusive money tree.
- Kansas City (last visit: 2000)
- St. Louis (last visit: mid-1990s)
- Houston (last visit: early 1990s)
- Little Rock
- Memphis (last visit: 1993)
- Nashville (last visit: 1990)
It looks like AOL has removed the reference to OKC being one of the 10 worst places to visit. According to a travel item AOL did with some web site I’ve never heard of, they justified ranking OKC as more dangerous than Baghdad because of natural disasters, and went so far as to claim the May 3, 1999 tornado destroyed most of the city.
Anyway, Solitude at www.okctalk.com fired off some complaints to AOL, and here is the response he received:
Thank you for your phone call regarding the content provided to us through askmen.com. Our AOL editorial team looked at the material and were unanimous in their agreement that inclusion of Oklahoma City in that kind of negative list was wholly unfair and poor quality journalism. We have since edited/modified the list online and plan to monitor our content relationship with askmen.com in a more careful manner. Our apologies for the inappropriate nature of the listing for Oklahoma City. FYI, one of the AOL VPs was in Oklahoma City this past December and was appalled at the description of your city by the askmen writer. Mr. Werther described Oklahoma City as a dynamic city that rivals many that we’re familiar with here on the East Coast. He told me to feel free to include his feelings in any responses to this unfortunate incident. Thank you again for taking the time to contact AOL.
AOL Executive Assistant
Sure enough, OKC is no longer on the aforementioned list.
But it is still on the site that generated the original story. Here’s a bit about the writer from his website:
Nick Clarke is a professional writer living and working in Marbella, Spain. In his twenties, he’s not your usual crinkly copywriter; instead, he prides himself on supplying his clients with content that is fresh, inspired and innovative. With Nick, you’re assured of copy that today’s readers will be able to connect with.
Nick studied at Sussex University, and graduated with a degree in English Literature and Media Studies. He has worked on a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, and specialises in popular culture and travel. He particularly enjoys writing about all that is beautiful in the world, including luxury hotels, trendy restaurants and the latest gadgetry for the home. If it’s hip and gorgeous, Nick will have something to say about it.
When he’s not writing, Nick enjoys spending time with family and friends, catching up with the latest releases at the cinema and eating out.
He is currently working on his first children’s book, to be published later this year.
Wow, 4 million third graders from all over the world are apparently converging downtown to perform “My County ’tis of Thee” with a special appearance by Kenny G.
Well, not exactly. I know, this will reflect poorly on me, but yes, I’m watching a repeat of South Park tonight and I did a double take as I saw an outdated photo of the downtown OKC skyline (the Murrah building was still standing) with the above proclamation.
Now, if you watch South Park, you can appreciate this bit of random humor. If not, this is a very, very bad show and don’t ever, ever bother watching it. I’d strongly suggest you even lock out Comedy Central to avoid even accidentally watching this show.
You wouldn’t think of Fort Smith as a downtown that Oklahoma City should pay attention to – but think again. Fort Smith has done a lot to make its downtown lively for both locals and visitors. Let’s start with the trolley museum. It’s the very sort of attraction we currently have in the Adventure District, but where as we aspire to have an old excursion train run through downtown, Fort Smith made it happen.
And then there is the amusement park in the heart of downtown Fort Smith. It’s not very big – just a Ferris Wheel, Merry-Go-Round and an old fashioned diner. But it really gives the area a special touch – a sense of place and a source of pride for the city.
Grant, are you reading this? (In interest of full disclosure, I’ve mentioned this to Grant seeing as he now owns a Ferris Wheel).
Anyway, here’s a bit more from the Fort Smith downtown organization:
The Park At West End is an old-fashioned amusement park located downtown on Second Street and Garrison Avenue adjacent to the Arkansas River Bridge.
The featured attraction is a restored 1930′s Ferris wheel from the Eli Bridge Company and a hand-painted carousel from Italy, with 40 ponies. Those riding the Ferris wheel are treated to a spectacular view of downtown Fort Smith, including the grounds of the neighboring Fort Smith National Historic Site.
The Park also features “The Nickle & Dime Diner,” a full service restaurant housed in a restored 1957 Pullman dining car converted into a diner. Developers also included a 1963 British Leyland two-story bus which features traditional amusement park concession items.
The Park At West End was dedicated on Memorial Day weekend and has had a brisk clientele all summer. Hours of operation are 11 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays, or “…. whatever the market demands,” according to General Manger Justin Huss.
Grant Humphreys submitted the winning bid for the Ferris Wheel at the legendary Santa Monica Pier. I’ve got what no other television station or newspaper has – an interview with Grant. Full story in tomorrow’s paper and at www.newsok.com.
Flaming Lips lead singer Wayne Coyne, left, carries the Flaming Lips Alley sign while Michael Ivins follows behind as they make their way through the crowd of fans during the official dedication of the Flaming Lips Alley at the AT&T Bricktown Ballpark on Thursday, Oct. 25, 2007, in Oklahoma City. Photo by CHRIS LANDSBERGER
At www.okc talk.com, the latest news is that Wayne Coyne, lead singer of the Flaming Lips, was seen enjoying coffee with his equally talented artist wife Michelle at Coffee Slingers, the new “fundamentalist” coffee shop at NW 10 and Broadway along Automobile Alley. Gee, if this were US Magazine, we could boast “he’s just like us!” (Groan).
But seriously, it should be no surprise when one sees Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips out and about. He’s a proud OKC resident, and part of his appeal is that he’s stayed pretty down to earth despite his band’s worldwide success and fairly new celebrity status here in his hometown.
I was first introduced to their music a couple years ago by Chad Huntington, operator of the Bricktown Water Taxis. I’m still not sure I can describe their music – I’m not religious about it like some fans, but I like it. It’s fun, uplifting and the fans are part of the entertainment. And hey, what other city can boast an appearance by Santa Claus and Martians at a street naming dedication?
Yeah, I’ll name drop now… yep, I’ve met Wayne Coyne – got introduced by Chad when they were all at LIT during one of those ice storms in early 2007. I ineptly asked how OKC might attract more folks like Wayne to stay in Oklahoma City. I wanted to know what kept a clearly creative class person like him to stay in what has traditionally been a conservative city. After all, Wayne Coyne didn’t just stay in OKC – to this day he lives in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods just west of downtown – Classen 10 Penn – and is helping stablize the area from deteriorating any further.
So how do I summarize Wayne’s response? Things are as they are ….
Oddly, looking back now, that actually makes sense.
Last night was rather interesting. As promised, Mayor Mick Cornett appeared at the monthly meeting of Urban Neighbors and answered questions that had been submitted in advance by the group’s members.
I’m not sure I’ve heard such a strong stance before from the mayor concerning light rail – but he’s suggesting he will push for it to be included in a MAPS 3. Of course, we also now know we might not see a MAPS 3 until at least 2010. Cornett seems to have little interest in creating the sort of light rail that would stretch out to Edmond, Norman and Midwest City – at least not without those towns paying for luch a link. His vision, as expressed last night, calls for a downtown circulator and one that would serve tourists.
Some questions I suggested in Tuesday’s column went unasked. I’m listing them below and I’m emailing them to the mayor’s aide, David Holt, to see if Mayor Cornett might be interested in answering them anyway. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Here are the questions:
- If the Bricktown Canal is considered one of the most photographed areas of the city, why the delay replacing trees lost in the recent ice storms? Can’t MAPS maintenance funds be used to bring back the greenery?
- Are you aware of the buildings in MidTown and Bricktown that have had broken windows for years, and if so, aren’t these properties in violation of the city’s code ordinances?
- What is the timetable for moving the city’s detox center, which is surrounded by condominiums and apartments in Deep Deuce?
- Civic leaders often point to the Santa Fe Parking Garage as a good alternative to parking in Bricktown. But do you think the lighting and pedestrian access along E.K. Gaylord Boulevard is inviting to such use?
- If given a choice between the building designs in Lower Bricktown and those used in Edmond’s Spring Creek shopping center, which do you think stands out as superior architecture?
- In light of Devon Energy planning to build a new corporate headquarters downtown, do you have a favorite skyscraper you would love to see mimicked in Oklahoma City?
- How difficult is the task ahead for a full revival of fortunes at First National Center?
- If you could live at one of the new downtown housing projects, which one would you choose?
- If parking isn’t a big problem downtown, where do you park when going to Bricktown on a busy night?