Last year, The World-Herald ran front page stories dealing with Omaha’s attempt at rapid mass transit, UNMC’s expansion, economic opportunity for people of color and the “brain drain.” Seemingly unrelated, they are connected. They represent building components that, if thoughtfully combined, will further Omaha’s ambitious plan to be one of best mid-size cities in America.
Despite the tremendous possibilities, finding a consensus to move forward will be difficult.
As an example, the electronic marquee at the Westroads shopping mall reads, “Do something today for a better tomorrow.” I thought, why not? I then proceeded to follow an ORBT bus up and down Dodge Street to test my theory that Omaha’s effort to establish rapid mass transit has been a boondoggle.
Heading west, two passengers were picked up and, heading back east, another 13. Clearly, a regular bus would have been sufficient to handle the load. Over the last year, whenever I see one of the buses, I look in the window and they are always empty. When you consider the cost of the new buses, shelters, maintenance and inconvenience their special bus lane has created, the effort has been a terrible waste of taxpayer dollars.
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ORBT is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. The idea that a young professional is going to brave cold weather, sit in an open shelter, wait for a bus to take a 20-minute ride to the Westroads is nonsense. Malls are closing all over the country because of online shopping. More people are working from home. COVID has changed the way we live. And in the process, diminished the utility of mass transit. Aside from that, I can’t see people ever giving up the independence that comes from driving.
Then there’s UNMC’s proposed $2.6 billion research and response project. If UNMC is awarded the contract, it will increase the size of the already gargantuan med center’s midtown location. Currently, it extends from 37th Street to Saddle Creek and Leavenworth to Farnam. Officials are in the process of buying even more land in anticipation of the expansion. They say 8,700 new jobs will be created requiring the use of mass transit (possibly trolley cars), which is a costly and questionable undertaking requiring the transformation of an entire section of the city. The new growth will exacerbate an already overbuilt area.
I’m going to suggest something for city leaders to consider: Build the new campus somewhere in Northeast Omaha in a designated area like Millworks Common. It will help provide needed revitalization to the northside by creating jobs and opportunities. Combined with State Sen. Justine Wayne’s $355 million development plan for high poverty areas of the state, you have the making of an explosive catalyst that could be transformational for Omaha. There will be economic development in the form of hotels, shops, restaurants and new housing, which will create prosperity and improve lives. It is the definition of inclusion; something civic leaders talk passionately about but never seem to accomplish.
Besides those benefits, the proximity to the airport would be a plus for all the experts, scientists and doctors who would surely come to help in the project. It would also add to the existing billion-plus dollar corridor composed of the Riverfront, CHI, TD Ameritrade Park and the new Kiewit Campus.
Bottom line: Why build in an already overbuilt area and create more gridlock when there is available space in North Omaha? Building there will result in a much needed pick-me-up for an impoverished and historically neglected section of the city. We’ll call it UNMC North Campus. It’s a natural.
Civic leaders were also concerned about retaining young talent. The “brain drain” as they call it. Absent oceans and mountains, in order to compete, employers will have to make outstanding pay one of the features that talent associates with Omaha. I can imagine a millennial telling a friend why he chose to live here, “Omaha doesn’t have a beach, but they do pay well.”
On a final note, we need an energetic visionary to initiate the process. Call a meeting with elected officials and community leaders to remind them of all the unfulfilled promises that have been made to people of color.
Building the research and response campus in North Omaha is a great example of doing something today for a better tomorrow.
Memorial Park and the Omaha National Cemetery are fitting places to honor our fallen as long as we remember the significance of their sacrifice.
Were all those free drinks for the 1975 Huskers a Fiesta Bowl setup?
Plenty of folks are dissatisfied with both parties. Columnist George Mills has a plan. This comes with a satire warning.
If you get vaccinated, you may prevent the virus from spreading and claiming another victim. Just as in the fight against polio, we need to unite as a nation and do what’s best for the common good.
Everyone has fond memories of summer fun. But the one event that bonds us all together is the Fourth of July.
The downtown revitalization should include restaurants and shops at the new Gene Leahy Mall area, similar to the European plaza idea, a Pulse writer says.
Mayor Stothert’s equity mantra should be, “Go north, new business.”
George Mills, an alumnus of Archbishop Ryan High School, looks back at the school’s history.
It’s a real head scratcher; we have a $131 million, state-of the-art stadium that sits idle more than 300 days a year. Clearly, it’s underutilized in comparison to the halcyon days at the “Blatt.”
“The kindness of strangers is real and is an important contrast to the toxic partisan politics of the time.”
While we wait for the pandemic’s end as well as springtime and next football season, take heart in knowing that in 1971 we had an all-time best college football team.
George Mills is a former Douglas County Board member and Husker defensive lineman from the early 1970s who has a master’s degree in urban studies.