Former downtown Omaha Conagra campus to open soon as Brickline at Mercantile

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OMAHA — When a $500 million redevelopment plan was first announced for outdated parts of Conagra’s downtown campus, two things had yet to happen: the COVID-19 pandemic and the transformation of the Gene Leahy shopping center.

Now, five years later, those two events have to some extent bolstered the prospects for the initial housing component set to open in the coming months – as Brickline at the Mercantile.

The Brickline apartment project at the Mercantile features restaurants at street level, the view is at the corner of 10th and Farnam streets. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Adjacent to Brickline is the newly renovated and bustling Leahy Mall, which has seen growing interest in the 375-apartment complex near 10th and Farnam streets, Hines’ Brad Soderwall said. This Houston-based private global real estate firm is leading efforts to rebuild the northern portion of what was once the Fortune 500 Conagra world headquarters.

The rise in remote work ushered in by the pandemic has also heightened the appeal of Brickline’s half-dozen purpose-built live-work accommodations.

“People are intrigued,” Soderwall said. “They watch and wait.”

Includes a city-funded garage

The five-story Brickline and its 42,000 square feet of ground floor retail space surrounds a $15 million city-funded parking structure with 720 spaces. Apartment dwellers will have dibs on parking space rentals, but the city garage will be open to the public, Soderwall said.

The city also pays $9 million in infrastructure costs. In total, this first phase of the larger redevelopment carries an estimated price tag of around $115 million.

Hines, which will own and operate the primarily privately funded apartment complex, is working with qualified opportunity zone fund Cresset-Diversified as an investment partner.

Other facilities at Brickline include a coworking lounge, fitness center, pet park, and outdoor pool with grilling areas.

The project is next on deck in the growing range of market-priced apartment complexes opening or on offer in and around the urban core.

Among other things, to be built in part with a boost from public funding to raise taxes:

  • An $82 million apartment complex with 330 units at proposed market price southeast of 48th and Dodge streets is to incorporate the historic Pittman Veterinary Services structure at 4629 Dodge St.
  • A $44 million residential and commercial project northwest of Saddle Creek Road and Pacific Street is to include a 195-unit mark-to-market apartment complex at the southeast corner of 49th Avenue and St. Mayberry.
  • The $35 million Dizzy Mule project in the Millwork Commons neighborhood of downtown north is to create 172 market-priced apartments as well as retail and art space.
  • The 107 Little Bohemia apartments are nearing completion at the southeast corner of 12th and William streets.
  • A $62 million apartment complex with 255 proposed homes northeast of 72nd and Grover streets is to rise on the site of the former CoCo Key hotel and water park.

Brickline street-level apartments and restaurants (set to open in 2023) will be the first completed piece of an ambitious plan announced in 2017, a year after Conagra scaled back operations in Omaha and relocated offices in Chicago.

Poolside Brickline Apartments
Brickline to Mercantile Apartments, Pool. (Courtesy of Unmarked Studios and Hines)

Conagra then tapped Hines to spearhead the redevelopment of the approximately 23 acres of downtown it no longer needed.

Wooden office building, more housing to come

The larger vision, to be realized in phases, called for nine new structures containing 500,000 square feet of office space, over 80,000 square feet of retail space, a boutique hotel and approximately 900 new residences.

A feature of the plan, as originally presented, was a two-block plaza extending Harney Street from 10th Street to the Heartland of America Lake. It was to be lined with new housing, restaurants, offices and green space, creating what the developer described as a 24/7 live work and play community.

When updating the plan, Soderwall told the Nebraska Examiner that the next building after the Brickline will likely be an office structure made largely of modern hardwood, a new-to-Omaha building product. (Noddle Cos. is also proposing to build a wood office and retail structure in Downtown North and said if it grows as planned this year, it would be the city’s first wood commercial structure in the city. ‘modern era.)

Hines is looking for an anchor tenant before starting its T3 building (which stands for wood, technology and talent) which would likely rise six or seven levels and span up to 250,000 square feet, Soderwall said. .

The office building would likely be east of Brickline and Eighth Street, between Farnam and Harney Streets. Hines constructed similar T3 buildings in other cities.

Brickline Apartments
Brickline at the Mercantile apartment and retail project on the former Conagra land which will open later this year. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Soderwall said the details and timing for the rest of Mercantile’s redevelopment are flexible and will depend on market demand.

However, he predicts that a hotel could be among the next buildings and could sprout at the southeast corner of 10th and Harney streets.

The master plan envisions a residential tower on the west side of the lake, but Soderwall said those homes will most likely be apartments rather than condos for sale.

“The most attractive type of investment has been apartments,” Soderwall said. “When you look at subways across the United States, that’s what people want.”

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