As Conagra turns 100, a $500 million makeover of downtown Omaha campus is about to begin

As Conagra turns 100, a $500 million makeover of downtown Omaha campus is about to begin

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OMAHA — What metro area residents once knew as Conagra Brands’ front door — the downtown row of flags, clock tower and brick path leading to the chief executive’s office — is on track to be torn down yet this year.

Also to topple soon is the big brick office building with a grand staircase that used to house the Fortune 500 company’s executive team.

Wiping away those landmarks will be the most visible sign yet that the food conglomerate three years ago compressed its Omaha presence and relocated its corporate headquarters from the city where it had been based all but six of the past 100 years.

It’s also a sign that new growth and identity is coming soon to the area east of the Old Market.

Envisioned — across about 23 acres and several years — is a $500 million hub of residential, commercial, office, hotel and entertainment uses.

When combined with a neighboring, but separate, nearly $300 million riverfront revitalization project along the Gene Leahy Mall, the landscape shift is sizing up to be downtown’s most dramatic since Jobbers Canyon fell and the new Conagra campus rose.

“There’s been a lot of investment, time and energy in trying to grow our urban core, which leads to a healthy and vibrant city,” said Troy Anderson, Mayor Jean Stothert’s economic development aide. “We’re really excited about everything going on and the things to come.”

Anderson said he doesn’t anticipate any insurmountable hurdles in approving the agreement that is expected to be presented to the City Council this month. He said it was time-consuming for lawyers representing the city and the developer, Hines, to go over complex and far-ranging details.

The first $105 million phase, southeast of 10th and Farnam Streets, includes 375 luxury apartments, restaurants, a parking structure and a two-block-long plaza intended as a pedestrian magnet.

A hotel is in the next stage, set to rise to the south on the lawn along 10th Street.

To clear the way for that initial wave, Brad Soderwall of the Houston-based Hines, said, crews in December should be knocking down the 908 ConAgra Drive building, a related parking structure, the smiley-face plaza, flag row and clock tower.

Then, after several months of infrastructure and ground work, the five-story, 680,650-square-foot apartment building with ground-floor restaurant and retail space should start to rise later next year along Farnam Street.

Its commercial bays are to open to the south, facing the new extension of Harney Street that will be built from 10th to Eighth Streets, leading to the Heartland of America Park and lagoon.

The Omaha-based Flagship Restaurant Group (think Blue Sushi Sake Grill and Roja Mexican Grill) continues to work with the developer to create the desired retail and food mix in that first structure, which also will contain a 720-stall parking garage to be financed and managed by the City of Omaha.

Though Conagra still owns the campus land it no longer uses, Soderwall said his company plans to buy pieces as they are redeveloped.

“We’re going to be great neighbors,” he said of Hines and Conagra, adding that his team plans an “active dynamic environment that complements the existing campus.”

Along the Harney Street extension will be new sidewalks and landscaping. The two-block-long pedestrian plaza corridor is touted as the project’s focal point, linking from the Heartland park and lake to downtown’s Old Market.

A new stretch of Eighth Street between Harney and Farnam also is to be carved out.

South of the future pedestrian corridor near the lake is the former Conagra building now occupied by tenants including the Sherwood Foundation and Greater Omaha Chamber.

That structure will remain, as will the three buildings farther south that today are filled with Conagra’s remaining 1,300 Omaha employees.

Conagra Brands spokeswoman Terah Fox said big company signs at the former northern entrance will be relocated to the southern end. She said Conagra looks forward to the campus’ new look, and called improved connection to the rest of downtown and access to the lake the “hallmarks of this project.”

“Since the company’s inception as Nebraska Consolidated Mills in 1919, we have completely reinvented ourselves — more than once,” Fox said. “We decided to keep a presence for our 1,300 employees on the campus and then redevelop other parts of the property for the benefit of our employees as well as the entire Omaha community.”

When and if fully built out, the redevelopment announced is to include nine new structures containing roughly 500,000 square feet of office space, more than 80,000 square feet of retail space, a boutique hotel with up to 200 rooms and about 900 new residences.

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