American National Bank deposited a double-wide portable building beside Saddle Creek Road in 1996.
Since then, bank officials have contemplated replacing that little beige box of a temporary bank branch with a permanent building. But they have held off because of uncertainty over the potential for University of Nebraska Medical Center expansion and changes to Saddle Creek Road.
Similar concerns are complicating American National's latest effort to build on its land at South Saddle Creek Road and Emile Street. Like other nearby property owners, American National has been awaiting UNMC's plans for the area. But as the uncertainty about the big picture continues, officials of the Omaha-based bank are trying to push ahead with their own small piece of it. They say the bank can't wait any longer to move out of the double-wide.
“We've been waiting 17 years to build a permanent facility,” said Tate Fitzgerald, American National's chief administrative officer.
The issue bubbled up last week at an Omaha Planning Board meeting. The debate is tied to plans for redevelopment related to the $370 million Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center that will be built at UNMC. It includes the medical center's interest in buying Omaha Steel Castings Co.'s soon-to-be-abandoned factory nearby. The company is moving to Wahoo.
American National has asked the city to approve its plan for developing two acres of land it owns on the west side of Saddle Creek Road. Its property lies between the medical center's campus and the factory, and the plan would include some rezoning.
James Maenner, vice president of CB Richard Ellis, the company listing the Omaha Steel property, said he is aware of the bank's proposal but hasn't talked with American National officials since the property was listed.
He said he is in talks with a couple of private developers interested in the site and hasn't heard from UNMC in “some time.”
The Omaha Steel property is listed for $8.1 million.
Maenner said his company expects to close a deal this week on the former Target store about a half-mile north of Omaha Steel on Saddle Creek Road. That move, he said, “will be helpful for confirming our pricing through the neighborhood.”
City officials, meanwhile, are requiring the bank to extend Emile Street northwest of Saddle Creek Road, where Emile currently dead-ends after coming out of the medical center campus. The city says the extension of Emile must line up at right angles to Saddle Creek Road and run straight across from the existing portion of the street.
But extending Emile to the city's requirements would require a sliver of property owned by an American National neighbor, Metro Health Services Credit Union. The credit union doesn't want to sell, according to Planning Board documents and testimony.
At its Aug. 7 meeting, the Planning Board postponed the matter for two months to allow the bank, credit union and city to work out the Emile Street right of way. On Wednesday, the board postponed it for at least another 30 days.
Larry Jobeun, an attorney for the credit union, said allowing American National to develop its land while UNMC's plans remain unknown would be “like letting the tail wag the dog.”
But Planning Board member Arnold Nesbitt said it's a matter of equity.
“It looks like we're doing things to accommodate the big dog across the street at the expense of somebody else,” he said. “I don't feel that (American National owners) should be held hostage to the medical center's plans. This is their property. They should be able to do what they want with it.”
Fitzgerald, of American National, said the bank is being a good corporate citizen. The city asked the bank to dedicate 30 feet of land along Saddle Creek Road for the road's possible westward shift, and American National is offering 60 feet of land.
He said the bank wants to be part of the medical center's plans for redeveloping the area, but it looks as if those plans won't be coming out until next year.
“We have spoken with the medical center on numerous occasions, and the challenge is there's no plan to be shown,” Fitzgerald said.
UNMC officials are working on a 10-year campus development plan. It's something that happens every decade, but this time the process is more involved and far reaching than usual because of the cancer center.
“The cancer center has just changed everything on campus, everything in all directions,” said Ken Hansen, UNMC's assistant vice chancellor for facilities management and planning.
Hansen said the plan could go before the NU Board of Regents for action in February or March.
“I really appreciate what American National Bank wants to do, and they're eager to do it and they've waited a long time,” Hansen said.
He said UNMC officials want their corporate neighbors to succeed but they have reasons for delaying their development plans.
“We're just asking them to wait, and I've shared that with American National Bank and others ... in some of the neighborhood meetings,” Hansen said.
Although the City of Omaha has not included moving Saddle Creek Road west in its five-year capital improvement plan, Hansen said that idea is not dead.
He said he didn't know of any other property owners who are as eager as American National to develop in the area.
Meanwhile, Fitzgerald said American National's plans should help, not hinder, redevelopment of the area. The bank has been willing to do everything the city has asked, he said, and more.
World-Herald staff writer Erin Golden contributed to this report.