A young woman pushed a stroller down Underwood Avenue at 50th Street on Thursday as the sun climbed high into a deep blue October sky.
Nikki McLeay simply was out for a walk with her 8-week-old son, Ethan. She didn't know that dignitaries had scattered moments earlier after cutting a ceremonial ribbon on the newly renovated streetscape of Dundee's historic business district.
McLeay's observations would have put a bow on the festivities.
“I love it,” she said, pausing near the hip hangout Blue Line Coffee. “We live in Dundee. The redesign makes it a lot more pedestrian-friendly. We've been walking here every day. It's cleaner. It's more accessible.”
The project is not quite complete. Work remains on a few details, most notably a rain garden at 50th Street and Underwood Avenue that on Thursday was a gaping hole in the ground.
But after a six-month construction period that was tough on businesses, not to mention drivers, City Councilman Pete Festersen said he wanted to make sure people know the streets are done and Dundee is “improved, open for business and thriving.”
Festersen, fellow Councilman Chris Jerram, Mayor Jean Stothert and neighborhood leaders participated in Thursday's ceremony.
Festersen said the improvements will ensure that Dundee will be a vibrant community for years to come.
Stothert called the project a successful partnership between the city, private donors, business and the neighborhood.
It cost $2.5 million. Private donors put up $2 million, and the city pitched in $550,000 from transportation bonds. Dundee business owners added $29,000 and will help with maintenance through a business improvement district.
The renovations stretch along Underwood Avenue from 49th Street to 51st Street.
They include about 40 additional on-street parking spots, bigger and better sidewalks, street resurfacing and more decorative streetlights and benches, plus such utility work as a new water main and underground wiring.
Addressing an issue that caused consternation, even protests, in the neighborhood, Festersen said more trees were planted than were cut down.
Many of those new trees were planted — along with a variety of shrubs, grasses and flowers — in triangular bumpouts from the curbs.
The trees — Kentucky coffee, elm, locust, oak and maple — were chosen to create the tree canopy for which Dundee is known, said Molly Romero, a Dundee business leader, co-owner of Marks Bistro and member of the renovation tree committee.
“They'll be small for a couple of years, but they'll be great when they're older, and we'll have our tree canopy again,” Romero said.
Most people interviewed on Underwood on Wednesday and Thursday mentioned the trees.
“The older trees gave (the neighborhood) an older feel,” said Kyle Duckert. The math and physics instructor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha was at Blue Line Coffee on Wednesday, his “second office.”
The new streetscape “gives it a younger, cleaner, sterile feel. … If their goal was to make it look like an architect's rendering, it worked.”
Martin Janousek, who co-owns a business in the area, Great Harvest Bakery, also lamented the loss of the old trees. But he said that the spacing of the new trees probably is similar, and that they'll grow.
“It's a nice compromise between the old neighborhood and its trees, and helping out the business district,” Janousek said. “There's more space for people to park and enjoy the neighborhood and the trees.”
Before Thursday's festivities, Mary Green happened to ride her bike to water the clover at the Dundee Community Garden, at Underwood and 49th. The garden president, she was involved in the streetscape planning process.
City officials and design and construction workers “did a good job communicating” with neighbors, Green said. She called Underwood's new look “attractive.”
“I like some of the new spaces, like the gathering spaces at 50th and Underwood,” she said. “It's a nice place for people to gather and mingle.”
Before Thursday's speeches, long-time Dundee resident and birdwatcher Win Finegan parked her bike at 50th and Underwood and became, by her reckoning, the first person to use the new benches to observe chimney swifts and turkey buzzards.
And soon after the dignitaries cleared out, all the benches were filled with middle-schoolers in uniforms, eating ice cream from nearby eCreamery and annoying their teacher.
Observed McLeay, the young mom with the stroller, “Having more benches is good for people-watching. Dundee has a lot of characters, and it's a diverse community.”