The good new days appear to be just around the corner for another old Omaha neighborhood business district.
This time, it's the historic Blackstone neighborhood in midtown Omaha. The next work in the neighborhood's renaissance is about to leap off the drawing board before the paint is even dry on the last one.
A partnership led by Jay Lund and Matt Dwyer purchased the northwest corner of 39th and Farnam Streets. They plan to build a restaurant and renovate a nondescript warehouse/showroom into retail space and a yoga studio with a new, historic-looking storefront.
They'll also convert a 101-year-old house, the former Katelman Antiques store, into small offices with a shared commercial kitchen.
Work on the project, called Blackstone Corner, could begin in late spring or early summer this year. That's about the time that businesses — such as a Mexican restaurant, the Scriptown brewery and an artisan coffee shop — are expected to begin opening in Lund and Dwyer's redevelopment in progress, Blackstone Place, also in the 3900 block of Farnam Street.
In a related move, the owner of a historic bar on the block, Sullivan's, soon will move his business across Farnam Street. Dan Houlihan is renovating the former home of a problem bar, Cheaters, to be Sullivan's new home.
And the owners of Benson Brewery are renovating a vacant space on the block.
Meanwhile, the City of Omaha is expected to convert Farnam Street from one-way to two-way traffic between 36th and 42nd Streets, and a plan to accomplish that is before the City Council Tuesday. Councilman Chris Jerram and area business people have pushed for two-way traffic to boost the neighborhood's economic revival.
“It's going to be a flurry of activity that a lot of people in the city are going to be surprised by,” Lund said.
Added Dwyer, “End of spring, into summer, you're going to take a look around and say, where did this come from?”
Lund and Dwyer, who formed Greenslate Development to do urban in-fill projects, are building on momentum from Mutual of Omaha's Midtown Crossing, Urban Village's apartment renovations near Midtown Crossing, neighborhood residents' investment and such businesspeople as photographer Brad Iwen, who owns Iwen Exposures at 3925 Farnam St., and Drew Davies, owner of Oxide Design at 3916 Farnam St.
Property owners along Farnam Street from 36th to 42nd Streets created the Blackstone Business Improvement District to help fuel economic activity.
They took the name from the Blackstone building at 36th and Farnam, a former hotel now owned by Peter Kiewit Sons' Inc., one of three Fortune 500 firms with headquarters in the vicinity. Mutual of Omaha and Berkshire Hathaway are the others.
Another big neighbor, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, is about to sprout a $370 million cancer center.
Meanwhile, there's a growing desire, especially among millennials and baby boomers, for urban life in walkable neighborhoods with character, said Jed Moulton, Omaha's urban design manager.
He said the Blackstone revival reflects a national trend that has been picking up steam in Omaha, as seen in Benson, Dundee and South 10th Street, among other neighborhoods.
“A series of hard work, luck, re-investment and opportunity all kind of came together at the right time,” Jerram said.
Lund and Dwyer jumped in to do Blackstone Place when several buildings along Farnam Street had been vacant for years.
Lund said they've seen “high demand” for space in their first Farnam Street project.
“Our phone's been steadily ringing,” he said. “It's all these kind of small, independent local businesses that are interested in being a part of this district.”
That gave Lund and Dwyer confidence to leap in further, with Blackstone Corner.
They paid $860,000 for the Katelman Antiques property, which includes a 4,225-square-foot house that served as the store, plus an adjoining two-story commercial building with three vacant retail bays.
The commercial building, built of concrete block and bricks in 1986, “doesn't fit the fabric of the neighborhood,” Lund said. He and Dwyer have a fix for that. They plan to remove the building's front wall, then erect an addition with a historic-looking storefront.
“We want it to look like it's been there as long as the other buildings,” Lund said. “All brick, with classic brick patterns that are consistent with the neighborhood.”
The three retail bays in the commercial building will have a mezzanine level just inside their front doors.
A yoga studio will occupy the remainder of the second floor.
The new restaurant building will rise next door. Plans call for a “pocket park” — a small public greenspace — on the northwest corner of 39th and Farnam Streets.
The developers propose to add diagonal parking on 39th Street and in front of the new businesses, 3904-08 Farnam St.
Lund, a vice president with the Lund Co., said a restaurateur already is lined up for the new building. He wouldn't say more about the owner or eatery, except that it will be locally owned, independent and “an original concept” that's a good fit for the evolving neighborhood.
Lund also is in talks with a yoga business owner for the studio space.
Tenants have yet to be lined up for the retail spaces, which will be 1,800 square feet each. Dwyer said they could include a bakery and housewares store.
The developers weren't sure what to do with the house that came with the corner. One thing they didn't consider: Demolition.
“Never was that contemplated at all,” Lund said. “That would be a travesty. It's a beautiful old house. It fits the character of the neighborhood.”
They settled on converting the house's rooms into six or seven offices for small businesses and start-up entrepreneurs. Lund envisions them sharing a kitchen, conference room and the creative energy of like-minded people.
The Blackstone Corner project is expected to cost $2.3 million. The developers are seeking up to $397,000 in tax-increment financing, or TIF, in which a portion of property tax revenue resulting from new construction helps to pay development costs.
The Omaha Planning Board is scheduled to consider the TIF request and Blackstone Corner project plans during its January meeting, scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Wednesday in the legislative chambers at the Omaha-Douglas Civic Center, 1819 Farnam St.