Omaha City Council members say they support plans to issue bonds to help with the Crossroads Village project — but say the developer will have to work hard to sell the concept to voters.
Tuesday, the council held a public hearing on a proposed $50 million general obligation bond that would be used to help fund streets, sidewalks, public transportation facilities and other improvements around the project near 72nd and Dodge Streets. It's one of three types of public incentives the city is offering to help launch the $397 million development.
If the bond is approved by the council in two weeks, it would be added to the May 13 primary ballot. It would join a separate $92 million slate of city bonds that would be used for work on city streets, parks, sewers and public facilities, along with public safety expenses.
Council members said Tuesday that they supported the Crossroads bonds because they would be paid with revenues from sales tax generated within the development. Although the bonds are ultimately backed by the city, developers Frank Krejci and Rod Yates have agreed to maintain a $4 million reserve fund that could be used for bond payments if necessary.
A handful of people testified against the bond plans, two of them urging council members to be cautious about approving debt that would ultimately be the responsibility of taxpayers.
Councilman Franklin Thompson told Yates he'll need to show people specifics on his plans to win their votes.
“The voters are going to want to feel comfortable for this,” Thompson said. “If there's a good plan put together, they'll vote yes.”
Yates said the development would include a hotel, office space and potentially a library, but the focus will be on retail. He said he can't yet reveal the names of potential tenants.
But when pressed by Thompson to provide examples, Yates threw out a handful.
“Aspirationally, the retailers we want to see are like Macy's, Nordstrom, REI, Restoration Hardware, Crate and Barrel,” he said.
Councilman Chris Jerram told Yates to focus on ways to incorporate alternate forms of transportation into the plans. He said many voters want to know they'll be able to get to Crossroads on foot, by bike or by city bus.
He suggested that Yates get involved with community groups pushing for transit options. “Attend one of their monthly meetings so they can feel like they are a part of this,” Jerram said.
The council's discussion was the first of several. Later it will consider proposals for tax-increment financing and a new occupation tax for Crossroads Village.
In addition, city officials are waiting for the results of a study exploring the potential economic impact of the development. Officials said the firm handling that study is doing preliminary research and will be in Omaha at the end of February for on-the-ground work.