Date: November 2-7, 2014
Location: Omaha, Nebraska & Council Bluffs, Iowa;
Sponsor: City of Omaha; City of Council Bluffs; Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce; Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau; BNSF Railway; ConAgra Foods; Husch Blackwell; Gallup; Heistand Family Foundation; Allen & Company; MECA; The Sherwood Foundation; Back to the River; Council Bluffs Chamber of Commerce; Iowa West Foundation
Subject Area: Riverfront; Bi-state partnership; Public spaces; Placemaking
Panel Chair: James A. Cloar
For the panel report, please visit ULI’s Knowledge Finder
BACKGROUND AND PANEL ASSIGNMENT
The Missouri River, which is the longest river in the United States at 2,341 miles, begins near Brower’s Spring, Montana, traverses seven states to its final resting ground north of St Louis, MO. Between those two points, at mile marker 616, lie Omaha, Nebraska and Council Bluffs, Iowa. As the old colloquialism portrays, a river really does run through it.
There have been a myriad of plans and projects undertaken by Omaha and Council Bluffs since the early 1970s which have all had the overarching theme of bringing people back to the riverfront. The natural resource used for so long as an industrial and transportation corridor has become an attraction for people and businesses and provides an opportunity for increased activity along the riverfront and between the two jurisdictions. So how does Omaha and Council Bluffs coordinate activity together without competing with one another or compromising the natural beauty of the landscape and riverfront itself in the 21st century?
To realize the vision for the riverfront, the panel should address the following tasks and questions while thinking about short, medium, and long term practical applications:
- Develop a concept that encourages the activation of the riverfront through coordination and implementation efforts with a regional focus (between 2 distinct cities, counties, and states.)
- Identify potential opportunities or barriers that promote or prevent activity from occurring along the riverfront.
- Determine potential events, projects, or development opportunities that would overcome obstacles and improve opportunities for activities and accessibility along the riverfront.
SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS
Among the panel’s recommendations were:
- ‘A River That Binds It’ – With recent trends of development to the east in Council Bluffs and to the West in Omaha, the riverfront can create a new “center of gravity” for the region. It will be a connector of people and places, a destination for community celebration, a driver of economic development and a source of pride for the entire region. This is a large geographic area, with numerous assets, projects and opportunities. Initiatives need to be undertaken in context with the larger picture.
- Create a ‘connective tissue’ – In addition to the existing cultural and recreational attractions in Omaha and Council Bluffs, there are many development projects in the works and in the pipeline. Linkages need to be made – physical and programmatic– that join new parks and event spaces along the riverfront to the existing neighborhoods, commercial buildings, and public spaces and in the adjacent area. Programs and activities should be developed that focus on attracting residents and employees to the waterfront for passive recreation, not just special events.
- Focus initial development on both sides of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge – Leverage upcoming BRT and alternative transportation investment plans in Omaha and the recently approved mixed-use development plan at Playland Park to establish the riverfront as a desirable place – at all times. The bridge is a physical and metaphorical connection between both communities and development in this area should serve as prelude to future development along the waterfront.
- Assign project and program administration responsibility – Leadership on both sides of the riverfront need to work collaboratively to establish guidelines for calendaring and promoting programs and special events in the existing public spaces. In addition to selecting a point-person who will help harmonize current events, both cities – with community input – have to review potential organizational models for a joint entity that will serve as steward for future riverfront activities and development. This mutually supported entity will help to ensure protection of the environment, the right mix of uses and design, and effective operation of programmed events and public spaces.