OJB Landscape Architecture Redesign of Gene Leahy Mall to Open July 1


The very large lagoon in the middle of downtown Omaha no longer exists.

Beginning July 1, visitors to the 9.6 acres Gene Leahy Mall (née Central Park Mall) will find that the meanders, perfect postcard water feature was dredged and filled— its resident fauna long ago rescued and moved– to make way for a 50,000 square foot expanse of open lawn flanked by a concert-ready performance pavilion. The dramatic changes to the Gene Leahy Mall as part of a soon to be publicly unveiled redesign led by OJB landscape architecture was not without local pushback, especially with regard to its picturesque central lagoon. Yet downtown Omaha rectangular urban green spacewhich made its debut in 1977 with a design by Lawrence Halprin & Associates, needed a 21st century refresh after a long period of underuse and neglect. As OJB put it, the park had long struggled with “difficult access and activation issues.”

If the lagoon is only a memory, that does not mean that the New Gene Leahy Mall was stripped of all old hits. The beloved giant-sized slides live on with other “park artifacts,” joined by a long list of new public amenities and attractions, including smaller interactive water features, a dog park, a garden of sculptures curated by local non-profit artists KANEKO, a formal pond, a public plaza on 13th Street, shaded seating areas, an amphitheater, a pedestrian promenade connecting downtown to the Old Market entertainment district, and a state-of-the-art playground described as “iconic” by OJB. Notably, the park was reclassified, raising the once sunken space approximately 13 feet to street level to improve pedestrian access, improve neighborhood connectivity and draw people to the lawn. sprawling, dubbed the Downtown Green, at its heart. Never an easy place for large-scale gatherings (the lagoon has always been an obstacle, limiting public use), the reimagined Gene Leahy Mall “brings public activity back to the fore,” OJB said in a statement. release announcing the highly anticipated park, delayed by the pandemic Opening July 1.

The Kristin Chenowith headlining The reopening of the transformed Gene Leahy Mall kicks off the gradual unveiling of a larger park system that merges downtown Omaha with the Missouri River. Dubbed the Riverside Revitalization Project, the 72-acre urban open space project is one of the largest of its kind in the county and will feature a trio of revitalized and newly interconnected parks upon completion: the Mall Gene Leahy, the first inaugurated in June 2019 as part of the first phase of a master plan developed by OJB for the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority of Omaha (MECA); Heartland of America Parkwhich opened its doors in 1990 on the former site of the Jobbers Canyon Historic District and is the largest of the three components at 31 acres; and Landing of Lewis and Clark, a concrete-dominated 23-acre space directly abutting the Missouri River. First opened in 2003, Lewis and Clark Landing is the newest and northernmost of the three parks and will emerge from its revamp with a new playground, renovated marina, sand volleyball courts and other characteristics.

The trio of reimagined parks – Heartland of America Park and Lewis and Clark Landing are both slated to reopen next year as part of later phases of the project – have been collectively rebranded as The edge of the river.

The swale adjacent to the Sculpture Garden at the Gene Leahy Mall is filled with native and adaptive plantings. (Courtesy of MECA)

The Riverfront Revitalization Project, worth more than $322 million, is funded by a variety of public and private sources, including $272.6 million in philanthropy generated by the nonprofit Downtown Riverfront Trust ( DRT) and $50 million from the City of Omaha. The DRT, created expressly to fund the construction and activation of The RiverFront, will fund the maintenance and operations of the new parks system for its first decade with MECA ensures its management and all community programs.

“The history of concrete infrastructure that prioritized transportation in major metropolitan areas is now being rethought, and in its place we are seeing a boom in the construction and development of green spaces that prioritize health and well-being. -being, connectivity and the construction of sustainable cities. said James Burnett, president and founder of National Design Award-winning OJB Landscape Architecture, in a statement. “Omaha is at the forefront of American cities investing in green infrastructure as a quality of life imperative.”

Houston-based OJB, which first revealed its transformation masterplan to the public in 2018, is associated with the Gene Leahy Mall redesign and Gensler’s larger RiverFront project with ADBC Architecture and Safdie Rabines Architects; engineers HDR and M&R Global, Fluidity Design Consultants (design of water features), Ludo Studio (gaming advisor), Workshop Ten (light design), TSM design (signage and signage), Avian engineering (MEP engineering), and others. The general public also played a key role in developing the waterfront revitalization plan through what the OJB called a “comprehensive communication and collaboration approach” that involved three large community workshops and a number of number of design charrettes held with key stakeholders and the community. groups.

OJB Partner Kyle Fiddelke added, “As a company, we have sought out projects that not only improve the lived experience of people in these communities, but also the environmental health of the city. The waterfront revitalization project is an excellent example of such an undertaking, and we are extremely proud to be part of this enormous undertaking. »

Last November, the waterfront revitalization project received the award Envision Platinum level verification for durability the Sustainable Infrastructure Institute; it is the first project in Nebraska to receive this honor.

More information about Gene Leahy Mall and The RiverFront can be found here.


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