Save the date — April 2015. If all goes as planned, Crossroads Mall at 72nd and Dodge Streets will come tumbling down and be replaced by an open-air shopping center with 60 to 80 new stores, 200,000 square feet of new office space, a 135-room hotel and a two-acre public park.
“I would love an Easter 2015 grand opening,” said developer Rodney Yates, of Arizona-based OTB Destination LLC.
Yates and Crossroads owner Frank Krejci of Omaha's Century Development unveiled their “conceptual” plan for the new 45-acre, mixed-use development to The World-Herald. Earlier plans — bandied about in 2011— for a redeveloped mall that targets college students have been scrapped.
Yates and Krejci say this plan represents 18 months of tweaks and refinements designed to ensure the final project's success.
Now the aim is to appeal to a wider demographic through its retail mix, high-end hotel and public amenities that could include a transit hub, county offices and a 45,000-square-foot branch of the Omaha Public Library, Yates said.
Click here or on the image for a detailed look at the Crossroads redevelopment proposal.
The $350 million project, which includes a $20 million hotel, along with a $15 million mobile and Web-based wireless network, would reconfigure and be contained on most of the existing mall's 45 acres.
While the parking garage and Target store would remain, everything west of Target, including the existing Sears and Barnes & Noble stores, would be leveled. The three stores would remain open during the demolition and construction phase, but Sears and Barnes & Noble would be relocated temporarily.
When completed, the new shopping center would offer 400,000 square feet of retail space, compared with the current mall's 700,000 square feet. The center's “smart” network will guide visitors via their mobile phones to available parking, promotions and ongoing events.
“We are executing leases right now and making commitments to the project,” said Yates, who promised to announce the first retail tenants this spring.
Yates said he is negotiating with Stamford, Conn.-based Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. to the put the company's “Aloft” brand on an eight-story luxury hotel and restaurant that OTB plans to construct. Starwood's brands include Sheraton, Westin and “W” hotels.
But the project's most unique feature may be its two-acre, city-owned public park, which would serve as the retail center's focus. Retail shops and office space would radiate from the pedestrian-only park, which would be visible from the graduated heights of the surrounding retail, office and residential buildings, Yates said.
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The urban park, which was designed by Avant Architects of Omaha and Minneapolis-based Oslund & Associates, is configured so that it can host everything from public ice skating in the winter to concerts, farmers markets and other events during the warmer months.
The conceptual plan has the support of Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle and Councilman Pete Festersen, who represents the area.
“The private sector will bring its capital and we, the city, have a role to augment the public amenities, the streets, the walkways and the urban park,” Suttle said.
Yates said the project is being “financed internally.”
Despite the finished look of the architectural plans and drawings, Suttle said the public will have plenty of opportunities to comment on the project when it comes before the city's Planning Board and the City Council in the next few months.
Festersen said the city is committed to seeing Crossroads — prime real estate located “in the heart of the city” — revived by local ownership.
Before Krejci purchased Crossroads in 2010 for $9.5 million, the mall was owned by an out-of-state entity that wasn't interested in reinvesting in the property, Festersen said.
The cavernous, mostly-dark two-story mall is currently 70 percent vacant.
“We're thrilled to have local ownership — someone who understands the area and is willing to make a big investment,” Festersen said, referring to Krejci's takeover.
To further the shared vision, Festersen said, “the city has taken steps to make it eligible for tax incentives.”
Yates and Krejci — who also are partners in the redevelopment of Nebraska Crossing in Gretna — say the revival of the renamed “Crossroads Village” would be a catalyst for other development in the area and help return the area to its former glory.
Despite their reassurances, many people still question a plan that tears down the mall and replaces it with an outdoor shopping center. “This is Nebraska and it is cold enough for five to six months of the year to limit visitors to this destination,” one resident complained in a comment on omaha.com.
Yates responds that enclosed malls are expensive to operate and difficult to expand, particularly when their redevelopment includes a mix of retail, office and residential space. The existing mall “is broken,” he said. “The fact that it failed should tell us everything we need to know.”
At a public Omaha Planning Department meeting last week to discuss the redevelopment of the 72nd and Dodge Streets corridor area, residents thronged around Yates and bombarded him with the names of retailers they would like to see occupy the new shopping center.
“I've heard REI, Nordstrom, Macy's, H&M,” Yates said, smiling. “Every year $1.5 billion leaves Nebraska because we don't have some of the stores where people want to shop — they take their money to another state and shop.”
Earlier this month, Yates told The World-Herald that some national retailers that plan to open outlet stores at Nebraska Crossing are considering opening full-price stores at Crossroads Village.
Yates also has told merchants currently in the mall that “if they think they're a fit, they can be part of this.” He said the new shopping center would offer 10 percent to 20 percent of its retail space to local merchants.
“This project is going to offer the retail that people have been starving for,” Yates said, “Every community has its iconic shopping center — and this is going to be it.”
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