Community Comments on the Millwork Commons
Ryan Ellis of PJ Morgan Real Estate spoke with community members at Drips Coffee, 2205 N 24th Street, on Monday, November 27 to discuss the planning of Millwork Commons, a multi-stage work/live development focused on a northern section of downtown Omaha located between 11th to 13th and Locust to Seward streets.
Once the scope of the project was explained, neighborhood association leaders, artists, and concerned citizens gave feedback related to housing, retail services, and inclusivity in overall development of the project. “What types of retail are talking about? I’m tired of coffee shops,” said Precious McKesson, president of the North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance. She went on to reference national retailers like Target and Whole Foods who have reduced their traditional size to fit community needs. The demand for a grocery store, conventional or co-operative, to service the area was also discussed.
The concept of Millwork Commons was influenced by the growth of The Mastercraft, a 14,000 square foot office building with 45 tenant organizations of various sizes and the longtime presence of Hot Shops Art Center. The proposed neighborhood is on the edge of North Downtown, home to TD Ameritrade Park, The Slowdown, and the recently constructed Peter Kiewit Institute.
As the area and Omaha continue grow, local artists like Michael Barnes wonder how everyday people can get involved, “Have you put any good energy into how people can subscribe to or invest in this construction in such a way that will benefit them not arbitrarily but realistically?” Ellis described possible funding structures that could be implemented with community input but said it was still too early to confirm the exact model or how it would be managed.
Barber, a fellow of the Union for Contemporary Art, asked about representation of black and brown people in decision-making. Ellis conceded that although the steering team is all white, he is willing and interested in ways to market to and communicate with black and brown communities over the life of the development. Other questions and suggestions included green energy infrastructure, community education, and housing affordability; all of which were vibrantly discussed among the attendees.
Millwork Commons is being led by Black Dog Management, a development corporation helmed by Paul and Annette Smith who have been recognized by United Way for their philanthropic contributions to art and youth-based programming including the Louder Than a Bomb poetry festival and Omaha Conservatory of Music. PJ Morgan Real Estate, Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, and Field Day Development are working collaboratively with Black Dog.
Annette Smith serves as president of the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Club of the Midlands and previously served as chairwoman for the Women’s Leadership Council for the United Way.
Paul Smith, is on the board of directors of Tenaska, the private independent energy company. He is chairman of the board of Joslyn Art Museum and past chairman for boards overseeing Film Streams and the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts.
Flywheel, a web-hosting company which helps customers build, launch and manage WordPress websites, has been determined as a major tenant to occupy a 1 ½ floors of the historic Ashton Building located at 1218 Nicholas St. by summer of 2020.
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