State of the City: Omaha mayor touts development projects, housing plans
Stothert talks about streetcar plans, hiring police, bringing business to north & south Omaha
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Mayor Jean Stothert presented her State of the City address in Omaha City Council Chambers on Tuesday afternoon. Her 10th annual address comes as several city projects are underway.
The mayor said the nation’s 39th-largest city has every reason to be optimistic.
“We are growing and moving forward... Omaha is on the right track,” Stothert said.
She said the city is on track to distribute additional COVID-19 pandemic aid even as the public health emergency status will end in May.
The mayor noted Tuesday that the city had used American Rescue Plan Act funds to benefit affordable housing, offer food assistance, bolster the local hospitality sector, and provide support to local nonprofits — and there are still new opportunities to come, like investments in community parks around the city this spring.
Additionally, officials plan to move forward with the city’s climate action plan following approval from the City Council. Stothert said curbside recycling continues to increase in the city, and she has been pleased to see FCC begin using natural gas on its trucks.
The city has also been working to get rid of lead, with soil testing completed on 42,000 properties and cleanup done at 13,000 properties. Stothert said the work had significantly reduced elevated lead levels seen in kids, which she said had fallen to just 2%.
The streetcar project’s $28 million budget was approved by the Omaha Streetcar Authority just this week. Construction on the new downtown library is underway following the demolition of the W. Dale Clark Library a few months ago in preparation for the new Mutual of Omaha tower initially set for completion in 2026.
Work also continues at the site of The Crossroads while The RiverFront is set to move into another phase following the completion of Gene Leahy Mall last year.
Stothert emphasized on Tuesday that in order to reach its potential, the city needs to focus on its urban core. The streetcar project does that, she said, again noting that no property or sales taxes will be implemented to get it built.
“Only those who benefit from the street car will pay for construction,” she said.
The mayor said the city has been “studying the benefits of a streetcar for decades,” and officials believe that connecting popular stops like The RiverFront, Gene Lehahy Mall, and Steelhouse Omaha to Midtown, the Blackstone District, Creighton, and downtown via the streetcar will lead to $1 billion in development, particularly as plans for Mutual of Omaha’s new headquarters — and their old site near Midtown — come to life.
Stothert also briefly mentioned redevelopment plans underway for the civic auditorium plan and The Crossroads, noting the former mall site is “preparing for the next phase of construction.” She also talked about development plans underway in north and south Omaha, including redevelopment of the Southside Terrace Garden Apartments and the Indian Hill neighborhood, as well as the plans in motion in the North 24th Street Business Improvement District.
CRIME & PUBLIC SAFETY
The mayor noted on Tuesday the city has seen stable or decreasing crime numbers, noting that in the first 80 days of 2023, there was not one homicide reported.
Stothert said that gun violence had been reduced and that Kansas City was following Omaha’s policing model with officials from 30 other cities now planning visits to see whether OPD’s successes can be replicated in their departments.
The mayor’s address comes two months after the Omaha Police Department touted increases in clearance rates for homicides and robberies in 2022, even as OPD’s comprehensive and violent crime clearance rates each fell 3% year-over-year. Other violent crimes clearance rates — particularly rape, aggravated assaults, theft, and auto theft — also declining year-over-year. Even still, OPD clearance rates in 2022 still fell noticeably above 2021 national average for areas with comparable populations.
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Source: OPD crime statistics
In her address, Stothert also spoke about the challenges that the department has had with recruiting.
The city is budgeted for 906 police officers but has 797 employed with another 34 recruits expected to graduate this summer, leaving 75 open positions.
The number of applicants for the department is down — a circumstance not unique to Omaha. Police departments in Hawaii have been offering big incentives to attract recruits, and Las Vegas has only recently begun to see an increase in its recruiting numbers.
Stothert said the city will begin negotiations soon with Omaha Police Officers Association to raise salaries in an attempt to attract more recruits — a tactic that other police departments have been implementing as well.
Additionally, the city has added new police and fire headquarters, and a new fleet of fire vehicles, with seven new medic units expected to be in service by the end of April.
Stothert also talked about the city’s progress in increasing pedestrian safety with additional plans on the horizon via the Vision Zero action plan awaiting City Council’s approval.
In the past year, the city has also set out to end homelessness, creating a new position: homeless service coordinator. Stothert said Tamra Dwyer has unique expertise that will help people find their way out of homelessness.
The mayor said that current estimates are that 1,300 may be homeless in the Omaha-metro, with 160 people living on city streets.
Solving the problem will take time, she said, and the city needs a stronger prevention program and to focus on veterans.
Stothert talked more about the city’s need for a housing relocation plan in order to be better prepared for emergency housing assistance needs like those seen after the closing of Legacy Crossing.
Other projects in the works in north and south Omaha are also expected to help address housing needs. The use of federal and city funding for the North 24th Street Business Improvement District, particularly improvements at 24th and Lake streets, as well as the Indian Hills area show a commitment to affordable housing and access to healthcare, Stothert said.
New street projects are always of high importance to Omaha residents, particularly standing concerns with potholes, which may have a better solution on the horizon as the city considers following suit on a process that has seen success in Lincoln.
Stothert talked about plans for surfacing and repairing streets, noting that the city still has not implemented the voter-approved property tax levy to pay for street repairs.
CITY COUNCIL REACTIONS
6 News spoke with city councilmen Don Rowe and Danny Begley on their reactions to the address.
“There are such great things happening in Omaha, and she just reiterated all of them. The urban core to all the way out west...It’s fun to be a part of it honestly,” said Rowe. “If we have a strong urban core, the city’s going to grow.”
“The good news is we’re getting out of the pandemic and the city’s moving forward in a good way. There’s a lot of good things on the horizon as was mentioned today by the mayor,” said Begley.
Watch the mayor’s address
Read the mayor’s address
Assistant News Director Cassie Crowe contributed to this report.
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