Mutual of Omaha envisions a potential second office tower on city block east of the library

By: - May 2, 2022 7:51 pm

The view looking east from the W. Dale Clark Library toward the riverfront park system. Mutual of Omaha plans to build its new headquarters on the library site and acquire the block to the east for a possible second office structure. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Omahans eventually could see a second Mutual of Omaha downtown office structure, perhaps up to 20 stories high, on the city block east of the current library site where the insurance mammoth plans to build its corporate headquarters.

Details on what specifically would occupy that 1.7 acres are to be hammered out later, CEO James Blackledge told the Nebraska Examiner on Monday. 

He said, however, that if the Fortune 500 company continues to grow, it likely will require even more local office space than the 800,000 square feet to be built in the future $443 million office tower at 215 S. 15th St., where the W. Dale Clark library currently sits.

James Blackledge, Mutual of Omaha CEO (Courtesy of Mutual of Omaha)

“We don’t want to overbuild, but we also want the ability to grow into our space rather than have to move or have separate sites” or campuses, Blackledge said.

Mutual’s acquisition of the city block bounded by 13th, 14th, Douglas and Farnam Streets is among numerous points related to the proposed headquarters site laid out in a nearly 140-page agreement between the insurance company and the city.

First public mention

The proposed agreement was made public and reported on by the Examiner on Friday, and Blackledge elaborated on its contents during an interview Monday. It was the first public mention of the additional block envisioned for Mutual’s growth, although Blackledge said that Mutual had talked about wanting spillover land for future expansion since last September when it was eyeing a different possible downtown headquarters site northwest of 14th and Dodge Streets.

The block east of 14th Street would continue to be used as a construction staging area for up to four years while the main headquarters structure rises. The space is currently being used for the same purpose as the overhaul winds down on the Gene Leahy Mall. 

The proposed agreement says that the maximum height of any structure built upon the block east of the library shall not surpass 320 feet. That’s about the height of the 19-story Union Pacific Railroad corporate office tower.

Also, the document says, if the site were to be repurchased at some point later by the city, the maximum height of any future structure would be lowered to 140 feet high and be topped with a “green roof” approved by Mutual.

The idea would be not to block Mutual’s eastward view toward the ongoing $400 million riverfront parks overhaul and new science museum.

As planned, Mutual’s new corporate offices — developed by Lanoha Real Estate Co. — would be atop a dozen floors of about 2,200 parking stalls to be owned by the City of Omaha. The city would lease the parking spots to Mutual for its employees and could use the garage for other purposes during nonworking times. The city would pay $45,000 per stall, or a total of about $99 million for the parking garage.

In all, the headquarters structure would span about 1.8 million square feet.

Nationally, Mutual has about 7,500 employees, Blackledge said. About 4,000 of those are Omaha-based, he said, though not all physically worked in the company’s offices at any one time even before the pandemic.

He said the future headquarters tower, as designed, already lacks enough space for the company’s full local workforce. Mutual plans to see how hybrid work demands evolve before deciding on size and other details of a second office and parking structure.

The proposed agreement — which will be the topic of a City Council public hearing May 10 — says Mutual would pay “fair market value” for the 13th Street block.

City to maintain Turner Park

Mutual of Omaha’s proposed new glassy headquarters skyscraper that could at least rival the highest building in downtown Omaha. Mutual could build a second office structure to the east later. (Courtesy of Mutual of Omaha)

Other details in the agreement, to be voted on by the Council May 17th, include the city’s intent to buy Mutual’s existing three parking garages on its current midtown Omaha campus for $15,000 per stall, equating to about $53 million.

The Mayor’s Office said in a statement last week that the three garages would be operated by the city and would help facilitate the reuse of Mutual’s existing buildings and the redevelopment around them.

The city also will take back the maintenance responsibility for Turner Park, the green space surrounded by Mutual’s Midtown Crossing retail and residential redevelopment. Blackledge said Mutual of Omaha had expanded the boundaries of the park and agreed to take care of it. But now, he said, the time seemed right to return responsibility to the city.

Mutual plans to complete the new headquarters by the end of 2026. Blackledge said Mutual already has sold pieces of its midtown properties and will continue to do so. 

Still no official word from Mutual leaders on how high the headquarters may rise, other than that it could rival the height of the First National Tower, which is the tallest building downtown. 

Blackledge said he had no desire to “outdo” any other corporate player. “We’re just trying to put a building together that meets our needs,” he said.

Blackledge, who first announced Mutual’s new downtown headquarters plan months ago alongside Mayor Jean Stothert, said he is excited about the move. 

“It’s a chance for us to make a big difference downtown,” he said. “Not only the skyline but the landscape in terms of having another large employer there that could attract more development and jobs.”

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics. She has won awards from organizations including Great Plains Journalism, the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW) and the Associated Press. Cindy has been recognized by various nonprofits for community contributions and diversity efforts. She chairs the board that oversees the local university’s student newspaper.

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