The $34.5 million Dizzy Mule is headed to downtown Omaha

The 172-unit apartment and retail project is latest piece of 50-acre, evolving Millwork Commons district

By: - May 5, 2022 5:45 am

Dizzy Mule redevelopment in north downtown Omaha (Courtesy of Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, or APMA, and Bluestone Development)

OMAHA — The nearly $35 million Dizzy Mule project — poised to turn both new and historic structures into 172 apartments and space for artists and retailers — is about to transform another downtown city block.

Dizzy Mule’s lighthearted name is derived from the old Disbrow millwork operation and mule barn that operated as far back as the late 1880s on the project site bounded by 12th, 13th, Nicholas and Izard Streets.

Planned to span more than an acre, rise up to five stories and include 160,000 square feet of building space, the mixed-use project will be the latest addition to the broader Millwork Commons district.

Dizzy Mule residential and retail project in north downtown, aerial looking northeast (Courtesy of APMA and Bluestone Development)

Millwork Commons is a roughly 50-acre neighborhood sprouting on a forgotten industrial tract of north downtown, not far from popular Omaha entertainment and cultural attractions such as Charles Schwab Field (formerly TD Ameritrade Park) and Hot Shops Art Center.

Total projected investment: $370 million

With an overall and updated projected price tag of $370 million, the Millwork neighborhood of more than 60 companies and nonprofits is designed to be a home for entrepreneurs, techies and innovators. It’s an effort led by Paul and Annette Smith of Omaha’s Black Dog Management.

Christian and Debra Christensen of Bluestone Development are partners on key elements such as the new Hello apartments and, now, the Dizzy Mule.

The public can check out the latest developments and businesses in the evolving neighborhood this weekend. An open house event Saturday from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. will feature property tours, live music and performances, art displays, skating demonstrations, talks about technology, design and more.

Food vendors and shops will be selling their fare. 

Millwork Commons: Dizzy Mule in green; Ashton to the north; Hello apartments shaded orange. (Courtesy of APMA and Bluestone Development)

Among the tenants in the neighborhood’s roughly 200,000-square-foot Ashton warehouse is anchor WP Engine, which acquired Omaha-founded Flywheel in 2019. WP Engine this week is celebrating its official move-in.

$4.9 million TIF request

The WordPress technology company’s more than 200 employees are on the third and fourth floors of the Ashton, along with 47 conference rooms, multiple lounges and an outdoor patio.

If all goes as planned, construction on the Dizzy Mule project south of the Ashton is to begin this summer.

The development team seeks a public financial boost from the City of Omaha: $4.9 million in tax-increment financing. TIF is a Legislature-approved tool that allows increased property tax revenue from the new development to be directed toward a developer’s loan. 

After the TIF period, which generally extends 20 years, that tax revenue will start flowing to traditional government coffers such as public schools, the city and the county.

WP Engine offices inside the Ashton warehouse,  originally built in the late 1800s. (Courtesy of WP Engine)

The Omaha Planning Board on Wednesday recommended approval of the Dizzy Mule TIF request, which still requires an official green light from the City Council.

Historic Radford to get overhaul

A key part of the Dizzy Mule plan calls for complete renovation of the historic three-story Radford building at 1218 Izard St.

Another structure on the project site is a century-old, one-story mule barn that covers about 8,500 square feet. The mule barn is to be razed due to its condition, though some of its materials are to be salvaged and incorporated as furniture or art in the new complex.

When done, the L-shaped Dizzy Mule complex will have two newly constructed buildings attached to the Radford. From the outside, the project of varying heights and materials will appear to be a half-dozen separate buildings but it will function internally as one structure.

Designed by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture, the first floor will house about 18,000 square feet of commercial space, amenities and parking for residences.

Upper floors will contain the 172 market-rate apartments, ranging in rents from about $1,750 for a three-bedroom unit to about $825 for dwellings smaller than 500 square feet.

Blend of heights and styles

Christian Christensen of Bluestone said the blend of styles and sizes makes the apartments stand out.

“If a customer desires brick, Dizzy will be able to deliver brick walls. If a customer wishes to live in a modest-size unit that costs less, Dizzy will be able to deliver such, all the way up to customers who desire a larger three-bedroom unit with great views of the downtown skyline,” he said.

Northwest view of Dizzy Mule project in Millwork Commons (Courtesy of APMA and Bluestone Development)

Apartment amenities include conference rooms, gyms, art studio bays and a rooftop deck.

Sharing the overall city block is a 26,000-square-foot building, erected around 1886, which was the primary base of the former M.A Disbrow & Co. millwork operation. The cluster of Disbrow buildings were part of a hub of millworkers and furniture-makers that occupied the area generations ago.

While the larger Disbrow building is not part of the current Dizzy Mule initiative, developers have envisioned the historic, three-story structure as a key piece that eventually will top off the block’s transformation.

Hall in the Dizzy Mule project (Courtesy of APMA and Bluestone Development)

Activating an alleyway

Christensen said that the rehab of that final building is expected to start during Dizzy Mule construction and that developers are talking to potential anchor tenants.

A highlight of the overall block is an alleyway (Christensen calls it a spine) between the Dizzy Mule and the Disbrow offices, where shoppers and residents will be able to dine and socialize amid pop-up art, food and cultural vendor booths. 

According to a city document, “The alley will allow for ever-evolving, intimate public spaces just outside the doors of the varied commercial tenants who will occupy the first floor, bringing together local businesses, makers and sellers, and art of all kinds.”

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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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