New vision for Omaha’s former Civic Auditorium site includes grocery store, offices, housing

By: - May 11, 2023 3:50 pm

Night perspective at Civic Square, former Civic Auditorium in downtown Omaha. (Courtesy of White Lotus Group and RDG)

OMAHA — A national grocer, affordable housing and a five-story office and retail building are key components of the latest multimillion-dollar plan for the former Civic Auditorium site in downtown Omaha.

New renderings released Thursday show the Civic Square project as about nine acres filled with a parking structure, new roads and multiple buildings that the developer expects will bring a new residential neighborhood feel to the urban core.

Grocery angle of Civic Square project, formerly the site of the Civic Auditorium. (Courtesy of White Lotus Group and RDG)

“The design plans for Civic Square will not only fundamentally change the downtown living environment, but the whole Omaha city skyline,” said Arun Agarwal, founder of White Lotus Group.

He foresees distinct signage and architecture at the site — estimated to carry a price tag upwards of $200 million — creating an iconic, south-facing view of the downtown of Nebraska’s largest city.

The effort to secure a national grocery store is key to filling a missing piece of a thriving downtown area, Agarwal said.

“With interstate and inner-city convenience, Civic Square is the most accessible block downtown —  which is especially important for the grocery store component and solving for the food desert designation,” he said.

The update on the former auditorium site comes amid a flurry of other downtown private-public developments, including the start of the $600 million Mutual of Omaha office tower, the openings of the $100 million Kiewit Luminarium science museum and the $105 million Steelhouse concert venue, and ongoing work on the last legs of the tri-park makeover.

Site preparation for Civic Square is expected to begin early next year, though the plan faces various approval steps.

Formerly at the site bounded by Capitol Avenue and 17th, 19th and Chicago Streets was the Civic Auditorium — which for generations was Omaha’s central stage for concerts, graduations, sporting and other events that drew audiences from across the state and beyond its borders. 

The worn facility was demolished in 2016-17 after a 60-year run.

Former Civic Auditorium site, to be redeveloped as the “Civic Square” mixed-use neighborhood, with a northern view from Capitol Avenue in downtown Omaha. (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

An agreement between White Lotus and the city called for the developer to submit design plans and start obtaining permits by July, or the city could buy back the property.

Agarwal told the Nebraska Examiner on Thursday that White Lotus already was on that path, and has started the legal process of dividing the property for various elements of the redevelopment. It also is working with a nonprofit on the housing element. 

As plans progress, Agarwal said, White Lotus plans to submit requests for tax-increment financing, an economic development tool authorized decades ago by the Nebraska Legislature.

Currently about 200 housing units are planned, Agarwal said, but that number could grow. Housing will include both affordable and market-rate.

Plans call for the site to be bisected by the reintroduction of 18th Street between Chicago and Capitol, and partial reintroduction of Davenport Street between 17th and 18th Streets.

About 180 on-street angled parking stalls will be created, in addition to the existing 500-stall parking garage on the site.

Large businesses around the Civic Square include Union Pacific Railroad and Kiewit Corp. Creighton University, with nearly 9,000 students, is also nearby. The site is a couple of blocks from the planned streetcar route.

Business and retail at Civic Square, the site of the former Omaha Civic Auditorium. (Courtesy of White Lotus Group and RDG)

“This will be a great addition to our neighborhood, and the grocery store will be valuable to our students and faculty,” said the Rev. Daniel Hendrickson, president of Creighton University.

Said Tim Burke, interim president of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce: “The urban core vision is becoming a reality.”

White Lotus said it is seeking public input on the project through

The development company’s other projects include a housing and mixed-use project on the former Pershing Center site in Lincoln, the relocated site of the Omaha W. Dale Clark Library and a nearly 140-acre industrial site along Interstate 80 in Papillion.

Said Agarwal: “Civic Square will offer urban residents and workers the lifestyle they want — a destination they can walk to or park at easily, a place to buy groceries, work out, shop, dine and convene with friends.”

Aerial view of the former Civic Auditorium site, the new Civic Square. (Courtesy of White Lotus Group and RDG)

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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.