$45 million ‘Nook’ housing project seeks to fit in deep-rooted Omaha neighborhood

By: - August 2, 2023 7:59 pm

The proposed Nook housing development surrounds a new elementary school (north, south and east of 8th and Pine Streets) on the former Grace University campus south of downtown Omaha (Courtesy of Bluestone Development)

OMAHA — A new $45.6 million housing development is poised to rise around the edges of the former Grace University campus, bringing a proposed 250 new rental dwellings to a popular area just south of this city’s downtown.

Grace closed its doors five years ago after a 75-year run. Since then, a newly built public elementary school opened last year in the center of the sprawling campus. Another developer transformed a corner dorm and administration building into trendy apartments.

(Courtesy of Omaha Planning Department)

Now Bluestone Development has started the city approval process to build townhome-style and apartment buildings on what’s left of the grounds. The Omaha developer seeks $6.1 million in public tax-increment financing to offset eligible expenses.

As planned, the Bluestone housing would form a sort of U shape around the north, south and east of Pine Elementary School, which is northeast of 10th and Pine Streets. The units would be housed in 10 three-story structures.

The bulk of residences would have one bedroom. Monthly rent would range from about $1,200 for those smaller units to about $2,000 for townhomes with two bedrooms.

The name of the development — The Nook —  is a nod to being an addition to a long-established neighborhood where many families have deep roots.

“We saw our project as a neighborhood within a neighborhood, like a small special nook in the larger landscape of something special,” said Christian Christensen, who founded Bluestone with his wife, Debra.

Among planned amenities are “micro pocket parks” around the nearly five-acre development — with fire pits, grills and seating areas open to the neighborhood.

The proposed Nook housing development surrounds a new elementary school on the former Grace University campus south of downtown Omaha near 10th and William Streets. (Courtesy of Bluestone Development)

“We envision long-standing neighbors who currently live in the neighborhood enjoying these areas and getting to know the incoming neighbors who will be living in our project,” Christensen told the Nebraska Examiner.

He said his team has loved the area since developing the Towns at Little Italy around 2006. Among other Bluestone projects are Rows at SoMa, Joslyn Lofts, Capitol District and Hello apartments, all downtown. Midtown projects include Spaces, the Bos and Zag apartment complexes.

While Bluestone has owned the Nook property for about five years, Christensen said COVID-19 and other team projects contributed to delays in presenting the proposal. He said the team wanted to wait until after Pine Elementary was built, too. He said the design considered a plan from area neighborhood and historic preservation groups that was led by longtime urban planner Marty Shukert.

On Wednesday, the city’s Planning Board recommended approval of parts of the Nook, and delayed action on others until certain details are ironed out. A representative of the Planning Department said the staff supports the overall plan, though, which requires a green light also from the City Council.

Not all area residents are pleased with the changes coming to their neighborhood, which is situated between the Old Market and Omaha’s zoo.

The proposed 250 units of ‘The Nook’ rental housing would be housed in 10 three-story buildings. (Courtesy of Bluestone Development)

Kim Kalkowski was among several residents of the area who voiced concerns to the Planning Board about design, additional traffic and insufficient parking.

“Already there is not enough,” Kalkowski said of neighborhood parking spots.

Bluestone plans to provide 264 parking spaces for the 250 units, which contain 293 bedrooms.

The Rev. Mark Richardson of Dietz United Methodist Church was among supporters. He said he was impressed with the design and saw it blending alongside his congregation’s 19th century stone church.

Richardson said he has seen a lot of revitalization in the Little Italy and Little Bohemia area in the last decade and looked forward to picking up new parishioners from the Nook development.

“To me this is going in the right direction,” he said.

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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.