An official groundbreaking ceremony was held Oct. 31, 2023, for the CORE (Campus Operations & Research Excellence) Building, set to rise on southwest corner of Saddle Creek Road and Farnam Street. (Courtesy of the University of Nebraska Medical Center)
OMAHA — Construction officially kicked off Tuesday on a “cornerstone” of a multibillion-dollar flurry of building initiatives in midtown Omaha poised to further elevate the University of Nebraska Medical Center’s profile.
Gathered southwest of Saddle Creek Road and Farnam Street, a group of medical, government and business leaders celebrated what is to rise there as the six-story “CORE” building.
The 180,870-square-foot Campus Operations & Research Excellence facility, which will house scientific research and administrative functions, is to open in early 2026.
The CORE structure, combined with other ongoing or planned developments along the Saddle Creek corridor, could expand the UNMC footprint by roughly 1.5 million square feet of building space, said Brian Spencer, head of campus development and planning.
That’s unprecedented growth for UNMC’s midtown Omaha home base, whose building space currently spans roughly 10 million square feet, Spencer said.
And it’s expansion that UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey Gold said is essential to maintain momentum reflected in rising student enrollment, research demand and clinical care for Nebraskans and beyond.
“We are just busting at the seams in the need for more space — in spite of the fact we have had quite a few groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings over the last years,” Gold said.
He noted that research funding granted to UNMC in the first quarter of this year surpassed that of the same period last year by more than 20%. “That is astounding,” Gold said.
The chancellor pointed out other evidence that UNMC is making a mark in the health and science industry. Visiting campus Tuesday, said Gold, was the assistant U.S. secretary of defense for health affairs. Dr. Lester Martinez-Lopez was in town to discuss the planned Project Health facility.
Also visiting, Gold said, was a leader of a large Boston-area private equity firm interested in the commercialization of UNMC’s intellectual property related to Alzheimers, Parkinson’s and dementia research.
“This groundbreaking is indicative of the progress and the momentum that our campus continues to see,” Gold said. He described the CORE building as a cornerstone to growth on about 30 acres the medical center has acquired west of Saddle Creek.
Other key pieces planned along or around the Saddle Creek corridor include:
- The nearly $2.2 billion proposed Project Health. UNMC earlier in October received the green light from the University of Nebraska Board of Regents for an architectural and engineering team to begin planning the first phase of the academic health science facility, formerly known as Project NExT. Officials have said the facility also would respond to national catastrophic disaster events such as another pandemic or an overt attack. Spencer said construction could begin in 2025, and the facility could span roughly 1.1 million square feet on about seven acres east of Saddle Creek, at the site of the now-demolished Munroe-Meyer Institute.
- The $65 million Catalyst innovation hub. Located west of Saddle Creek Road, near the CORE building, the retrofitted old steel mill operation is to contain about 170,000 square feet of business and office space. UNMC will own an anchor chunk of the business and office space and all the land underneath. The project is to include a food hall and market, event space as well as the relocated UNeTech, an entrepreneurial support organization affiliated with UNMC and UNO, and UNeMed, a for-profit company that works with UNMC faculty and staff to commercialize innovative ideas to improve public health.
- The City of Omaha has committed $30 million for a parking structure on the west side of Saddle Creek, said Spencer, and is to revamp intersections and infrastructure to accommodate expansion of the UNMC campus to the west. In addition, a roughly $13.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation will help construct two pedestrian walkways, one over Saddle Creek Road and the other over Leavenworth Street.
Downsized from the original vision, the CORE structure’s six levels are to include two floors that essentially will replace UNMC’s outdated administrative facility at 40th Street and Dewey Avenue.
Spencer said $18 million of previously approved state funding for replacement of aging infrastructure — combined with the $87 million CORE building’s budget — brings the total facility cost to $105 million.
The $87 million is to be essentially self-funded through a UNMC internal bond program, said Spencer, paid back over time through increased research revenue.
Other parts of the CORE building are to support computer-based research and lab-based research for drug discovery, oncology and other strategic research areas.
Opportunity for more wet lab space to help startup companies is a “really big deal,” said Michael Dixon, president and CEO of UNeMed. He said researchers at UNMC and UNO create about 100 inventions a year that have potential to save lives and improve health care — “but that only occurs if that technology turns into a product.”
He said development of more wet lab space, designed to test chemicals, biological matter and drugs, is a “game changer.”
“It allows our startup companies to start to develop in some of the space and create life-saving technologies here in Omaha.”
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