The renovated Gene Leahy Mall in downtown Omaha, Nebraska is one of the largest new urban parks in the U.S.A. and a tangible investment in healthy and vibrant placemaking. The project is the first of three parks to open over the next 18 months for the Omaha Riverfront Revitalization Project, a 72-acre park in downtown Omaha, Nebraska. Aptly named to reflect its position adjacent to the Missouri River, The RiverFront consists of three massive, activated parks—Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland of America, and Lewis & Clark Landing—that will make the river more accessible to the community while also providing welcoming outdoor spaces and fostering critical connections within the city. These parks reestablish connections between downtown Omaha and the Missouri River.
The opening of the environmentally conscious and amenities-rich Gene Leahy Mall marks the completion of OJB’s first phase of planning, design, and construction with the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA) of Omaha, which will operate the parks. The RiverFront’s two other parks, Lewis & Clark Landing and Heartland of America Park, are slated to open in 2023.
Gene Leahy Mall is located at the center of downtown and serves as a vital outdoor gathering place in the heart of the city. Previously, this space was an underutilized greenbelt sunken 13 feet below city streets, dominated by a lagoon that ran through the middle, occupying much of the space and limiting public use. OJB’s transformation entailed raising the existing open space to the street level, adding a plethora of new gathering and activity spaces, including over 50,000 square feet of lawn to bring public activity back to the forefront. The park is now a central element of the downtown core, strengthening connections between the Old Market and the Capitol District.
Gene Leahy Mall features a new Performance Pavilion for symphonies, theater, and other outdoor performances; a state-of-the-art playground; interactive water features; a Sculpture Garden curated by local arts nonprofit KANEKO; as well as an urban Dog Park. Celebrating its local ecology and history, the renovated park extensively features native trees and plants.
Gene Leahy Mall includes community-based programming and activation organized by MECA, encouraging in-person social interactions without interrupting other areas of business, vehicular, or pedestrian traffic. Recognizing its comprehensive approach to community engagement and sustainable design, the park won the Envision Platinum Award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure in 2021. Park operation, maintenance, and activation costs will be funded for the next ten years through the Downtown Riverfront Trust (DRT), a private nonprofit created specifically to fund the construction and activation of The RiverFront and the City of Omaha and managed by MECA.
“The history of concrete infrastructure that prioritized transportation in major metropolitan areas is now being rethought, and in its stead, we are seeing a boom in the construction and development of green spaces that prioritize health and wellness, connectivity, and the building of sustainable cities,” says OJB Landscape Architecture Founder and President James Burnett. “Omaha is at the forefront of American cities investing in green infrastructure as a quality of life imperative,” he added.
In addition to focusing urban renewal on sustainability, wellness, and public gathering, the revitalization of The RiverFront parks demonstrates Omaha’s continued interest in bolstering the city’s commercial and industrial vitality.
Funded through public and private sources, including $272.6 million in philanthropy from the Downtown Riverfront Trust and $50 million from the City of Omaha, the project will catalyze economic development by attracting new residents and visitors and supporting the local economy. Anchored by varied programming for children and families, as well as activities designed to encourage a healthy lifestyle, the parks both draw people to the city and cement Omaha’s position as a leading Midwestern metropolitan hub that creates the space for and enhances cross-community exchange.
Opening in 2023, Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing will complete The RiverFront project. Heartland of America Park, the largest of the three parks, runs parallel to the Missouri River and will feature a Skate Ribbon, an amphitheater next to the existing manmade lake, bocce courts, an event lawn, and the Farnam Pier, extending out into the river and over a railroad that formerly inhibited access to the river. OJB is also working to restore the degraded habitat along the river. Lewis & Clark Landing will feature a signature playground, as well as a renovated marina, sand volleyball courts, and event plaza.
Gene Leahy Mall
Location: Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Design Lead, Master Plan, Landscape Architecture: OJB Landscape Architecture
Civil, Environmental, Architectural, Structural, Public Involvement, Transportation, Permitting, Bridge: HDR
Construction Management: Kiewit
Lighting Design: Atelier Ten
Specialty Lighting: MR Global
Water Feature Design: Fluidity
Environmental Graphic Design: RSM Design
Play Consultant: Studio Ludo
Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing Engineering: Alvine Engineering
Soil Science: Pine and Swallow
Site Structures: ADBC Architecture & Engineering
Geotechnical Engineering and Special Inspections: Terracon
Restoration Ecologist: RES (formerly Applied Ecological Services)
Parking Consultant: Walker Consultants
Irrigation: Water Scape
Survey and Platting: Lamp Rynearson Associates
ADA Consultant: Marx | Okubo
City of Omaha
Downtown RiverFront Trust
The Metropolitan Entertainments & Convention Authority (MECA)
Jeff Durkin; Dan Schwalm HDR; MECA;