Input sought for Destination Midtown workshop

by Bill O'Neill, UNMC public affairs | August 26, 2003

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Three members of the Destination Midtown design team review maps before Monday's kickoff. From left, they are Seth Harry, principal of Seth Harry and Associates Inc. of Woodbine, Md.; Jonathan Barnett, professor at the University of Pennsylvania; and P. Knight Martorell, an architect and designer at Tangram Inc. in Temple Terrace, Fla.
Like many people, Laura Paulson is a west Omaha native who makes a commute from Elkhorn to midtown Omaha each day. Paulson's commute is an anomaly, though, because her traverse into the city comes at the end of the day, when she returns to her home in the city's center.

A structural engineer, Paulson said her friends tease her that living in Midtown doesn't make sense, especially with her job near 204th Street and West Dodge Road. Paulson doesn't see it that way.

"Growing up, I was down here a lot, and I always liked the neighborhood," she said. "I enjoy the diversity, and everything is within walking distance."

On Monday, Paulson was near the front row as HDR officials kicked off four days of design work as part of the Destination Midtown project. The project began earlier this year when a unique group of governmental, business, education, healthcare and neighborhood leaders unified to raise the profile of the area within the greater Omaha metro. Midtown was defined by Saddle Creek Road on the west; 24th Street on the east; Cuming Street on the north; and Center Street on the south. Destination Midtown seeks to improve the area while maintaining its historic strengths.

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Among the items pictured as "positives" of Midtown Omaha were UNMC's new employee parking garage and its new East Utility Plant.

Over the past few months, officials have gathered input from area residents about Midtown's strengths and weaknesses. Project Manager Doug Bisson reviewed those findings at the design workshop kickoff on Monday. UNMC was listed among the area's strengths.

Public input will continue to be important to the project over the next couple of months, said James Moore, Ph.D., community design principal for HDR.

During the next few days, a team of HDR designers and other officials will develop concepts that will address several Midtown issues, namely mobility, parks, open space and neighborhoods.

Dr. Moore said that during this first four-day design workshop, called a charrette, the design team will deal with issues on the "macro" level. "By Thursday, I think you'll see us getting down to that drilling down process, looking at specifics," he said.

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A west Omaha native, Laura Paulson, lower right, was attracted to the diversity in Midtown when she bought a home there.

Gathering public input during this design workshop will be key, he said, and the design team will seek additional input during the two months before the next design workshop. Today (Tuesday) and Wednesday, the design team will be available during progress review sessions at noon, on the sixth floor of the Blackstone building at 36th and Farnam streets.

Presentations of the team's progress also will take place at 6 p.m. on those days, in the same location. A final public presentation of the team's work will take place at 6 p.m. Thursday, also on the sixth floor of the Blackstone building.