Omaha City Council approves support for campus expansion

by Bill O'Neill, UNMC strategic communications | November 24, 2021

Image with caption: Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency management and biopreparedness at Nebraska Medicine, assists with National Disaster Medical System training.

Shelly Schwedhelm, executive director of emergency management and biopreparedness at Nebraska Medicine, assists with National Disaster Medical System training.

Omaha’s City Council on Tuesday approved an interlocal agreement that will provide financial support for Project NExT and the UNMC expansion west of Saddle Creek Road over the next decade.

The interlocal agreement, approved by a 7-0 vote, will provide $93 million in city funds in support. Project NExT is a proposed multibillion-dollar federal disaster response center and state-of-the-art medical research and training facility planned for the UNMC and Nebraska Medicine campus. Project NExT will be funded through a public-private partnership between local, state and federal governments and private and philanthropic support.

Mayor Jean Stothert outlined the city’s support in a memorandum of understanding in March. The City Council’s approval formalized the agreement. It is anticipated construction of the facility will be completed in six to eight years from finalization of all funding commitments.

"This investment and partnership will provide enormous opportunities for Omaha and advance UNMC and Nebraska Medicine's role as a global leader in research, training, treatment and prevention of disease," Stothert said. "The medical center is already uniquely qualified to respond to public health crises and other types of national threats — we have seen that firsthand with the treatment of Ebola patients and now COVID-19. Project NExT places Omaha in a competitive position to attract and retain the best and brightest talent."

UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, thanked Mayor Stothert and the members of the City Council for their vision for the future and their support of the project.

"Project NExT will provide a world-class home for our academic medical center, health security for our nation, as well as provide a significant economic injection that drives development and prosperity in Nebraska for decades," Dr. Gold said. "We continue to work hard to secure all of the necessary funding."

The interlocal agreement designates up to $45 million for Project NExT and up to $48 million for public improvements, streets and a public parking garage on the adjoining Saddle Creek campus expansion, which will include a mixed-use development that will include housing, restaurants, hotels and other amenities.

The interlocal agreement will not increase taxes. The financing plan designates $4.5 million annually to Project NExT from the occupation taxes collected on tobacco and vaping products over 10 years, beginning in 2023.

The city will finance the parking garage with lease-purchase bonds. Other infrastructure improvements, including streets, will be included in the 2021-2026 Capital Improvement Plan and funded with transportation bonds.

The State of Nebraska already has approved $300 million for Project NExT. Last year, Gov. Pete Ricketts signed a bill committing funding contingent on additional financial support for the project.

Last May, UNMC/Nebraska Medicine was selected as a key pilot site designated to develop a federal National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) Pilot Program that will improve the nation's ability to respond to future catastrophic events such as pandemics, natural disasters or overt attacks.

The multi-federal department program will be led by the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services to improve the NDMS training program and to improve critically needed medical surge capability in the nation. Other partner agencies include the Veterans Administration, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Transportation.