Omaha Artist's Loft, Omaha, NE
The Artist Lofts on Lake Street proposal is built on the combined experience in project development of the Omaha Economic Development Corporation (OEDC), the cultural leadership of The Union for Contemporary Art (The Union), and the design excellence of SO–IL.
North Omaha has been the center of the city’s African-American culture for more than 100 years. Colloquially referred to as the “Street of Dreams”, 24th and Lake Street - site of future Artist Lofts - was home to cultural touchstones of the city’s black population, such as the Omaha Star, and Love’s Jazz and Art Center. Over the course of the late 20th century, however, the neighborhood withstood some of the worst discriminatory housing practices as well as systematic disinvestment in the city. Coincident with the period of disinvestment, the community of North Omaha grew to be a cultural leader in both the arts and civic engagement. The result is a community with strong civic attachment and cultural engagement through the arts, but with very few facilities and little institutional support.
The Artist Lofts proposal is built on the firm belief that the best days of North Omaha are ahead, and works in concert with other urban renewal plans put forth in the recent years. Our proposal uses the principles of creative placemaking to stimulate the economy and revitalize North Omaha’s cultural legacy. The project is a multi-use development, integrating live-work arts spaces with new commercial storefronts on the ground floor and a large public plaza. Our goal is to improve livability for the broader community through targeting the cultural sector, in concert with the arts corridor of the North Omaha revitalization plan. We aim to create a vibrant center for the community that provides spaces for commercials ventures, arts participation, housing and work, all surrounding the creative community.
Together with the OEDC and The Union, we hosted a series of community meetings to solicit advice and input throughout the design. This months-long process yielded both a sense of the context in which the artists were working, as well as very specific directives on what a successful space would look like at the end of the design process. Responding to the strong desire from the community to have a forward-looking progressive landmark as a symbol for change, we adopted Cross-Laminated Timber - a construction system that is new to Nebraska in a building of this size - benchmarking the project as Nebraska’s resource on new wood building technology. In the long term, projects like The Artist Lofts will offer a young and/or creative workforce opportunities to work in their neighborhood, contribute to the much needed talent retention and prevent displacement and gentrification.