In late June, the Omaha City Council approved guidelines and a preliminary plan for a streetcar in the city’s downtown. The city also created a tax-increment financing (TIF) district, which will allow the city to invest as much as $354 million in the project. This news came despite the fact that Omaha was still waiting for an outside review of the project.
As a result of the council’s decision, preliminary design and engineering work on the streetcar will begin. The city will work with the Omaha Streetcar Authority on the project, though the council left some outs for the city. The OSA met for the first time in May.
Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert announced the streetcar proposal in January. The proposed route would connect Charles Schwab Field with the riverfront along 10th Street, then run west until its terminus at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The route would require around 5.5 mils of track for completion.
Omaha streetcar plan was approved despite a lack of data
The city council’s approval of the project came as a shock to some. In March, the city agreed to pay Maryland consulting firm MuniCap, Inc., $100,000 to analyze the city’s financial proposal for the project. MuniCap’s initial findings have confirmed that the city’s plan is sound.
However, it came as a surprise that the city didn’t wait for MuniCap’s final report. In fact, Council President Pete Festerson commented on this during the meeting, calling the project “rushed.” Reflecting these concerns, the council made sure to put some restrictions on what they could do before the final report comes out. The city can’t sell construction bonds before MuniCap’s final report is released.
The proposed streetcar could be a major boon for downtown Omaha. As a result of the streetcar plan, Fortune 500 company Mutual of Omaha chose to build a skyscraper on the site of the W. Dale Clark Library. The streetcar could lead to far more development and corporate relocation to the area, keeping downtown Omaha growing upwards.