A Modest Proposal

Buildings

Downtown Omaha in the 21st Century is experiencing an exciting, disturbing, wonderful, odd, exciting, depressing new era that combines the Renaissance with the Dark Ages.

With the still new Holland Arts Center, the Ameritrade baseball stadium, No-Do, the Century Link convention center, and with businesses like HDR wanting to move east to join other corporate giants like Union Pacific, First National, and Zesto’s, the future is bright.

But there is one overreaching, conundrum of a problem – I know “conundrum of a problem” is superfluously redundant, but nevertheless – it’s a huge, overarching, pervasive, permeating – yes, Virginia, I found my tattered old thesaurus on the bookshelf – ubiquitous problem. Parking.

In this case the Holland is the nexus of the question. HDR wants to come downtown and they want to build their new headquarters on the site of the parking garage now used by the Performing Arts Center, right? So the dominoes tumble. HDR eats parking places and needs more to boot. The Holland loses parking places and needs to replace them. Parking.

Easy, you think. There’s lots of open land downtown. For instance, what about that big empty lawn near ConAgra? We could park three thousand cars on that acreage. But hold on, it’s not that simple. It’s a six block trek from there to the Holland, and global warming probably won’t occur fast enough to eliminate the hazards pedestrians face in a Nebraska winter – darn environmentalists. Parking, in this case, is defined as the answer to the question, “Where can we abandon our cars within easy walking distance of a venue?” Yes, “easy walking distance” is the real sticking point. Walking. Easy Walking.

The city is proposing to buy three historic buildings to make room for Parking/Walking. They will purchase and demolish the Christian Specht Building – amazing ironwork front and all – the Alvine, and the Happy Hollow Coffee edifice with all its decorative brickwork. They will pay the owners a total of ten million dollars. Then they will build a big high-rise parking garage in their place. Lovely, problem solved. Cars parked and a short walk insured. Will we really miss the iron and brickwork charm of those old white elephants? My guess? Yes. Yes we will.

So, not withstanding the fact that this all may be a fait accompli by the time this column is published let me make a modest proposal. Hold off on buying the buildings and instead, take the ten million dollars and fund free limo rides for everyone who attends an event at the Holland. According to my calculations, taking into account the annual attendance – 86,000, figuring two people per stretch Hummer – that much moolah should cover the cost for a year, maybe a year and a half. Every patron gets door-to-door service.

Meanwhile, start construction of HDR HQ and add fifty floors of parking above the office space. That would provide an additional 2800 slots in the tower. The historic buildings survive, plus Omaha gets a crazy seventy-floor addition to its skyline. Another plus, tourists will flock to town for the thrill of the seemingly endless, dizzying, circling drive to the top of the parking spire, only to discover there is only one spot left… for sub-compacts only. After taking in the view of where Jobber‘s Canyon used to be, the twisting, bobsled run drive down will be even more fun.

The only other option is a huge cavern excavated by Swiss tunneling machines… I’ll keep buying Powerball tickets. If I hit a big one, the cave is on me.

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