North Omaha’s Highlander Redevelopment Draws Praise from Attendees at Anti-poverty Conference

By Cindy Gonzalez | Omaha World-Herald |
October 3, 2017

Billionaire businessman and philanthropist Warren Buffett might be the headline speaker at a national anti-poverty conference attracting about 450 people to town. But on Monday, the first day of the three-day event, it was north Omaha’s new Highlander redevelopment that drew the oohs and aahs.

The 23-acre site near 30th and Parker Streets is the focus of an effort by Seventy Five North Revitalization Corp. to reverse disinvestment, crime and generational poverty in the area.

Bus loads went from the opening session of the Purpose Built Communities conference at the downtown Hilton Omaha hotel to the Highlander project, which is to be completed later this year. Tours featured the housing structures (so far, a dozen of the 101 first-phase units are done and occupied) and the Accelerator, a 65,000-square-foot commercial and community center.

“It’s beyond what I expected,” said Timothy Ayers of Orlando, Florida, noting quality of construction and homes.

Ayers said he’d heard a lot about north Omaha a long time ago from native and classmate, Karen Tibbs. The two went to college in Columbus, Ohio. He’d never visited until now, he said, but was impressed with what he saw at Highlander.

The redevelopment is being built on land once occupied by a barracks-style low-income housing project called Pleasantview Homes. Demolished a decade ago, its residents were relocated. Seventy Five North and partners modeled the revitalization after a Purpose Built project in Atlanta, where tenants of mixed incomes and a strong school partnership were said to be key to dramatic shifts.

Jane Smith of Athens, Georgia, said she was struck by row houses designed for multiple generations of a family. She said the variety of building styles (three different architect firms were involved) helps create a feeling that the area is “evolving like a true neighborhood.”

“Clearly, it’s beautiful,” said Heather Benham, also of Athens. “I hope it serves the people it’s intended to serve.”

The Omaha World-Herald is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc., 402-444-1224

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