OMAHA — A vote in favor this Friday would trigger the full-scale transformation of a former steel mill into Catalyst, a $60 million entrepreneurial technology hub set to expand the campus of the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Various businesses are to be housed in the renovated, expanded and populated structure west of Saddle Creek Road, including new branches of UNeMed and UNeTech, which are helping to boost healthcare startups.
UNMC is to own an anchor portion – about a quarter – of the Catalyst’s approximately 160,000 square feet of retail and office space. The medical center also owns the land below.
Green light at the construction site
Thus, the vote that will be cast on September 30 by the University of Nebraska Board of Trustees is needed to kick off the major construction of the redevelopment vision that took years to prepare. (Cleanup, site preparation and design work is ongoing.)
Specifically, a NU spokesperson said, the regents’ action at their meeting in Kearney would approve final details such as the ground lease, ownership agreement and $29 million in UNMC costs.
“The Catalyst project will move the Saddle Creek campus from industry to innovation,” reads a statement prepared for the Regents by UNMC and architect Alley Poyner Macchietto.
“The redevelopment is a unique opportunity to symbolically take a keystone of Omaha’s heavy industry in the 20th century and reinvigorate it into a cornerstone of Omaha’s healthcare industry in the 21st century.
Catalyst’s development team predicts the new “innovation-centric space” will fuel the growth of Omaha’s medical industry by attracting researchers, inventors and investors to the former Omaha Steel Works area , built in the early 1900s.
Site steeped in history
The steel mill in younger years helped build the State Capitol; produced integral parts for the railroad and World War II efforts. Some also know the area for the carpentry shop that operated on the site after the steel company moved to Wahoo.
The Catalyst project – which is also to include a food hall and market, as well as event space – is essential, but it is only part of a larger site of around 25 acres west of Saddle Creek Road which extends the UNMC footprint.
An administrative tower complex spanning approximately 350,000 square feet and reaching up to 17 stories is planned southwest of Saddle Creek Road and Farnam Street. It is to house work and office space for clinical professors as well as stores and retail bays.
The roof of this facility’s low-rise parking garage is to connect Saddle Creek Road to the east, serving as a landscaped walkway that connects to the existing UNMC campus.
A UNMC official said when the larger redevelopment site is built in a decade or two, it could contain 1.75 million square feet of new construction space for the medical center.
Hotel rooms and housing could also sprout at the public-private redevelopment site, which is surrounded by many private real estate ventures separately developed but boosted by UNMC’s growth boom in recent years.
Health Technology Ecosystem
The private development team leading the 3-acre Catalyst initiative combines GreenSlate Development of Omaha and Koelbel and Co of Denver.
GreenSlate’s Jay Lund and Matt Dwyer said the goal is an “ecosystem” of healthcare and technology where like-minded tenants come together and spur new ideas, companies and patents that advance medicine. They see the physical structure and the environment as a big lure.
“You can’t duplicate these old structures in new construction,” Lund said. “Weaving that into the new architecture and new design is going to deliver a building like no other.”
He said the local Catalyst is estimated at an overall investment of $60 million and is modeled after Koelbel’s Catalyst project in Denver’s RiNo (River North) district. The Denver project was designed to be the epicenter of wellness advancements.
Planning documents submitted earlier to the City of Omaha indicated that the Catalyst is expected to bring up to 670 full-time jobs to the area, about half of which will be relocated and the rest newly created from expansions and startups. . The city approved the project for $8.1 million in public funding through tax increases.
UNeMed and UNeTech would move from obsolete space elsewhere to UNMC-owned space within the Catalyst and be joined by other tenants.
Michael Dixon, CEO of UNeMed, expects Omaha to see more domestic entrepreneurs attracted to the downtown campus and, collectively, more contributions to medicine. He said the project is also expected to increase the local tax base.
“Ultimately, the big winner is Omaha and our biotech ecosystem,” Dixon said.
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