75 North drives community re-development

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January 25th, 2012

Omaha, NE – A group named after Highway 75 says it will not become a footnote in the re-development of North Omaha.

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In the 1960s and 70s, the construction of the North Omaha section of U.S. Highway 75 was a controversial topic. Homes, businesses and churches were removed or forced to relocate to make way for construction. Some felt the federal project caused a damaging divide in the community, while others felt it would benefit the entire city of Omaha by decreasing road congestion and offering better access to city suburbs.

Othello Meadows addressing a crowd at UNMC's annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration last week. (Photo by Angel Martin)

But nearly fifty years after its completion, many areas in North Omaha that run adjacent to the freeway are saturated with boarded up or run-down homes and businesses.

“Wow, this city has not changed,” said Lewis Jones, who grew up in North Omaha and traveled the world after joining the Marine Corps at age 18.

“The streets still look the same and people still act the same,” Jones said. “It’s a great divide, and I talk to older people they say it’s always been that way. There’s a sense of apathy that…it’s always been and it always will be.”

Jones attended an annual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration hosted by the University Nebraska Medical Center last week. Othello Meadows was a keynote speaker at the event. He’s an Omaha native and the director of 75 North, a nonprofit planning to rebuild the community that was driven apart by Highway 75.

“If we are to be believed, then we have to get to work,” Meadows told the crowd. “We don’t have to get to work building more monuments and putting up more streets signs. We have to go about the business of doing the hard stuff, doing the stuff that doesn’t come easy.”

75 North was established in 2010, and Meadows said it’s working on an aggressive timeline to revitalize the area. Meadows said the group is now in the process of acquiring property that could hold 200 to 400 mixed-income homes.

“We’ve tried to stay under the radar until we’ve made sure we’ve had enough positive momentum to make something really happen,” Meadows said. “We’re tired of promising things to people in North Omaha and not delivering.”

Meadows said when he got involved with 75 North, he wanted to make sure that wouldn’t happen. “I was very concerned about that,” Meadows said. “So for us, we’re moving forward.”

Meadows said the concept of 75 North is similar to Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit that works with poor neighborhoods across the country. With a holistic approach, the group works with local organizations to fund initiatives that transform housing, educational systems, and create jobs – to draw people back to the community.

Meadows said he thinks he can make that approach work in Omaha. And, he’s making himself an example. He moved back to the city after working in Atlanta, and he said if they can get the housing developments built, he would live there in a heartbeat.

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