Reinvesting in North Omaha: An Inertia of Activity


February 18th, 2016

Part III

Supporters say the partnership between the City and 75 North will help combat the stigma North Omaha has nothing to offer. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)

Supporters say the partnership between the City and 75 North will help combat the stigma North Omaha has nothing to offer. (Photo by Ryan Robertson, KVNO News)

 Click here for Part I, here for Part II

Robertson: This week on KVNO News we’ve been talking about reinvestment in North Omaha. (If you haven’t listened, here are Parts One and Two from this series)

Quick synopsis: There is around $2.5 billion of investment coming to the area, and 75 North, a local nonprofit, is laying the groundwork of what a successful public/private partnership could look like.

McDermott: But it’s hard to wrap your mind around just how much of an impact this investment could have without first understanding how North Omaha is viewed today.

For starters, the poverty rate for blacks in North Omaha is around 31 percent, more than twice the national average (15.4%). Now just for perspective, to be considered living in poverty a family of four has to make less than $24,250. From a crime perspective, Omaha has been called the most dangerous place in America to be a black male. In any given year around half of all the murders in Nebraska, are committed in North Omaha.

Robertson: But City Council president Ben Gray says despite all of that his neighborhood is not all that different than any other Neighborhood.

Most of our streets are quiet. Most of our folks a law abiding. Most of our folks who work hard. Some of them work harder than they probably should but they don’t get advantages that some other people get. But if you drive through our neighborhoods at night like you drive through other neighborhoods it like you’re going to see the same thing.

McDermott: Patricia “Big Mama’ Barron is a North Omaha native. She owns two restaurants there and was featured on the Food Network. She says despite that notoriety, when she talks to new customers, some are told:

‘Don’t go north of Cuming Street. Stay out of North Omaha.’ So I’m hoping that with what development is coming in North Omaha that that’s going to help distill all that. That people will look at like they look at any other part of the city and come down and take part in what’s going on here.”

Robertson: And it’s that idea of making North Omaha look like the rest of the city, that is really starting to take hold as this redevelopment continues. New buildings designed for mixed use, things like retail and housing, new and better paying jobs and schools that teach kids what they will need to succeed both in and out of the classroom.

Brandon, when we started this reporting project, you said and Big Mama echoed this as well, that growing up in North Omaha you felt like almost a second class citizen, Barron said a ‘step child.’

McDermott: You’re right, Ryan, there hasn’t been this type of investment in North Omaha, since the race riots in 1969. Decades worth of disillusionment has led many North Omaha residents to believing things will not get better. City council President Ben Gray says that mentality is evidenced by consistent low voter turnout.

The other city council districts can boast 17,000-25,000 registered voters who turn out to vote and in my last election we turned out a little more than 7,000. We’re not helping ourselves with that.

Robertson: That’s why Gray says a project like 75 North really is a game changer. Because for the first time with $100 of million worth of investment at stake, there is a black man from North Omaha making the decisions on how to help black businesses, black contractors and black families in North Omaha.

McDermott: That man is 75 North Executive Director, Othello Meadows. He says the redevelopment of North Omaha is very personal to him. Because when the time came for him to find a home for him and his wife:

There was not a single place that I could’ve convinced my wife to live in. The feeling that you have when you have to move outside of your neighborhood to feel comfortable or that you are experiencing the same level of quality that is where disillusionment comes from, the feeling there is nothing good enough in my community for me. We were really focused on making people in that neighborhood to feel like this is a place to be, a place to raise my kids for them to get their education. This is as good as anywhere else.

Robertson: When places are as good as anywhere else, developers want to build there. Council President Ben Gray says he’s been talking to a developer from Kansas City who wants to redevelop the area just east of the 75 North development.

Once you create an inertia of activity, that activity tends to feed off of itself if you are successful and if you are doing it right. So 75 North is a game-changer for that as well as for the possibilities what education ought to look like.

McDermott: By addressing the core issues which create generational poverty namely a lack of jobs, education and an economic system that appear to be set against blacks, Gray says the symptoms of poverty, violence and disillusionment can finally become a thing of the past. And North Omaha can finally look like the rest of the city, modern buildings, good paying jobs and a strong local economy.

Robertson: Because all of the people we talked to and the research agrees – you cannot wipeout generational poverty in an area without full and complete economic inclusion of the people from that area.

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