In the heart of downtown Omaha, one of the city’s best-known public spaces soon will reopen with an array of attractions.
Omaha’s newly renovated Gene Leahy Mall will feature a performance pavilion that offers 50,000 square feet of green space, a sculpture garden running parallel to Douglas Street, water features similar to those seen in the old park flowing on the eastern end, and the park’s iconic metal and concrete slides standing near the Burlington Building.
Officials with the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which is managing the park renovations for the city, offered a look Monday at the mall, which is set to reopen July 1.
Work on the park began in March 2019 as part of a $325 million public-private overhaul of Omaha’s three riverfront parks. Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing are in earlier stages of renovation.
“A little over three years ago, we were here for the groundbreaking,” said Roger Dixon, MECA’s president and CEO. “In less than a month, Gene Leahy Mall will be open to the public with some great things that no other parks in the city offers currently.”
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Dixon walked alongside Katie Bassett, vice president of parks for MECA, as Bassett led reporters on a tour of the park Monday.
Event lawn, performance pavilion
Among the prominent features of the park’s renovation is the performance pavilion, which caps the eastern end of a 50,000-square-foot lawn. The space can be used for festivals, picnics and recreation.
The pavilion will be lit from the interior, offering a beacon of light for the park’s visitors after dark.
Officials have said the park will feature daily, weekly and monthly events that should keep the park vibrant and populated throughout each day.
The RiverFront Pavilion will be the site of a long weekend of free events, activities and concerts to commemorate the redesigned mall’s grand opening.
Tony and Emmy winner Kristin Chenoweth will headline the opening celebration concert at 8 p.m. July 1.
Country music star Brett Eldredge takes over for a July 2 concert with special guest Lauren Alaina, also starting at 8 p.m.
On July 3, the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s theater department will present the musical “Fame” at 8 p.m. The next night, July 4, the Omaha Symphony will present a “Salute to Our Military” at 8 p.m., to be followed by fireworks.
Sculpture garden will feature public artwork
A five-piece sculpture garden is planned for the north end of the park, along Douglas Street.
Through a partnership with local art gallery Kaneko, each of the five art pieces will be rotated out of the sculpture garden after three years.
A permanent installation of a 26-foot-tall sculpture by London-based artist Yinka Shonibare already can be seen in the park just south of Douglas Street. A reflection pool soon will be built around the piece.
Video projection, color-changing lights, sound systems and an LED panel beneath the 10th Street bridge will bring a touch of digital tech to the public park.
Event organizers will have the ability to project videos onto the Burlington Building and onto the performance pavilion.
Lighting designers have prioritized safety and fostering a welcoming environment, Bassett said.
“This is a very unique and very exciting feature to have here,” Bassett said. “It provides an extra element in the digital age to really kick it up a notch.”
Modern playground, historic slides
Installed next to Omaha’s historic metal and concrete slides are three new slides, meant to be easily accessible to all.
Along the southern edge of the park, halfway between 10th and 13th Streets, a large orange arch sits atop a playground structure. The playground will include a rope forest, a wooden deck for climbing and a rock wall.
Near the playground, a public bathroom will be open during park hours, between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m.
Dog park, water features
On the east end of the park, near 10th Street, a large pond and the Cascades, an interactive water feature that will shoot water and change colors, are taking shape.
A dog park between Eighth Street and a city-owned parking garage near Ninth Street will include turf grass, a doggy seesaw and a tunnel.
In the same area, a smaller pavilion with a 20-foot-by-40-foot shade structure will be available to the public when performances aren’t happening.
With the end in sight for the mall’s remodel, crews are in the early stages of overhauling Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing.
Lewis & Clark Landing and Heartland of America Park are expected to reopen in 2023. Lewis & Clark will open first, followed by Heartland of America.