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Development Boom in Omaha Is a Game Changer for Meetings and Conventions
Rendering of downtown Omaha convention district updates
Think you know Omaha, Nebraska? You might want to think again.
This Heartland hub is in the midst of a major evolution that will change the face of meetings and conventions. To date, the city has pumped more than $4.6 billion into developing, enhancing and modernizing Omaha’s convention district, riverfront and more, which will give group gatherings in town a new allure.
Additionally, new luxury and boutique hotel brands are coming online, restaurants and bars are in abundance, and walkable green spaces and outdoor pavilions are breathing fresh air into the whole downtown scene.
“I’ve been here 16 years and I’m amazed at how Omaha keeps evolving,” said Cathy Keller, vice president of sales and services for Visit Omaha. “It’s unbelievable…and especially during this pandemic, it’s a game changer for us.”
These developments have been largely focused on tourism, Keller said, helping the city to evolve as a meetings destination. “It’s touching everything—from the airport and then carrying right down to the downtown convention district,” Keller said, noting that the airport (OMA)—which is 4 miles from the convention district—is undergoing a $500 million transformation.
While bookings slowed down in Omaha in 2020, much like the rest of the world because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the virus didn’t derail the city’s ambitious development plans. As the pandemic wanes and news starts to spread about Omaha’s new offerings, Keller says her team is seeing the booking pace pick up.
“Last year we had zero bookings in March. This March we have booked a lot of short-term business; 18 meetings and 11 of those are for 2021,” noted Keller in the beginning of April, also adding that sports events have helped the city stay afloat in the interim.
There’s so much that’s new to see in Omaha, that it’s almost overwhelming. To help sort through the most exciting, new developments for meetings, here’s a breakdown of what’s in the pipeline.
Beginning with the November 2020 opening of the Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel, which is housed in a 1920s-era building in the city’s historic Blackstone District, Omaha is gearing up to open a slew of luxury and boutique properties that offer unique venues for meetings.
Highlights of Kimpton Cottonwood Hotel’s $75 million renovation and rebrand include 205 guest rooms, over 13,000 square feet of meeting space, and diverse F&B options where you can try the hotel’s signature Reuben sandwich, which was invented at the building’s original Blackstone Hotel.
Other notable openings include:
- The Farnam Hotel, Autograph Collection: This 120-room boutique property in downtown Omaha is the first Autograph Collection property in town and opens in May. It has over 6,800 square feet of meeting and event space and is less than a mile from the convention center.
- The Peregrine Downtown Omaha, Curio Collection by Hilton: A 1914 Omaha landmark has been transformed into the new Peregrine, which is an 89-room Art Deco boutique hotel in Hilton’s Curio Collection. The hotel, which opened in 2019, is home to the only rooftop bar in the city and has 1,300 square feet of event space.
- Hotel Indigo: The bootlegging business once flourished in the hills of Omaha, breeding Prohibition-era underground vaults and tunnels that now make up parts of the historic Hotel Indigo Downtown Omaha in the city’s Old Market district. The hotel has just 300 feet of meeting space but sits a mile away from the convention center and blocks away from Nebraska’s largest art museum.
The new additions bring the total hotel rooms to 3,300-plus in the downtown area, with over 10,000 throughout the city. And while the new properties don’t bring eye-popping meeting space square footage, Keller noted that planners can work with hotel staff to utilize the hotels’ unique spaces for special events, like a rental of The Peregrine’s rooftop bar, for example. The introduction of these properties also adds variety to Omaha’s booking offerings, with something special for a group of any size.
“For groups, we have everything from rooms for 10 to the convention center,” Keller emphasized.
The rise of multi-use complexes and districts in Omaha are providing highly walkable experiences for visitors, with event facilities, restaurants, bars, hotels and shops all within easy reach. This is a big advantage for meeting and convention attendees, providing accessible and fun after-hours activities, plus making it easy on the planners by eliminating transportation logistics and headaches. Some of the most notable examples include:
- Downtown Riverfront: A $300 million transformation of Omaha’s riverfront is underway, which is part of a larger effort between community leaders from both Omaha and neighboring Council Bluffs, Iowa, to improve both sides of the Missouri River. Omaha’s 90-acre project includes a large green space in the heart of downtown with a performance pavilion, sculpture gardens, park-side cafes, urban beach, boardwalk and a $101 million Omaha Discovery Center dedicated to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
- The Capitol District: This recently completed $200 million project sits directly across the convention center, adding a 333-room high-rise Omaha Marriott Downtown at The Capitol District and many restaurant and bar options for convention attendees.
- The Crossroads: A former shopping mall is getting a makeover into a $500 million entertainment district, which will include a pavilion for outdoor events and performances, restaurants, shops and more. Completion is scheduled for 2024.
- The Row at Heartwood Reserve: A 500-acre downtown-style district is coming to West Omaha. The $500 million development will include new restaurants, shops and a hotel.
Aside from multi-use districts, Omaha continues to add new group options for teambuilding and offsite excursions, like the new $23 million Topgolf and forthcoming $109 million Omaha Performing Arts live music venue in 2023.
Bottom line? There’s an incredible amount of options coming for groups in Omaha, and it only continues to grow.
“No matter where you look, there’s development,” Keller said. “It gives the meeting planner options—we have something for everyone.”
Developments Across the River in Council Bluffs
Council Bluffs, Iowa, borders the east side of the Missouri River, opposite Omaha, where the two cities are connected by the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. It, too, is pumping dollars into revitalizing its riverfront.
Restoration began in 2007, and a new park, bridge, pavilion and office buildings and residential spaces followed—and more is on the way.
Phase Four of the project was revealed this spring, which will bring an observation tower and climbing adventure course complete with a climbing wall, zipline, ropes course and more. Additionally, woodland restoration is planned, with hiking trails to be created, and a pier for water experiences. Estimated completion of Phase Four is scheduled roughly for 2024.
Prior to Phase Four, Council Bluffs installed the River’s Edge Pavilion, which has been popular with groups. The two-story pavilion is available for private rentals, and its patio and rooftop deck offer scenic views of the Missouri River and Omaha skyline.
“Ten years ago, the riverfront was a wooded and underutilized area,” said Council Bluffs Mayor Matt Walsh in a press release from City of Council Bluffs. “Today we have award-winning public spaces, trail connections, commercial development, and the progress will continue.”
An additional newcomer to the Council Bluffs meeting scene is the Hoff Family Arts & Culture Center. The four-story, 95,000-square-foot facility opened in February 2020 and houses classrooms, artist studios, exhibition galleries, teaching kitchens and a 280-seat theater. The center also has event spaces for live music, meetings and more.
Council Bluffs Convention & Visitors Bureau
Read this next: Omaha and Council Bluffs Offer After-Hours Fun for Groups