South Omaha group rallies support for $25 million for Plaza de la Raza makeover

South Omaha group rallies support for $25 million for Plaza de la Raza makeover

Updated: 1 month, 2 days, 19 hours, 59 minutes, 21 seconds ago

South Omaha organizations planning to redevelop the historic Plaza de la Raza and its surroundings are trying to rally support for the project and for $25 million in economic recovery grant funding it has been recommended to receive.

And State Sen. Tony Vargas said Monday he will "fight like hell" to make sure that state Economic Recovery Act money goes to projects, including the plaza redevelopment, that can transform economically hard-hit parts of Nebraska.

The Latino Economic Development Council proposes to remake the plaza, a parking lot at 24th and N Streets that doubles as a festival grounds, into an actual entertainment, festival and business area. The plaza project is part of a larger plan that includes business and workforce development, new housing and a parking garage.

The whole project would cost an estimated $94 million, leaders said at a press conference Monday. The plaza makeover, to include a new performance stage, community cultural center, playground and other amenities, could be done for $25 million.

The project has been recommended to receive $25 million out of the $335 million that the Nebraska Legislature approved last year in the Economic Recovery Act, LB 1024. Most of the money comes from federal government COVID recovery funds.

Most of the money recommended for North and South Omaha projects by a process conducted by a state-contracted engineering firm has yet to be formally awarded. Monday's press conference, on the heels of a similar event last week promoting all South Omaha projects, came as concerns have arisen that the money recommended for South and North Omaha projects may get diverted elsewhere during the current legislative session.

Vargas said he has heard those concerns in Lincoln. He noted that the recommendations for the South Omaha projects were made by contractor Olsson Engineering after a rigorous process.

"This is proactively making sure that the state of Nebraska, the City of Omaha, our constituents and this community understand how important it is to follow through on projects just like this," Vargas said. "There's a reason why Olsson identified it as a priority transformational project."

Marcos Mora, Cinco de Mayo Omaha executive director and a member of the Latino Economic Development Council, said the group needs philanthropic and other support to make the entire project — called Adelante II — happen.

But he said they would be able to complete the plaza project as a first phase of the overall plan if the $25 million in federal and state money comes through. Mora said the group has a detailed financial plan and is working with RDG Planning and Design, Kiewit and other firms. The Douglas County Board has committed $500,000 in federal recovery funds to the project.

Vargas said he is confident the group can get the plaza done with the $25 million and plans to defend it and other South Omaha projects in Lincoln.

"I'm not letting this, and I know my committee members, are not going to let this go by the wayside," Vargas said of the Economic Recovery Act money. "We're gonna fight like hell to make sure that it's getting to the most transformational projects, projects like this."

Iztel Lopez, president of Latino Economic Development Council, said the economic recovery money and funds "from other individuals and donors, for these multi-faceted projects, combined with the enterprise and resiliency of our district's people and businesses, will reinvigorate South Omaha."

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* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy. Christopher Burbach

Chris Burbach covers the Douglas County Board, Planning Board and other local government bodies, as well as local neighborhood issues. Follow him on Twitter @chrisburbach. Phone: 402-444-1057.

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