For Barry Zoob, the fact that Omaha is seeing a steady stream of commercial sales, leases and new construction is not surprising. The Nebraska city started its real estate recovery back in 2010, said Zoob, senior vice president in the Omaha office of Colliers International. And that recovery hasn’t slowed since.
“Omaha has been on a positive trajectory ever since,” Zoob said. “I wouldn’t say that we’re seeing more activity today than we were last year or the year before. Both of those years were strong ones, too.”
Zoob isn’t alone in this thought. Commercial real estate pros working the Omaha market say that their city’s commercial real estate industry remains a strong one. Many say there isn’t a city in the United States that has fared better through the United States.
What’s Omaha’s secret? Why has it been so resilient to the bad times?
Omaha was impacted by the Great Recession, of course. Business and commercial deals did slow. But Omaha has enough positives so that the slowdown was tempered.
For instance, there’s a thriving downtown here, anchored by TD Ameritrade Park, a baseball park that serves as the home of the College World Series. Anyone who’s been to Omaha during this event knows the life that the series and the stadium have brought to the city. There’s also the nearby presence of Creighton University, a major university that brings students — and plenty of multi-family housing — to the area.
Omaha’s Aksarben Village is thriving, too. This entertainment and shopping community is home to shops, restaurants, bars, bicycle trails and green space. Then there’s a Sterling Ridge, a 150-acre mixed-use development rising from the site of the former Ironwood Golf Course.
And the best news? Omaha’s brokers say that the activity here is showing no signs of slowing.
“There is an upbeat overarching attitude by commercial users and investors both in Omaha right now,” said Dave Maenner, vice president with CBRE|MEGA in Omaha. “People are sensing that the economy is on the mend. That is creating an upbeat attitude.”
This is reflected in the latest office report compiled by Omha’s Investors Realty. Though the start of 2013 hasn’t seen many large office deals, this is a situation that looks ready to change. According to the report, Investors Realty is currently tracking 29 large office tenants in the Omaha area who are seking a total of 750,000 to 850,000 square feet of space over the next 30 months.
The report says that 23 of these users are expected to secure about 300,000 square feet of office space in the next six to nine months. This indicates that the Omaha office market will be busy in the coming months.
Investors Realty also brings good news on the multi-family sector. The company counts about 1,200 apartment units now in construction in the Omaha area. Investors Realty says that there are another 2,600 to 3,000 multi-family units in the planning phase and slated to open in 2014 and 2015.
A good example of Omaha’s new multi-family inventory is the The Highline. This project brought 194 new apartment units to Omaha. NuStyle Development transformed the former Northern Natural Gas office building, which many Omaha residents considered a bit of an eyesore, into what is now a high-end apartment building.
“Fortunately, Omaha’s economy is very robust, and there isn’t a weak sector in the market,” said R.J. Neary, owner of Investors Realty.
Zoob says that Omaha’s business diversity has helped the city survive the slow economy, with some publications saying that Omaha survived the Great Recession better than any other city in the country. Zoob pointed to Omaha’s strong base in insurance and healthcare businesses. The finance business has a strong presence here, and Omaha is now attracting a large number of tech companies.
“So many national companies have had the choice of expanding in other markets or staying in Omaha. Usually, they choose Omaha,” Zoob said. “We have affordable rents here. We have a business-friendly environment and a high quality of living. And Omaha has historically been a city that has been able to avoid being battered by a very down market. Businesses like that stability.”