Gene Leahy Mall: Love letter to Omaha 

By MariellaVirgillito 

Gene Leahy Mall is the first of three phases of Omaha’s RiverFront Revitalization Project. Over the past four years, MECA’s (the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority) non-profit organization has worked on the renovation and redevelopment of the riverfront parks in Omaha. MECA builds and manages public event venues in Omaha to preserve the history and character of the community. 

Gene Leahy Mall, named after Gene Leahy, Omaha’s mayor from 1969-1973, is just 13 acres of the 72-acre project. With more parks to come, Gene Leahy Mall was the first to open as its unveiling was in July 2022. The renovator’s total price tag was $325 million with $50 million coming from funds from the city of Omaha and the remaining $275 million came from private investors in the community. 

Gene Leahy Mall in Downtown Omaha. Photo by MariellaVirgillito

Before the renovations, the mall itself has been a part of Downtown Omaha since the 1970s. “The old Gene Leahy Mall made for a pretty picture, but it was not quite made for human use, especially in the way we use parks these days,” Kristyna Engdahl, the Director of Communications at MECA, said. 

The redesign definitively aimed to change that. 

Many barriers kept people from using the park. Some people thought the park, which spans from 13th to 8th streets between Douglas and Farnam street, was dark and scary after dusk, and others felt the slanted design made it inaccessible to those with disabilities. “These hurdles helped us at MECA understand the need for adjustments so people could feel safe enough to use the space and partake in all of the activities that Gene Leahy Mall has to offer,” Engdahl said.

For example, the improvement of the lagoons and inaccessible slope design helped to create event spaces that are great for activation in concerts, activities, and even gathering with friends to hang out comfortably. 

Engdahl said, “MECA’s goals for the park were to provide a space for community building, where people could take advantage of the park by meeting for coffee, morning walks, and a place where people could unite in their common interests.” 

“The other day I was walking through Gene Leahy Mall with my family and there were all sorts of activities and people walking around me,” Emma Koch ‘24 said. “Someone asked me to join their church… Gene Leahy is an amazing space and I am excited to see the redevelopment of the riverfront parks in Omaha,” Koch said. 

Gene Leahy Mall creates a bridge between the special elements of Omaha including north Downtown Omaha and the Old Market. The renovations changed the energy of the places around it which were previously quiet and inactive.

“We have the privilege of surprising tourists when they see all of the wonderful amenities that are available in Omaha,” Engdahl said.

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