Gene Leahy Mall at The RiverFront

  • Location
    Omaha, NE
  • Completion Date
    July 2022
  • Size
    14.8 acres
  • Team
    Design Lead, Master Plan, Landscape Architecture: OJB Landscape Architecture
    Civil, Environmental, Architectural, Structural, Public Involvement, Transportation, Permitting, Bridge: HDR
    Construction Management: Kiewit
    Architecture: Gensler
    Lighting Design: Atelier Ten
    Specialty Lighting: MR Global
    Water Feature Design: Fluidity
    Environmental Graphic Design: RSM Design
    Play Consultant: Studio Ludo
    Mechanical/Electrical/Plumbing Engineering: Alvine Engineering
    Soil Science: Pine and Swallow
    Site Structures: ADBC Architecture & Engineering
    Geotechnical Engineering and Special Inspections: Terracon
    Restoration Ecologist: RES (formerly Applied Ecological Services)
    Parking Consultant: Walker Consultants
    Irrigation: Water Scape
    Survey and Platting: Lamp Rynearson Associates
    ADA Consultant: Marx | Okubo
  • Awards
    • 2021: Envision Platinum Award for Sustainability, Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure – The RiverFront Revitalization Master Plan
    • 2023: Gene Leahy Mall Honored with ASLA National Honor Award for Design
    • 2023: The Riverfront Honored with Metropolis Planet Positive Award
    • 2024: The RiverFront Recognized with Congress for the New Urbanism Award
    • 2024: The RiverFront is a Finalist in A+ Awards Best Public Park
    • 2024:The RiverFront is Shortlisted for 2024 ULI Open Space Award
  • Photography
    MECA, Dan Schwalm, Jeff Durkin
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Gene Leahy Mall sits in the heart of downtown Omaha. Its renovation and reimagining is an essential component of the Riverfront Revitalization Master Plan, which reconnects the downtown Omaha and Council Bluffs park systems to the Missouri River for the first time in several generations. Constructed in 1977, the 14.8-acre park was built in a wave of urban revitalization that brought green space to the center of the city. As the downtown changed, the steep edges of the sunken park with a meandering lagoon at its center presented challenges of access and activation.

Revitalization is centered on the impetus for a more active place, with diverse social and recreational areas. The mall site is re-graded to return pedestrian access at the street level, and organized around a formal body of water, including a central event lawn and performance pavilion, multi-use social spaces, a sculpture garden, a dog park, an iconic children’s play area, an interactive water feature, restrooms, and a games area. Water-efficient irrigation, bioretention facilities, and specialized soils ensure the long-term health of the native and drought-tolerant trees and plantings parkwide. Once complete, the necklace of public spaces will once again connect downtown to the riverfront.

Although a large-scale project, it links appropriately to the surrounding open spaces and community edges while gracefully dividing the land into unique and meaningful places. The grand gestures are well-scaled, highly social, and memorable.” – 2023 ASLA Honor Award Jury Citation

The bright orange arches are the focal point of the play area. Decking weaves throughout the space, with tunnels, slides, and a rope forest below. All play areas incorporate an element of risk within their design, which is crucial in the development of young brains.

Accessible for a wide range of ages and abilities, the Arches are a destination for unstructured play, inviting children to unleash their imagination and engage in limitless playtime adventures.

The big slides are one of the prominent features of the original 1970’s-era Gene Leahy Mall design. Reimagined for a new audience, the restored slides are paired with smaller slides for younger children. Knitting together the two areas are natural stone elements for climbing.

Designed to support concerts, events and community celebrations of all kinds, the Performance Pavilion anchors a large green lawn, one of the only areas of grass in the park. An integral lighting, rigging and sound system allows for seamless events that help support the park’s operations.

Native prairie plants comprise the main character of the landscape, with significant soil improvements that enhance the ability to sequester carbon and reduce runoff. A a wide range of native and adapted tree species diversify the city’s urban forest canopy and mitigate heat island effect.