After a senator submitted a progress report, members of the Omaha Metro Builders Association told the Nebraska examiner that they were ready to do their part in getting the project across the finish line.
This could include promoting the value of the proposed seven-mile sandy lagoon within their industry and at more public events such as Street of Dreams.
“There is tremendous opportunity for private development and not necessarily just along the shoreline,” said former MOBA President Greg Frazell of G. Lee Homes. “Nebraska needs something—and we’ll never have mountains.”
on the big screen
Frazelle was among 150 MOPA members who heard Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha make some highlights of the Big Lake proposal that emerged last year from a special legislative study.
Led by Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln, that study and the “STARWARS” committee explored ways to boost recreation, economic development, and population. (The acronym stands for Statewide Commission on Tourism, Recreational Water Access, and Resource Sustainability.)
McDonnell admitted to several steps prior to any approval, including voting on the site.
Put water anywhere and a house next to it – it’s as good as gold.
– Ryan Krejci, Member of the Board of Directors of MOBA and Ideal Designs Custom Homes
But he presented a conceptual plan highlighting the so-called preferred location for the lake carving, between Nebraska’s two largest cities, next to the Lower Platte River at Interstate 6 and Interstate 80.
Early estimates put the investment at over $1 billion, with the bulk coming from private investment.
McDonnell told the MOBA group that met last Thursday at the Elkhorn Theater that the economic impact of the preferred location could be as high as $1.83 billion. He said East Shore alone would generate $525 million in real estate value if it were valued like Lake Okoboji.
“through the roof”
Frontier Builders’ Brett Clark, the current head of the MOBA, said in an interview that he sees “years and years” of continued development if the lake materializes.
“I think you’ll see demand through the roof for those lakefront properties,” he said, adding that there is a thirst locally for more luxury homes priced at $1 million and up.
Ryan Krejci, owner of Ideal Designs Custom Homes, noted high demand in one of the new lakefront subdivisions west of Omaha, where a lot on its own can sell for $400,000 or more.
He said: “Put water anywhere and a house next to it – it is as good as gold.”
Krejci, Clarke and other MOBA board members said, though, that they only see the vision succeeding with public access to water, a variety of housing options and less expensive homes on the lake’s edge and in surrounding areas.
Clark pointed to Lakes Okoboji and the Ozarks, saying that these lakes offered dwellings of all kinds within a stone’s throw.
“A lake of this size would accommodate all kinds of people — and a lot of people,” Clark said.
Keep the Nebraska “vibe”.
He believes the selling point will be to preserve the character of surrounding cities like Ashland.
Said Clark: “If this place is getting too commercial, I don’t think it fits the vibe here (in Nebraska).”
However, he and others point to the potential for commercial development that could include cake shops, restaurants, boutiques, other retailers, and entertainment.
In his PowerPoint presentation, McDonnell referred to a study by Omaha-based design, architecture, and engineering firm HDR that imagined how land west of 234th Street could be developed.
The vision included a light rail station, a technical campus, a corporate campus, and habitat restoration.
New marinas, parks, walking trails, campaign land, and affordable housing were also among the list of mixed-use developments.
Back to 1896
Although the idea of a reservoir has permeated for decades—until 1896, McDonnell said—the latest iteration has caught on in part because it doesn’t include the Platte Dam and because the state has excess funds and federal stimulus funds.
The prospect of the lake has drawn some criticism, in part from people worried about being kept off their property by eminent domain. This is a legal avenue that the government can use to force the sale of land for public purposes. The fear is that the owners will receive less than what their homes and lands are worth.
McDonnell told the builders’ group that he saw eminent domain as a possible path: “Is eminent domain going to be taken off the table? No it’s not. And it won’t be by me.”
He added, “But do we want to use it? No, we don’t.”
McDonnell said the committee promised to look at sites other than those discussed, an expanse of flat farmland and sand pits near Lenuma Beach in Sarpi County.
“We’re in the process of bringing the legislation forward in January to discuss some of that equity on the potential future value of the acre, as well as the idea of other sites that we could look at,” he said.
boon to the economy
A bill signed into law in the last legislative session allocated $20 million to study whether a large lake is even possible and allocated another $26 million for construction.
Asked about the time frame, McDonnell told the group six or seven years, if the site within reach was approved by the legislature.
Officials with the Lincoln Water System and the Metropolitan Utility District, both of which have well fields near the lake’s preferred location for drinking water withdrawal, have previously expressed concerns and called for further study on the potential impact of groundwater quality and quantity.
Dave Vogtman, another MOBA board member who also represents the Home Company, said builders are waiting for the project to go further to understand how they can fit in better.
“I think it’s just going to be a boon for the local economy, Lincoln and Omaha,” he said, noting how many Nebraskans leave the state to enjoy other bodies of water.
MOBA members envision the Lincoln Peer House Builders Association also participating in an effort to align the Nebraskans and construction and development industries behind the Big Lake.
He said Clarke’s concern is that the country could hold back in the face of challenges and that the project is not reaching its “full potential” in terms of scale, tax valuation, economic development and building opportunity.
“I hope they go for it,” Clark said.
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