The RiverFront is a centralized gathering place for locals, and a space where visitors can feel like a local, too. This public park serves as a gateway between the historic Old Market and north downtown Omaha while providing a scenic pathway down to the Missouri River’s shore. Already The RiverFront has spurred additional transformation in downtown Omaha with new restaurants and retail space popping up in the surrounding areas, increasing vibrancy of the city’s core. While modernization has been a primary goal of the redesign, The RiverFront also honors the area’s past by preserving beloved structures, protecting storied buildings and rehabilitating aging fixtures. Between flourishing native landscaping, robust public art and recreational diversity, The RiverFront has something for everyone.
The RiverFront was made possible thanks to community generosity. A remarkable public-private partnership helped to fund the $325 million project, with $50 million contributed by the City of Omaha and the remaining balance donated by local philanthropists. This advantageous approach ensured the project’s expediency and provided an important investment in the city’s future.
While it’s owned by the City of Omaha, The RiverFront is privately managed by the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA). MECA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that also operates the CHI Health Center Omaha arena and convention center and Charles Schwab Field Omaha ballpark, both located in the north downtown area. MECA oversees the everyday activation and maintenance of The RiverFront, while providing oversight of park operations and security.
The design and vision for The RiverFront came from the award-winning minds at OJB Landscape Architecture. By examining the existing territory and acknowledging current hurdles, a new concept took shape placing a renewed emphasis on open, accessible space and groundbreaking components. Local experts with Omaha-based HDR helped to navigate numerous engineering obstacles, with the highly talented team from Kiewit Infrastructure Group ensuring the construction timeline and completion. Multiple design consultants dreamed up some of The RiverFront’s most unique and headlining features to include Gensler architecture firm, Safdie Rabines Architects, Atelier Ten, Fluidity, Alvine Engineering, Applied Ecological Services Inc. and RSM Design.
In addition, several Omaha-area subcontractors provided imperative contributions throughout the construction process including Lanoha Nurseries, Miller Electric, Outdoor Recreation Products, C2 and Shawmark Concrete. The RiverFront could not have become a reality without the local workforce’s valuable participation.
The RiverFront’s intentional design includes welcoming vast park spaces, extraordinary destinations such as the Arches Playground, Cascades interactive water feature and the Skate Ribbon, along with deliberately maintained facilities. By providing enriching activities and unifying programming, The RiverFront provides a foundation for community connection, all anchored by the peacefully meandering Missouri River and its boundless resources.
From design to construction and everyday operations, sustainability is a primary goal of The RiverFront. Upon its inception as the Riverfront Revitalization Project, a concerted effort prioritized limitation of environmental impact while assuring the park would be functional for generations to come. Additionally, utilization of local talent and regionally sourced materials has ensured maximization of resources.
Throughout renovations of Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing, many community assets were preserved, restored or repurposed, some even redistributed into various parts of the city. Items such as artwork, benches and handrails were upcycled for continued use; limestone has been carefully removed and is being utilized in another city park; and pallets of bricks were collected and stored for preservation of the Old Market’s historic cobblestone streets. Other pieces, such as existing boardwalk pallets, are being reused in parts of The RiverFront.
Along with the addition of open and accessible green space in the heart of downtown Omaha, The RiverFront also improves connectivity and navigation of the city’s core. A comprehensive trail system enhances mobility throughout the three parks and creates a distinct pathway to the Missouri River. The addition of widened sidewalks, targeted crosswalks, enhanced walkways, bicycle lanes, bicycle-sharing programs and pedestrian bridges create a broad ease of movement while enhancing the connection between south and north Omaha. Recycling receptacles and water-bottle refilling stations are also available at The RiverFront.
Prioritization of sustainability also guarantees vitality of The RiverFront, its amenities and infrastructure. Before the addition of new features and improvements, the construction team updated aging foundational elements to support long-term functionality so that fountains may bubble, playgrounds can dazzle and landscaping flourishes for the foreseeable future.
Even the simplicity of tree and plant selection within The RiverFront demonstrates a commitment to longevity. Primary landscaping components were grown in the Omaha metropolitan area before their transplant into the park. Native flora is being reintroduced into this area for the benefit of territorial wildlife. Additionally, these plant species are best suited to survive in Nebraska’s volatile climate, minimizing replacements and encouraging successful establishment. The RiverFront’s greenery and flowers have been selected to attract pollinators, songbirds and the various fauna that make up a strong riverside ecosystem.
In late 2021, The RiverFront became the first project in the state of Nebraska to receive an Envision award from the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI), among only about 40 projects around the world to achieve a Platinum Verification. This certification confirms a pledge to resilient and equitable infrastructure.
The RiverFront landscape design creates a colorful, richly textured four-seasons oasis by thoughtfully combining familiar garden plants with hardy native selections. Throughout the park’s 72-acres, about 1,500 trees have been planted, over 100,000 different plants rooted and countless yards of specialty engineered soils have been placed to ensure that The RiverFront is a thriving green space, with year-round visual appeal.
A total of 15 tree varieties were hand selected for The RiverFront considering their size, form and structure, transplanted from farms throughout the Omaha metropolitan area. In the heart of the park, visitors can seek shade in a mixed canopy of birch, locust, oak, maple and elm trees with serviceberries and hawthorns providing seasonal accents along the park’s perimeter. Some trees provide charming spring flowers while others produce brilliant fall foliage, lining great lawns and beautifully curated beds.
The RiverFront also features 55 species of shrubs, grasses, perennials and even aquatic plants, specifically arranged in varying combinations to create intentional garden “rooms” around the park. This includes salt-tolerant plants that border streetscapes and roadways, water-loving varietals in the storm water basins and an assortment of flowering selections to complement the blooming Sculpture Garden.
With bustling concerts and a robust event schedule, the vitality of The RiverFront’s spanning lawn space was also an important consideration. A rhizomatous tall fescue is the turfgrass of choice, renowned for its vigorous growth, deep root systems, fine texture and, most importantly, high tolerance for traffic. Special soils were also trucked into The RiverFront during construction to provide a beneficial base for impending plant life, including a fiber additive to encourage strength while resisting compaction. The RiverFront landscape design also aims to revegetate much of the park space, recreating desirable habitats for some of the small wildlife that call the Missouri River home.
The construction of Heartland of America and Lewis and Clark Landing make the list of top ten projects to look forward to in 2023.
If you haven’t been to The RiverFront yet, you need to plan a trip to experience the incredible landscape taking shape in downtown Omaha.
The Chief Big Elk statue will be dedicated later this summer. Before it moves to its permanent home, the statue will be hosted at KANEKO downtown.
The mission to provide an inclusive, culturally enriching space at The RiverFront begins with the team behind-the-scenes. If you enjoy the energy of downtown Omaha, like being outdoors and welcome the opportunity to meet new people, then we want to hear from you! The RiverFront is currently hiring for multiple full – and part-time positions to help make park operations a success.
In conjunction with the City of Omaha and Downtown Riverfront Trust (DRT), the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA) manages the maintenance, operations and activation of the three parks within The RiverFront: Gene Leahy Mall, Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing. MECA is an Equal Opportunity Employer (EEO).
Click on the button below to learn about MECA’s current job openings. This list is frequently updated, so be certain to check back if you do not immediately see the right job for you!
The Gene Leahy Mall Cascades are Now Open!