Aksarben Village, 15 years in the making, is nearing the finish line

March 3, 2019: By Cindy Gonzalez / World-Herald staff writer

Noddle Cos. estimates that private investment within Aksarben Village has topped $630 million. Those involved since the onset say the project, boosted by tens of millions of public dollars, has exceeded expectations. Office and research space has doubled the amount projected to be built; the number of hotel rooms and residences also have surpassed early predictions.

HISTORY:

To better understand the land evolution near 67th and Center Streets, one can step back 25 years to when elite horse racing died at the longtime entertainment venue. Controversy soon erupted as diverging interests vied for control of Ak-Sar-Ben land then publicly owned by Douglas County.

One group wanted to restart racing in an effort that some suspected would lead to casino gambling. Business leaders resisted, instead supporting a sale to First Data Resources, which was looking for space to grow.

First Data bought the northern 140 acres of the Ak-Sar-Ben grounds in 1996 and subsequently donated a large chunk to the University of Nebraska for a high-tech learning campus featuring the Peter Kiewit and Scott Technology educational institutes and student dorms.

As community leaders in the mid-2000s pondered what to do with remaining land to the south, HDR’s Doug Bisson stepped up to say Omaha had the chance to be at the forefront of an emerging “new urbanism” trend of creating walkable neighborhoods inside cities.

At the time, he was a neighborhood representative on the board of the Ak-Sar-Ben Future Trust, a nonprofit that by then had acquired the former horse track and coliseum.

That idea of resurrecting the familiar grounds with a mix of residences, retailers, offices and entertainment resonated with community officials including Ken Stinson, chairman of the future trust. Said Stinson back then: “We were trying to do things that we couldn’t find in a cookbook.”

A handful of developers, with Noddle Cos. as lead, accepted the challenge to transform the 70 acres into a kind of pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use hub that was becoming the rage in urban parts elsewhere across the country, Bisson said.

Noddle recalls drawing up, in 2005, the first site proposal for what would become Aksarben Village. Actual construction launched in 2007 with the thought that it could take about 12 years to fill out between Center Street on the south, the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s south campus on the north, and from 63rd Street west to the Keystone Trail.

Looking back, Bert Hancock of Alchemy Development, who was among those original developers, said one of the most stunning results is the village’s allure as a home for corporate bases. “While I think everyone envisioned a strong employment base, the headquarters of HDRGreen Plains, Blue Cross, Right at Home, etc., have elevated Aksarben Village’s status as a major corporate center,” he said.

HDR’s near ten story headquarters located in Aksarben Village accompanied by a neighboring building with restaurants, businesses and offices near Mercy Road and south 67th Street in February.

NEW DEVELOPMENTS:

Earlier this year, engineering and architectural firm HDR held the grand opening of its 10-story global headquarters leased from the Noddle-Bradford partnership. Across the street, a five-story office building is rising and in January will be corporate headquarters for Right at Home.

That 100,000-square-foot building, a project of Magnum Development and McNeil Co., will have room for other tenants and retailers on the ground floor. It joins a city block within the village that also features a 10-screen movie theater, restaurants, bars and Pacific Life offices.

Other newbies headed to Aksarben Village:

A 110,000-square-foot, multitenant office building is to rise behind the new HDR headquarters, facing Frances Street, probably later this year, Noddle said. “We own the land, there is demand,” he said, though adding that construction won’t start before he secures an anchor tenant. The HDR parking garage will be enlarged to accommodate additional vehicles.

Noddle Cos. this year also plans to start building the village’s first for-sale homes. Called 64 Ave, the seven town houses along 64th Avenue north of Center will be about 1,600 square feet apiece, rise three floors and have two-car garages. This would be Noddle Cos.’ debut in the residential construction market.

Set to open this summer is the food, retail and entertainment alleyway between the HDR headquarters and its parking structure. The plaza will be called the Inner Rail, a nod to the area’s history as a racetrack. It’s gotten city approval to be an “entertainment district,” which will allow alcoholic drinks in the plaza.

Alchemy Development is to build two more housing projects, bringing on 124 units and $18 million in investment, to the southeast and northeast corners of the HDR headquarters block. One is to start this year, Hancock said. Alchemy already has 227 apartments at the village in Pinhook Flats and the Cue. (Broadmoor Development also has built hundreds of apartments at the village.)

Yet to be developed, Noddle said, is about seven acres next to HDR that’s reserved for its possible expansion, and a few other scattered pieces.

An aerial view of our new project in Aksarben Village

ZONE 6 APARTMENTS, AKSARBEN VILLAGE
64TH AVENUE AND FRANCES STREET OMAHA NE

HDR Tower, Aksarben Village

We are excited to announce our newest apartment project in Aksarben Village. The building will feature 62 studio, one and two-bedroom units. We expect completion in early 2021. This building will be adjacent to to our other projects Pinhook Flats and CUE Apartments.

We welcome our newest neighbors: 950 HDR employees now working at the the new eleven-story HDR Headquarters.

Apartment Development has a Big Lebowski Moment

By now, just about everyone knows the boiling frog metaphor. The business parable now sits among the regal pantheon of Vince Lombardi quotes, TedTalks about body postures, and the mystical epiphanies which occur when you gaze deeply in your Steve Jobs mirror. So let’s take the boiling frog story and give it a new level of sophistication. We’ll call it the Big Lebowski moment. This moment occurs when you are chilling out in your bathtub, just like The Dude. Your candles softly glow, the water is nice and warm, and you probably just had some help to induce your tranquil state.

The Dude Abides

For real estate developers, this can be like the construction phase of the project. You’ve done the heavy lifting of designing the building and gaining approvals from the city. You’ve negotiated the contracts and obtained your financing. You sit back a little and marvel as your dream leaps off the paper (or digital file) and becomes reality. This building is really happening. Sure, you will worry about the rogue subcontractor, the deadlines that may ebb and flow, and the weather, but if you’ve set yourself up with a well-planned project you will enjoy the next 18 months.

Once construction winds down, the stress starts kicking in. Will my glorious creature be the pony that every child wants to ride or do I have an old nag who buries its nose in clover when a rider approaches? Or, even worse, did I open one of those dodgy carnivals in a parking lot of a vacant retail strip center and my ponies just got quarantined by the Douglas County Health Department? Rents get adjusted, special lease incentives are offered, sweat beads appear on your brow and the pulse quickens. In Big Lebowski terms, The Nihilists have just arrived while you’re sitting in the tub, and they’ve started to break your stuff in the living room.

It gets worse. The Nihilists have brought a weasel with them (Hey, is that a marmot, man?). They throw the weasel in the bathtub. All hell breaks loose as the furry ferret turns into a screeching water snake keen on drawing blood from a sensitive region of the body. The tranquil tub becomes a frothing cauldron. For real estate developers, the angry weasel represents their debt. Real estate projects are highly dependent upon leverage. Most developers borrow 70% to 80% of their total project costs. Rising interest rates can threaten even the best developments.

Most construction loans have an interest-only period that terminate about 24 to 36 months after the start of construction. The end of the term is often referred to as the “conversion date”: the date at which the loan resets. On the conversion date, the interest rate adjusts to the current market level and the developer must begin paying some principal on the loan. For the past five years, rates have been in an innocuous range around 4%. Conversion dates came and went without much trepidation. Now, rates have risen dramatically. Many construction loans that were marked at LIBOR plus 3% two years ago will soon reset in a new and very weasel-ish world of 5% rates. One-year LIBOR sat at 1.73% in June of 2017, today it sits at 2.74%.

Well, that’s not so bad, you may say. After all it’s only 1% higher than it was a year ago. Yes, but the problem is exponential: your cost of money just went up by 20%. If you borrowed $10 million to build 100 apartments, you now face an additional $100,000 per year in interest expenses. On a per unit basis, that’s $83 per unit per month that you need to generate. From where I sit in Heartland, USA, $83 per month is a substantial amount of money. It’s probably a 10% increase on a one-bedroom apartment. My sister lives in San Francsco where they step over $100 dollar bills like soiled pennies, but here the number is the difference between two tanks of gas or an upper deck seat to see Kendrick Lamar. In other words, its a problem.

In a market facing over-supply, the pressure could become intense. Apartment construction has exceeded rates of household formation for the past six quarters. Higher interest rates will add to the challenges and pose a threat to developers in a way that has not been witnessed since 2007.

The interest rate environment places the Federal Reserve in a complicated position. The effective Federal Funds Rate is 1.75% and a 25 basis point increase is expected this week. Right now, markets place a probability of 41.7% on rates landing in the range of 2.25% to 2.5% by the December 2018 meeting.

Source: CME Group

There are three problems with this outlook:

  1. The 10 Year Treasury Yield stands at 2.96%. A surge in short term rates would almost certainly invert the yield curve – a signal that portends most recessions. The 5 Year Treasury is already at 2.80% which demonstrates a flattening yield curve.
  2. LIBOR rates track short term Fed Funds rates. Most short term financing is set on LIBOR plus a spread. If you extrapolate my example above regarding apartment rents to the entire economy, I do not believe that borrowers can cope with another 1% increase in the cost of short term funds.
  3. Increased rates will draw capital to the US and strengthen the US Dollar. The foreshadowing of this momentum has already set central banks into a frenzy of currency market intervention in Turkey, Brazil and Argentina. If the Mexican Peso joins the crowd, you could have a full blown currency crisis like 1994 or 1998.

 

The Mexican Peso (MXN) has fallen dramatically against the US Dollar (USD) since April. Source XE.com Currency Charts

Therefore, Jerome Powell must walk a tightrope. He must work to reduce inflation pressure and curb lending excesses, yet the risk of a recession rises with each quarter-point increase. He surely does not wish to create a lending crisis.

The intersection of interest rates, inflation and housing is even more complicated. Most measurements of the CPI show that housing costs are the major driver of inflation. I highly recommend reading the Bloomberg piece on the topic. There is some frustrating irony here: my industry, the one most susceptible to the risks of rising interest rates, is also the cause of the inflation which requires the Fed to raise rates. It’s a logical spiral that circles the drain like dirty water in a candlelit southern California bathtub.

 

 

 

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Ready for Your CUE?

Opening in July 2016. Aksarben Village.

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Twilight May 2016 - 3

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CUE at Aksarben Village

I was recently asked how we name our projects.

Some are obvious.  Shadow Lake Square Apartments are next to Shadow Lake and Shadow Lake Mall.  Along with the neighboring amenities – the centerpiece of the development collect at a square traffic pattern.   We also name the floorplans.  At Shadow Lake Square – the Monarch is a nod to Papillion – the french word for butterfly is Papillion. There is also the Cottonwood, a tree common to Nebraska and Meadowlark, the Nebraska state bird.

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In Aksarben Village, our first 3 buildings speak to the previous use of the neighborhood- the Ak-Sar-Ben horse race track, and the projects design.  Pinhook is a racing term, Flats is a design term:  Pinhook Flats.  Inside, meaning the floorplans, we stuck with horse racing and named the floorplans after Kentucky Derby winners – Seabiscuit, Winning Colors, Secretariat for example.

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Our latest building in Aksarben, we wanted to do something different from Pinhook Flats.  We looked at the neighborhood – there is much growth and change. Stinson Park continues to hold great events – walks, marathons, markets and bands.  The University of Nebraska at Omaha – is continuing to add space for classes, parking and living.  Baxter Arena is hosting many events – sporting, graduation, conferences.  The retail and restaurants in Aksarben Village continue to develop – along with businesses joining the mix.  The homes here are being remodeled and updated by singles, familes and empty nesters.  We knew that many were looking for the next place to live – unique, bringing a little drama, a step up, a signal to take the spotlight….UP NEXT…CUE

 

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We are coming to the end of this one – we love how the exteriors are coming together for our new building at Aksarben Village!  A few minor finishes outside, then the sidewalks and landscape – will pull the project together.  The colors blend nicely with the neighborhood.  However, many have told us the materials have really made the building take center stage.

Come on inside and you can see we have chosen to use some pretty and unique ones.  It comes together, next level living in Aksarben Village, CUE.

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Omaha Apartment Market, Pockets of Oversupply but No Worries

We continue to have positive views on apartment demand going forward. Occupancy has exceeded 95% for over two years. However, we view 2016 with some trepidation as a surplus of 500 units reaches the market in 2016. 

Market Breakdown

We believe the Omaha Metropolitan Area apartment market is heading towards an over-supply level of 500 apartments. However, this amount is fairly insignificant in light of the pace of job creation, population growth, and the overall amount of units in the market.

Three reasons support this idea.

  1. Supply is roughly in line with demand, but has slightly outpaced typical homeownership percentages.
  2. Multifamily supply has been in line with job growth, but has recently exhibited a ratio that signals some caution.
  3. The perceived amount of oversupply is not only a function of job growth. It is also a function of income growth. Construction costs have pushed rents to levels that many new entrants to the housing market will lack the means of stretching for rental payments in new projects.

apartments-under-construction

Supply and Demand Equilibrium Levels

The Omaha metropolitan area has grown beyond a population of 905,000 and has a consistent level of household formation around 4,000 per year. With about 70% of new housing demand typically attracted to homeownership, rental housing stays at rough equilibrium between supply and demand at 1,200 units per year. That number is roughly line with current supply numbers, but there are signs that new apartments have begun to outpace growth.

As a percentage of total housing supply, multifamily units have, in aggregate over the past three years, exceeded the typical homeownership ratio by 2%. There were 3,041 single family permits issued in 2013, 2,639 permits in 2014, and 2,830 for the trailing 12 months ending September 2015. Multifamily housing hit 1,370 units in 2013, 1,533 in 2014 and 1,114 through September 2015. The sum of the three years shows that multifamily has been approximately 32% of new housing. Meanwhile, historical averages for homeownership in the Omaha MSA have hovered at 70%. In this instance, the oversupply of 2% translates in 250 excess apartments.

As an aside, the peak single family construction occurred in 2005, when 5,877 units were permitted.

Total Units

Units         Single Family    Multifamily    Total      % Multifamily

2013             3,041              1,370            4,411              31%

2014             2,639              1,533            4,172              37%

2015 ttm       2,830              1,114            3,944              28%

Total             8,510              4,017            12,527            32%

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Job creation and Housing Demand

Apartment demand follows job creation levels in a fairly lock-step pattern. The Omaha employment market has been robust since 2012. Between the 2008 nadir of 437,000 jobs and the recent 2014 figure of 462,500 jobs, Omaha has created over 25,000 jobs. This level far outstrips the supply of housing by more than double. By comparison, the stock of housing increased increased by an astonishing 56,700 between 1999 and 2008, but jobs only grew by 26,200!

Typically market research firms such as Axiometrics use a ratio of 5 jobs per unit as a demand equilibrium ratio. In an ideal equilibrium, the 25,000 jobs created in Omaha since 2008 implies a maximum apartment supply of 5,000 units. In fact, over 6,000 multifamily units have been permitted between 2008 and the end of 2014. This implies a ratio of 4 jobs per unit. If one assumes a job growth rate for 2015 of just over 1%, it can be figured that 5,000 jobs have been added during the past year. The ratio for 2015 is, therefore, slightly better at 4.50.

The ratio of jobs to units at a sub-5 level implies an oversupply of about 750-1000 apartments in the metro area.

Year Employment Population Jobs/Population
1999 411,240 761,603 54%
2008 437,478 845,119 52%
2014 462,515 904,421 51%

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Income Concerns

So far, we’ve established that an oversupply of between 250 and 1000 apartments exists in the metro Omaha area. While this number is statistically insignificant out of Omaha’s 100,000 rental units, the direct peer group for new construction is much smaller. The peer group for these units really amounts to about 10,700 units built over the past ten years. These apartments have been built at the top end of rental rates. In this case, a 5-10% oversupply is a number that deserves watching.

Why do we say this? The new apartment math requires an annual income of $38,800 per year. This is towards the high range for single person households who have recently entered the workforce. With young people graduating with significant amounts of student debt, the ability to afford rents approaching $2 per square foot per month may be under pressure.

In Conclusion

Apartment supply as a percentage of homebuilding implies a 2% level of oversupply – about 250 units. When a job ratio is applied as a benchmark, the oversupply level rises to between 750-1,000 apartments. Our best estimate is that the Omaha MSA is heading towards a 500 apartment surplus in 2016 that will cool the occupancy levels from the peaks enjoyed the past several quarters. Additionally, units being delivered to market must be cautious about the pressure of income levels. While employment growth has been robust, student debt is high and many new jobs are below $35,000 per year.

Are we concerned? Not yet. We believe that many of the areas receiving supply have been absorbed at a rate that has exceeded our own expectations. Meanwhile, some experts believe that the Midtown Omaha area is going to be pushing the limits of absorption by late 2016. Also, while supply may have been running ahead of demand recently, the level of occupancy has been in excess of 96% for a few years now. Anything above 95% implies a very tight market. In this regard, there is proof of continued high demand.

One final caveat: We are not in the camp that there has been a paradigm shift in home-buying attitudes. Millenials will eventually get married and have kids. This process may have been retarded by the recession, but it will continue.

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Factory 12: A Proposal for 12th & Cass

Alchemy Development is one of two developers to submit proposals to the City of Omaha to redevelop a lot at 12th & Cass Streets in Downtown Omaha. The location is prominent for its proximity to the TD Ameritrade Stadium, Centurylink Center, and the burgeoning entertainment district on the north side of downtown. The project features 78 apartments and Alchemy Development is teaming up with the Old Mattress Factory bar and restaurant and Holland Basham Architects.HBA elevation

The Omaha World-Herald printed an article featuring the  two proposals for the site.

2 companies submit bids to develop prime downtown spot

 

POSTED: FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2015 12:00 AM, UPDATED: 9:36 AM, FRI SEP 18, 2015.

By Cindy Gonzalez / World-Herald staff writer

Apartments with a view toward the home of the College World Series could be in store for a patch of city-owned land once embroiled in controversy.

Two local companies, Alchemy Development and Lanoha Development, have submitted proposals to develop the site at 12th and Cass Streets.

The last structure on the 33,600-square-foot area was a now-dismantled condo showroom and office for the failed WallStreet Tower project. The city had to turn to the courts to regain control of the Cass Street parcel after it sat idle for years as an out-of-town developer’s dream for the tower at 14th and Dodge Streets never got off the ground.

City officials recently put out a request for proposals to develop the 12th and Cass Streets site valued now at $910,000. The candidates are to be interviewed by a committee of various city department heads in early October. The top choice is to be approved by the mayor and City Council. City Attorney Paul Kratz said factors beyond price will be considered when choosing the winner.

Among the city’s objectives, according to public documents, is for the project to encourage a lively, pedestrian-oriented urban neighborhood that expands jobs and residential opportunities.

Both proposals offer residential living as a focus, but they look different and offer contrasting amenities.

Alchemy’s plan is primarily housing, calling for construction of a five-story, L-shaped structure with 78 apartments and indoor parking. A rooftop deck would be carved out of a top-floor space, offering a view of TD Ameritrade Park and the CenturyLink Center.

The $10.8 million project would seek $1.2 million in tax-increment financing and be called Factory 12 — a nod to the Old Mattress Factory restaurant across the street and to 12th Street, said Alchemy’s Bert Hancock. Owners of the Old Mattress Factory are signed on as co-developers. Also involved in Factory 12 are Holland Basham Architects and Dicon Construction.

While the Alchemy project won’t offer retail space, its street level will feature big glass windows through which pedestrians can see fitness and community rooms. “It gives it some liveliness at the ground-floor level,” Hancock said.

Competitor Lanoha proposes a four-story complex with fewer apartments, 45, but with office and retail space as well.

The first floor would contain retail and office bays, a lobby and 50 parking stalls. The second level would be made up of offices and a covered terrace, and the third and fourth floors would contain apartments. Lanoha’s design by Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture also features a third-floor deck and a community space.

Jason Lanoha of Lanoha Development declined to disclose the project’s price tag. He said his firm chose a mixed-use approach to add around-the-clock action that he said would move north downtown forward. “When office workers are leaving, residents are arriving back home,” Lanoha said.

Hancock said he and his partners were attracted to the growing area of north downtown, even with the challenges associated with the property’s proximity to the Interstate. “We love the idea of being a part of what is happening on the north side of downtown,” Hancock said, citing the nearby CenturyLink Center, TD Ameritrade Park, Creighton University, the Slowdown and future development planned for the Yard parking site. “All of that points toward a direction of making the north side much more exciting, not just for entertainment, but as a place to live,” he said.

Kratz declined to provide any detail on the two plans, calling such details potentially proprietary information and part of an ongoing real estate deal. He said that although the request for proposals process has long been a way that the city sells or develops property, the improved economy and commercial market has led to increased interest in downtown parcels.

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Alchemy Development presents: A New Urban Living Development located in Aksarben Village.

Alchemy Development presents:  A New Urban Living Development located in Aksarben Village.

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Located in a neighborhood with history; and now, with a great Vibe – progressive, education, youthful, urban.  Around the corner from shopping, entertainment and Stinson Park events; the new buildings will be a part of Pinhook Flats.

These new buildings will have a combined 53 apartment homes:  Studios, One Bedrooms, Two Bedrooms, Two Bedroom Lofts.  Each having its own washer and dryer and beautiful finishes.  Each apartment will have access to garage parking, trash chute, recycle program andhave access to Pinhook Flats amenities.

Combining the practical needs of life with urban living spaces for those aspiring to an elevated lifestyle –

             Upscale Living…Next Level Lifestyle.              CUE “Up. Next.”

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