The new venue will have a capacity ranging from 1,500 to 3,000. (Courtesy Omaha Performing Arts)

Downtown project designed to fill gap in city’s live music scene

Come 2023, Omaha’s status as a must-play market for club and theater tours will likely rise.

Omaha Performing Arts, the company that runs the 1,900-capacity Holland Performing Arts Center and the 2,600-capacity Orpheum Theater, has shared plans for a new general admission venue with a capacity ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 that seems poised to fill a gap in the live music tapestry of Nebraska’s most populous city.

“We think it’s the perfect size and fit for Omaha, because of the larger capacity and the flexible space,” Omaha Performing Arts President Joan Squires told VenuesNow. “Audiences can stand to watch a concert and have a beverage, or we can use retractable seating for some of the arts activities. It’s a space that just doesn’t exist in this size and scale here in our city.”

The idea for the project originated about two years ago as part of Omaha Performing Arts’ broader plan to expand its downtown campus, anchored by the Holland, which opened in 2005. (The Orpheum Theater, built in 1927, is less than half a mile away.)

“We were really out of space and were well aware that many touring artists and entertainers were bypassing the city because we didn’t have the appropriate venue,” Squires said.

Omaha Performing Arts owns land for a block east of the Holland and the plot of land across the street from that, and quickly identified that latter property, kitty-corner from the Holland, as the ideal location for a flexible-capacity, general admission venue.

Although luring promoters and national tours to Omaha was one major impetus for the project, so was adding another facility to the arsenal of local arts groups.

“We really did a lot of due diligence in talking to local artists, resident companies, the community and others to determine what would best serve the community,” said Squires, who explained that those voices called for a flexible space “where they could create, come up with new types of productions, and really have a different type of experiences.”

Added Squires: “We really needed to serve both the bands that were touring and their audiences, as well as the local community.”

The still-unnamed venue will offer performers a room with variable capacity and, importantly, without the fixed seating that detracted from the Orpheum’s appeal to some touring acts.

“We’ve even had bands say, ‘Can you takes the seats out (at the Orpheum),’ which isn’t possible,” Squires said. The theater has still managed plenty of coveted bookings – Lana Del Rey played there this week, and Wilco takes the stage later this month – but Squires said many acts “want a larger space and a different experience.”

Catering to those groups is key for Omaha Performing Arts, which is targeting a demographic between ages 21 and 45 for its new venue. Hence, the room can host standing concertgoers for national tours or can deploy retractable seating for other arts programming.

The venue awaits funding, which Squires estimated at $109 million and said will come primarily from private philanthropic support. Ideally, Omaha Performing Arts would secure funding by May, break ground a year from now and open in early 2023.

For the project, the organization has once again partnered with Ennead Architects, the New York-based firm that, under its former Polshek Partnership guise, designed the Holland. With its newly announced venue and other pending projects, Omaha Performing Arts aims to unite several buildings into one integrated campus. Though Squires emphasized that the new venue will have “a very different look and feel to the Holland Center,” the selection of Ennead will help to unify the campus’ design aesthetic.

Squires said this room, the first of a multiphase Omaha Performing Arts project, came out of discussions for an education-focused building, which now will likely follow the development of the new concert venue. Nestled between Omaha’s burgeoning entertainment hub, the Capitol District, and the extensive Riverfront Revitalization project, which will reinvigorate the nearby park on the west shore of the Missouri River, the ambitious Omaha Performing Arts campus is just another element of a rapidly growing area of Omaha.

For now, though, Squires is focused on this new venue – and she’s optimistic about its prospects.

“Because we’re right in the middle” of the U.S., she said, “many of the bands have to come through our town, and it makes it a great place to stop on the way across the country.”