Community Investment: Venues, Events Enrich the City’s Core

New facilities and familiar events contribute to Omaha’s quality of life, with something to benefit residents of all ages and backgrounds. Festivals and community events, green spaces and performance venues provide variety and make Omaha a better place to live. 


Attendees entering the 2022 Hutchfest. (Photo courtesy of Hutchfest)
Attendees entering the 2022 Hutchfest. (Photo courtesy of Hutchfest)


Brandon Beed, co-owner of Hutch and Made in Omaha, said the annual Hutchfest has always showcased the talent and handiwork of local creatives.

“When I think of quality of place, it’s about supporting local entrepreneurism and creativity,” he said. “I think there’s so many creatives here who have so much talent and Hutchfest allows them to showcase their work. They get a pop-up 10×10 space and put their work before the eyes and into the hands of consumers. I think that’s the most important part of our event.”

This year’s Hutchfest, which took place September 4, brought in 150 vendors and multiple food options to Millwork Commons. Beed said the event attracted approximately 10,000 visitors. 

“I think people understand the importance of supporting local business,” he said. “If we keep buying things at Amazon, Amazon is going to keep getting bigger. If we invest in local creativity, local creativity is going to get better.”

- Advertisement -
Rendering of Steelhouse Omaha. (photo courtesy of Omaha Performing Arts)
Rendering of Steelhouse Omaha. (photo courtesy of Omaha Performing Arts)

Steelhouse Omaha

A new performance venue, Steelhouse Omaha, is on schedule to open in May 2023, providing the city with a new mid-range music venue. The new space, owned by Omaha Performing Arts, is expected to attract touring acts that may have previously skipped Omaha due to venues being either too large or too small for their target audience. 

“You bring people to a community and then the next question is, what is there to do?” said Joan Squires, Omaha Performing Arts president. “This venue puts us on the map. We are recognized nationally now for the types of art performances that we do, and I know Steelhouse Omaha will bring additional national recognition to the community.”

The $104 million project is almost 100% donor-funded with the city of Omaha contributing $1.1 million of the total cost. Squires said this shows how much Omaha values the arts in general.

“It’s another example of the extraordinary philanthropic community in which we reside,” she said. “Venues like these are what’s going to help us retain the next generation as well as attract a new workforce.”

The newly reopened Gene Leahy Mall. (photo courtesy MECA)
The newly reopened Gene Leahy Mall. (photo courtesy MECA)

Gene Leahy Mall

Another public venue lending itself to the quality of life is the new Gene Leahy Mall, which held a grand re-opening in July after a three-year renovation that was decades in the making. 

“The biggest thing, 100%, is the activation of green space,” said Kristyna Engdahl, director of communications for the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority. “Anyone who’s familiar with the previous Leahy Mall knows it was kind of sloping and there was a lagoon at the bottom of that hill. It took a pretty picture, but it was really hard to get a lot of people in there at one time. 

“By filling that lagoon up and bringing it up to grade, suddenly we’ve added thousands of square feet of lawn space that can hold hundreds of people for performances and programming.”

The newly completed greenspace will provide space for several events and performances as well as tie the city together through its core. 

“Leahy Mall’s location is imperative to the health of this city,” she said. “It’s smack in the middle of our urban core and it’s a focal connecting point between north downtown, which is also going through its own renaissance, and the Old Market, which is one of the city’s largest destinations for locals and visitors alike.”