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Regents greenlight UNMC residence hall plan for medical students


Regents greenlight UNMC residence hall plan for medical students

Apr 19, 2024 | 6:23 pm ET
By Zach Wendling
Regents greenlight UNMC residence hall plan for medical students
The University of Nebraska Board of Regents meets Oct. 5, 2023, at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — The University of Nebraska Board of Regents greenlit a plan Friday to greatly expand its offering of student housing at NU’s medical campus in Omaha after years of student demand.

Regents greenlight UNMC residence hall plan for medical students
UNMC Student Regent Katie Schultis, speaking. She is flanked, from left, by Regents Paul Kenney, Barbara Weitz and Kathy Wilmot. Oct. 5, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

The regents voted 7-0, with all student regents also endorsing the proposal, to advance a plan championed by University of Nebraska Medical Center Chancellor Jeffrey Gold. The self-financed, $66 million residential complex would rise six stories tall southeast of 39th Street and Dewey Avenue, in the Gold Coast Historic District, and could house up to 300 students.

UNMC Student Regent Katie Schultis said the plan would be one of many as students have demanded housing for years, identifying it as their “most pressing issue.”

“I’m not saying it solves every problem, but it solves a huge problem that students have,” she said.

Gold noted that as UNMC has continued to grow, the campus has been its “own worst enemy” in propping up surrounding real estate prices. He said the new apartments are a “de minimis,” or trivial, representation of the demand for UNMC’s more than 4,500 students.

‘Irreplaceable heritage’

UNMC owns the multiple properties on the planned development site, but the federal honorific designation for the Gold Coast Historic District led one organization, Preserve Omaha, to ask that regents consider the “irreplaceable heritage” in their decisionmaking.

Regents greenlight UNMC residence hall plan for medical students
A six-story, 205,000-square-foot student housing project is planned to meet growing demand from students at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The proposed on-campus site is southeast of 39th Street and Dewey Avenue. (Courtesy of Holland Basham Architects)

Betty Gillespie, interim deputy state historic preservation officer for History Nebraska, read a letter from the group’s board of directors and the Blackstone Neighborhood Association, which noted the district is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Preserve Omaha’s letter notes that three homes set to be destroyed were created by two of Omaha’s “finest architects” and were home to multiple significant people, including a former obstetrics chair for what was then Creighton Medical College in the late 1800s and an art dealer who highlighted Omaha as a “burgeoning cosmopolitan center.”

Former U.S. Sen. Charles Manderson, R-Neb. (1883 to 1895), also lived in one of the houses proposed for demolition. He was a Civil War veteran who served as Omaha’s city attorney for six years and was a member of Nebraska’s 1871 and 1875 constitutional conventions.

“The decision to demolish these houses erodes the significance of an already fragile neighborhood, its character, history and quality of life,” the organization’s letter states. “We feel there are other solutions to accommodate additional housing without destroying Omaha’s history and the opportunity for students to live in such a unique location.”

Anne Barnes, UNMC’s vice chancellor for business and finance, said that the apartment complex would be exclusively for students and that UNMC could look at other locations, but doing so would offset a planned 2024 start to construction in time to open by fall 2026.

“By no means do we want to degrade that historic significance,” Barnes said. “However, these seven properties currently provide housing for up to 13 students and families.”

‘Beginning of adequate housing’

Regent Rob Schafer of Beatrice, board chair, asked whether UNMC had considered severing the real estate and allowing buyers to purchase the houses to move them. 

He recognized the history of the neighborhood but said the positives “far outweigh the negatives.”

Regents greenlight UNMC residence hall plan for medical students
Regent Jim Scheer of Norfolk, center. He is flanked by UNK Student Regent Temo Molina and Regent Jack Stark of Omaha. Oct. 5, 2023. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

Regent Jim Scheer of Norfolk similarly said the regents can acknowledge there are pitfalls with any project, but if NU wants to continue expanding, it needs to provide adequate housing.

“And this isn’t adequate housing,” he said. “This is the beginning of adequate housing.”

Regent Jack Stark of Omaha, who taught at UNMC and all of NU’s campuses for decades, said joined Scheer in stating there needs to be some level of housing to attract possible students. 

Scheer said that if someone wants to move the buildings off the designated property, UNMC can advertise with a firm deadline, but he was not in favor of any delays.

“Just like everything else, we need to move forward,” he said.

Among other items approved by the regents Friday:

  • Allowing alcohol sales at Haymarket Park in Lincoln for Husker softball and baseball games as early as Friday night, April 19.. Profits will fund capital improvements at the park, which is jointly owned with NEBCO. Alcohol already flowed during Saltdogs games at the park. (Passed 5-2 with all student-regents in support.)
  • Renaming the Husker Athletic “Go Big Facility” the “Osborne Legacy Complex” in honor of Tom Osborne’s “immense impact on Husker Football, Nebraska Athletics and the University of Nebraska writ large.” (Passed 7-0, with all student-regents in support.)


Historic houses in the proposed residence hall location

  • Charles C. Rosewater House, 3903 Dewey Ave., designed by Frederick A. Henninger in 1906. Preserve Omaha states Henninger designed many houses for Omaha’s upper class. Dr. Rosewater came to Omaha in the 1880s to practice medicine and for 15 years was Creighton Medical College’s chair of obstetrics, before focusing on general medicine. Rosewater’s brother, Edward, founded the Omaha Bee.
  • Harry P. and Eugenie Whitmore House, 1905 Dewey Ave., designed by John McDonald. McDonald was also the architect behind the Joslyn Castle. Harry Whitmore, an art dealer, is credited with highlighting Omaha as a “burgeoning cosmopolitan center,” Preserve Omaha states. Eugenia Whitmore was an accomplished pianist and philanthropist who helped found the Amateur Musical Club, Garden Club and Woman’s Club.
  • Neo-Classical Revival house at 510 S. 38th Ave., designed around 1902 for the Civil War Col. Charles Manderson rose in rank from a first lieutenant at the start of the war and later came to Omaha in 1869 to practice law. He was the city’s attorney for six years and was a member of the state’s constitutional conventions in 1871 and 1875. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1883 to 1895.

Source: Preserve Omaha Board of Directors and Blackstone Neighborhood Association