Standing 677 feet tall, the glass-enclosed tower scheduled to open in 2026 will include 800,000 square feet of office, meeting and amenities space.
Public use limited to city-funded garage
It will feature a “sky lobby,” food court, fitness center, landscaped terraces, and one million square feet of city-funded 2,200-space parking.
However, other than evening and weekend garage parking, the approved project for more than $60 million in public funding from tax increases will not provide retail, meeting or other spaces for public use.
There will be times when people from outside the insurance and financial services business will be invited to events or meetings, Mutual CEO James Blackledge said. But the skyline-changing structure at the entrance to the newly renovated Gene Leahy Mall will be dedicated to the approximately 4,000 local employees.
“Our investment is really in our workforce,” said Blackledge. “This is the central focus of our investment.”
During the event that drew key city and business leaders to a tent downtown, Blackledge and Mayor Jean Stothert also announced the growth they expect the Mutual project to drive in the block it will occupy.
This block, bounded by 14th, 15th, Douglas, and Farnam Streets, is the former site of the city’s main W. Dale Clark Library, which was recently demolished.
“The momentum we have to change our urban core forever is undeniable,” said Stothert. She compared Mutual’s plan, which ties in with the planned $300 million-plus modern streetcar system, to a revitalization effort launched half a century ago with the creation of the original shopping center and lagoon.
According to Stothert, more than $4 billion in development over the past five years has been completed, is underway, or is planned, stretching from downtown to downtown in the state’s largest city. This includes new facilities at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, a job magnet.
Blackledge said Mutual, founded in 1909, remains committed to the downtown campus it has called home since about 1940. The area at 33rd and Farnam Streets lies along the streetcar route, which Mutual has said is an integral part of its decision to move to the city center.
Jason Lanoha, whose development company is involved in the remodeling of Mutual’s downtown and downtown locations, previously told the City Council that an estimated $400 million would be invested in renovating Mutual’s downtown campus.
Said Blackledge: “So, from the Med Center to the riverside, linked by the modern streetcar, the potential for development is virtually limitless.”
Related plans have not come without controversy – and strong public encouragement.
In addition to Mutual’s headquarters tax-increasing financing package – which is among the largest amounts ever approved by the city – the streetcar project will be funded with bonds that will be paid for with TIF revenue.
Generally, in a TIF-approved city project, the increased property taxes generated on new development go towards paying eligible redevelopment costs over a period of 15 or 20 years, rather than being distributed to traditional recipients such as school districts.
Once the loan is paid off, the higher property tax revenue starts flowing into regular sources.
Nebraska’s increased use of TIF, a longtime economic growth tool authorized by state law, has raised eyebrows for some, including at least some in the current legislature.
State Senator Lou Ann Linehan of Elkhorn, for example, introduced three streetcar-related bills this session, saying she believes publicity for the plan is needed at the state level.
Seed planted two years ago
On Wednesday, Blackledge reflected on the past two years since Mutual’s downtown plan hatched.
While Mutual had long been contemplating a new corporate base, Blackledge noted a January 2021 meeting it had with Investors Realty broker Ryan Zabrowski and Jason Lanoha of Lanoha Real Estate Company.
“The proposal involved a streetcar, a move downtown and renovating our downtown campus – simple things like that,” Blackledge said with a laugh.
The idea blossomed into a project announced a year later, in January 2022, which connected the tram and Mutual’s headquarters.
The city will also purchase three parking garages on Mutual’s downtown campus, with these tents to be leased to the public.
Flexible work model adopted
Blackledge said the downtown tower was designed and sized to support a flexible working model that recognizes that many employees want to work at least part of their time from home.
The new skyscraper’s 800,000 square feet of office space compares to about 1.7 million square feet at Mutual’s current headquarters, which is more spread out.
Mutual officials said the new tower will be the tallest in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, South Dakota and Wyoming.
A First National spokeswoman said Wednesday that the bank’s downtown office tower, which is currently the tallest in the city, is 633 feet tall, putting the new Mutual 44 feet taller.
Known as Project Beacon, Blackledge said the office structure will be a “beacon inviting employees into a new, modern workplace.”
“It will also be a beacon of vitality, development and investment in our inner city,” he said.