Tearing down a piece of Omaha

Destruction of the W. Dale Clark Library


W. Dale Clark Library sits with glass shattered on October 20, 2022. Demolition began early October 2022. PHOTO BY CHRIS MACHIAN

Staff Editorial

Mutual of Omaha will move its headquarters into downtown Omaha by tearing down the historic landmark that is the W. Dale Clark branch of the Omaha Public Library.

Mutual’s new headquarters will stand 667 feet tall, 43 feet taller than the First National Bank building, Nebraska’s current tallest building.

Unlike the public library that supplies a multitude of public services, Mutual of Omaha is a private insurance company that offers minimal impact for the greater good. Overall, the new building will just be a shiny distraction from the true issues of downtown Omaha.

The main branch of the library offered so much more than just books. It was a safe space for kids, supplying after-school homework help, games, and book clubs. A place where like-minded people can share their interests and grow together. A place where people could find shelter from the cold. A place where people could build community. A place where people could exist without spending money.

Libraries are a huge gateway to knowledge, culture, and resources. Removing the main library branch from the heart of downtown Omaha is a public disservice.

The true purpose of wanting to become the tallest building in Omaha is unclear.

“I think people see skylines and it does create an impression of all the things we want Omaha to be perceived as — a vibrant, growing, thriving place where people can live and work and prosper,” said the CEO of Mutual of Omaha, James Blackledge.

His reasoning contradicts itself incredibly, a private insurance company hardly helps a community grow, the only thing that helps a community grow is a place where citizens can connect, like a library. Growing a company and a community does not mean you have to be the shiniest, flashiest, biggest building. Bigger is not always better.

W. Dale Clark Library has been a part of downtown Omaha’s culture for over 50 years, and this hasty decision to tear it down only took about a year to make. The preparation and communication for this project was poorly executed.

Due to poor judgment, the Omaha City Council is scheduled to vote on approving almost $400,000 in added funding for the demolition of the library. This extra $400,000 will be added to the $678,000 previously approved for the project. This extra money will make the destruction a $1 million project.

The error is such an expensive miscalculation the city is now obligated to pay, a miscalculation we truly cannot afford.

“All of this money we are spending on the demolition of a building, that the city did own, and we gave away we could have actually put into improving it and making it a place for everyone,” said one testifier in an interview with KMTV.

If the money is approved by the city council, Omaha will pay Cox Contracting over $1 million for the demolition. As if the price tag is not already sketchy enough, Cox Contracting’s bid was significantly more than the three other bids given by other firms for the demolition project earlier this year.

Cox Construction begins tearing down the W. Dale Clark Library. The library demolition is supposed to be concluded by the end of this year.

“To me, this is more of an item that alludes to the public trust or the lack thereof in a lot of these processes,” said another testifier.

Several city council members sympathized with the citizens and felt there was not enough transparency in the process, others disagreed and felt like they had made the right decision in approving the extra funding.

“These proposed leases should never have been on our agenda until this larger vision was presented to the public,” said Councilmember Pete Festersen. “There’s obviously a connection. There were dozens of folks that testified here last week and did not have the benefit of that information.”

The council did end up approving the agreement to move the library to 1401 Jones Street with a 4 to 3 vote. Pete Festersen, Don Rowe, Brinker Harding, and Aimee Melton voted in favor. Juanita Johnson, Danny Begley, and Vinny Palermo voted no.

According to the Omaha Public Library, the rebuilt W. Dale Clark branch will open in late spring of 2023. Meaning the public will lose access to this resource for almost an entire year.

During the public comment at the city council meeting in early October, several citizens who spoke were extremely upset about the destruction and move of the library. Citizens wrote over 100 emails asking the council to vote no on approving the extra $400,000. When their voices were ignored, they were understandably upset and continued to express frustration. And like the council often does, they completely disregarded the citizens’ voices, and just kept pushing their own agenda. The city council is supposed to stand up for its citizens, not ignore them.

Our community leaders must start looking at the bigger picture of things, and not just what will put the most money in the city’s pockets. The council disregarded the future of downtown Omaha and its people as well.

“What we have seen through this process, the constant disregard for public input, the lack of transparency, the prioritization of the needs of billion-dollar corporations over the people of Omaha is the reason why I will be leaving Omaha, and the reason why your talented, smart and dedicated young people are leaving Omaha,” said Noemi Gilbert, a student at Central High School.

There are currently at least 111 empty lot listings in Omaha, and yet we had to tear down the root of downtown Omaha, to build the headquarters of Mutual of Omaha.

There were so many places to build Mutual of Omaha’s headquarters, but instead, they had to put it in a place that means something to people. The main library is a place that has memories built into the walls, but now it is being torn down only to be replaced by a private insurance company.

“You know that your grandma and grandpa will die. Your dog will die. But buildings, they are supposed to exist longer than that,” said Heather Bullis, a library patron, in an interview with WOWTV.