One of the most exciting developments in Downtown Omaha was unveiled in July 2022 – the renovated Gene Leahy Mall. Here’s a look at the fun things to do and see at Gene Leahy Mall, and a look at what’s to come.
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Where is Gene Leahy Mall?
It’s situated near some of the city’s biggest employers, like Union Pacific and the soon-to-be-built future headquarters of Mutual of Omaha. The park is also near one of my favorite concert venues, Holland Performing Arts Center.
Nearby restaurants include Omaha Tap House, Kitchen Table, and Dynamite Woodfire Grill (inside The Farnam Hotel). Zinc is a restaurant inside the Holland Performing Arts Center. There are a lot more restaurants in the Old Market, which is within walking distance of Gene Leahy Mall.
What’s new at the mall?
A lot’s new at Gene Leahy Mall! The RiverFront development began in 2019, which was designed to include three parks. The most urban of the parks, Gene Leahy Mall, is the first to open. The mall itself has been a part of Downtown Omaha since the 1970s. So, this is actually a reopened or renovated Gene Leahy Mall.
- Performance pavilion and Downtown Green. There’s a lot of seating and picnic tables around this space. This is the space where all the “big” shows and concerts are.
- Sculpture garden, consisting of six sculptures. The 26-foot-tall “Wind Sculpture” is designed to stand in a pool of water that doubles as a place to cool off in the summer (though, it was under maintenance when we visited). Scattered around the sculptures are seats around fire pits, and there is a section with a few hammocks.
- 11th Street Promenade, where public restrooms are located, as well as new swings. A familiar feature has been retained: The arches from the old Solo Building facade. They’re at the entrance to the mall on the south side of the promenade.
- 13th Street Plaza, where you might find a food truck parked on occasion
- Arches Playground, a modern take on playgrounds with a climbing wall, slides, and tall climbing arches. It’s a green space, though there’s no need to worry about mud since the grass is turf.
- Slides, located at 1208 Farnam Street, just the east of the 11th Street Promenade
- Cascade Fountain, which is designed to be waded in, are just to the north of the slides
- Dog park, located at 801 Douglas St. There’s one side for large dogs, and one side for small dogs.
- Canopies (located at 13th and Farnam streets)
- The water feature is called the Pond, and next to it just to the south is the small Boat Cove and Cove Amphitheater. There are plenty of benches and a few Adirondack chairs around the pond.
- Eighth Street Green and The Grove. More green space.
There’s an interactive map online to see where everything is located within Gene Leahy Mall.
Other interesting facts about Gene Leahy Mall
Are the activities at Gene Leahy Mall free?
So far, yes! The grand opening weekend included a free concert by Kristin Chenowith and the Omaha Symphony, for instance. When we visited, there was a guitarist performing some lively music that carried all the way to the Arches Playground.
Summer activities have ranged from yard games, dog training, bootcamp, yoga, and a book cart. Looking ahead, after Labor Day the activities will mostly be held on weekends and one to two days midweek. Check the calendar for times.
What’s the big deal about the slides in Omaha?
When officials first announced plans to renovate Gene Leahy Mall, there was a huge public uproar. The main reason? No one wanted the two slides to be removed.
Most people of a certain age remember sliding down the slides on wax paper. They remember the burn of their thighs touching the hot surface. And now, our kids, and their kids someday, can enjoy them again.
There are two additional slides added to this part of the park, each shorter and less steep. And while I can’t confirm this, I’m assuming they don’t burn as much to slide down.
Who was Gene Leahy?
Gene Leahy was a mayor in Omaha, and was one of the influential figures who tried to revive Downtown Omaha to combat all the businesses and shoppers leaving in the 1970s. The plan was to build a Central Park Mall for Omaha, and “back to the river.”
Central Park Mall was eventually renamed Gene Leahy Mall in the 1990s.
What did Gene Leahy Mall look like before 2019?
Gene Leahy Mall used to have a much larger pond that divided the north and south sides of the park. There was one bridge to cross, in addition to the sidewalks along the 13th Street and 10th Street (not super convenient for pedestrians).
Gene Leahy Mall had some public art pieces, but a few scattered benches and no picnic tables that I can recall. A lot of the grassy space sloped making it not the easiest place to keep tables level.
For the 2022 updates, the pond was filled in and the park was raised to street level. The flat landscape makes community gatherings, picnics, and concerts easier. It also makes it easier to walk from the Old Market to places like Holland Performing Arts Center and the under-construction Steelhouse Omaha, as well as the Capitol District and NoDo.
A few of the original parts of Gene Leahy Mall that remain include the two slides, as well as the large arches that were on the south side of the 11th Street Promenade.
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Want to stay at one of my favorite hotels in Omaha? Check out the following:
- Embassy Suites Omaha (Downtown/Old Market) – Within walking distance to Old Market, Capital District, and the RiverFront, and the best hotel near the zoo
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