With downtown Omaha about to experience one of its biggest annual tourist events, one of its central parks is in disarray.
Gene Leahy Mall is undergoing a $1.8 million renovation to dredge the lagoon and install new trails and lighting amid preparations for the College World Series, which starts this week.
The project to clean up the 10-acre park began shortly after its approval by the City Council in March.
It's an unsightly process.
Almost daily, All Purpose Construction must pump stagnant water out of the lagoon so it can deepen it and put in a new liner. The banks of the lagoon are torn up and disheveled as workers go about reshaping the lagoon in a project that should be completed this fall, acting Parks Director Brook Bench said.
“It had to be done,” Bench said. “It's busy down there all the time, not just during the CWS.”
The renovation involves the most extensive work to be done on the park since its dedication as Central Park Mall in 1977.
When the city started looking for contractors, it hit a snag when a single $2.5 million bid came in. That bid greatly exceeded the $1.5 million in capital improvement funds and grant money from the Nebraska Environmental Trust earmarked for the project.
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The city had to start the bidding process over. But the delay led to five new bids being submitted.
Bench said the work takes time and care.
Crews had to remove algae-infested water from the lagoon. After silt from the lagoon's bottom is cleared out, it has to dry before being hauled away, Bench said.
“We can't take truckloads of slime and drive down Farnam Street with all the events and things downtown,” he said.
The weather also has slowed crews. Workers have to spend time draining fresh rainwater from the lagoon to prepare it for deepening and installing the new liner, Bench said.
Bench said visitors should turn their attention to Omaha's riverfront parks while downtown. Lewis & Clark Landing and Heartland of America Park are well-maintained, he said, and should be nice places for out-of-town guests to visit while they're in Omaha for the CWS.
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