This story was originally published in the Nebraska Examiner.
OMAHA — The giant shell of an old steel plant in midtown Omaha is to be transformed within a couple of years into Nebraska’s new, roughly $65 million hub of medical business innovation.
Called the Catalyst, the 170,000-square-foot structure on the west side of Saddle Creek Road near Farnam Street will be operating in tandem with its neighbor across the street, the University of Nebraska Medical Center, said Dr. Jeffrey Gold, UNMC chancellor.
In past years, Gold said, the medical center’s “broad and deep research” has led to hundreds of medical inventions and patents. But those largely have been licensed for commercialization by companies based in Silicon Valley and elsewhere, he said, since Nebraska lacked an adequate biotech and bioscience corporate footprint.
The Catalyst, expected to open in late 2024, is designed to provide a home and incubator for startups that would bring high-paying jobs and economic development to the area.
“That’s why this is so important and why it’s truly historic,” Gold said.
He spoke Monday after the ceremonial groundbreaking for the Catalyst project, which is being developed on three acres of the former Omaha Steel Works tract built in the early 1900s.
Preparation work at the site has gone on for a while. The project was announced a few years back. An atrium will connect the primary steel-and-brick frame structure with another building.
The University of Nebraska Board of Regents earlier approved about $29 million for the project, as UNMC will own the 40,000-square-foot Innovation Hub within the facility. That hub is to feature UNeMED and UNeTech, UNMC’s development arms.
The remaining 130,000 square feet is for other businesses, a food hall and community amenities and will be owned by private development firms GreenSlate of Omaha and Denver-based Koelbel and Co.
The developers sought and received approval from the City of Omaha for $6.3 million in tax-increment financing. Planning documents estimated the Catalyst could bring up to 670 full-time jobs to the area, about half of which would be relocated and the rest newly created from expansions and startups.
The Catalyst project is key to a broader transformation of a roughly 25-acre site west of Saddle Creek Road that’s expanding the UNMC footprint.
Other elements of that public-private redevelopment site include an administrative office tower and possibly hotel rooms and housing, all spurred by UNMC’s growth boom over the last several years.
Gov. Jim Pillen attended the off-site groundbreaking, along with NU President Ted Carter, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and U.S. Sen. Pete Ricketts, R-Neb.
Gold said the Catalyst will allow startup companies to be “literally across the street from where the research science is occurring.”
That should be attractive to business and spin-off development, he said.
Said Gold: “The entrepreneurial spirit is very contagious.”
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