Aside from some concrete barricades and orange construction barrels, evidence of demolition of the former Union Pacific headquarters in downtown Omaha still will be difficult to detect for a while.
Demolition finally is set to begin on the project -- in the form of asbestos removal inside -- and will become much more noticeable, said the developer of WallStreet Tower Omaha.
The long-awaited 32-story condominium project will become Omaha's thirdtallest building, behind First National Tower and the Woodmen Tower. Some $600 million has been invested in new construction in several blocks of downtown over the last few years.
When Mayor Mike Fahey chose the tower project just over a year ago (SEE CORRECTION) over a competing proposal, he praised it as a development that would enhance the city's skyline and build on downtown's momentum.
A spokesman for the project's developer said he is eager to see activity humming at the WallStreet site, if only to reassure Omahans the project is real.
One-third of the building's 275 units are reserved.
The barricades and barrels showed up Tuesday, the first sign of activity at the former U.P. building, which changed hands Monday between the city and the developer, Townsend Inc. of Overland Park, Kan.
The city requires that asbestos work be completed within 90 days and that all demolition be finished by May 2008, but Townsend intends to work more quickly: 60 days for asbestos removal with the entire building down by the end of October.
"We're as excited as anybody to get this started," said Troy Strawhecker, Townsend's Des Moines-based lead developer for the WallStreet project. "The building is ours now. We're going to go full speed ahead."
Imploding the 14-story building hasn't been ruled out.
Townsend still plans to tear it down brick-by-brick, unless demolition experts advise imploding, Strawhecker said.
Crews first will dismantle a 1970s-era steel-and-glass addition on the east side, then reassess what to do once they have more room to maneuver on the block bounded by Dodge Street, Capitol Avenue, 14th Street and 15th Street.
"We're not ruling out any efficient and safe ideas," he said. "We do realize there's a $300 million-plus facility to the south that is the new Union Pacific, but there are professionals in the business that implode buildings every day."
Strawhecker previously said implosion would not be considered because of the high-profile site and because a previous Omaha implosion went awry.
(A downtown building owned by Frankie Pane was accidentally destroyed in 2002 when three neighboring Pinnacle Foods Corp. buildings were imploded to make room for the Holland Performing Arts Center.)
"If the contractor comes to us and says, 'We want to do this,' we're going to say, 'Let's listen to this.'"
Demolition is expected to cost between $4.5 million and $6.5 million. Implosion might save time, but not money, Strawhecker said. General contractor J.E. Dunn Construction of Kansas City will oversee demolition and site-clearing work by Anderson Excavating Co. of Omaha.
Before crews can start removing asbestos, they first must clear leftover U.P. furniture that didn't sell at auction.
"That's going to take some time," said Don Goers, Anderson's president. "I wish they'd sold all the furniture. That way I wouldn't have so much to move."
As part of an agreement approved in December by the City Council, the city will provide $15.6 million in tax increment financing, said City Attorney Paul Kratz. The financing will allow property tax revenue generated by the project to help pay for demolition, public improvements and other costs.
Townsend is planning a glass-walled, 373-foot-tall tower with a parking garage and ground-floor retail on all sides of the block totaling 36,500 square feet.
Prices range from $195,000 for an 855-square-foot unit on a lower floor to about $620,000 for 1,635 square feet on the 29th floor. Units on any floor can be customized or combined, and the top three stories are penthouse units.