By Mike Watkins//Contributor | Friday, January 25, 2019
It’s hard to believe we’re just over a year away from the 2020 Olympic Trials (June 21-28) – the fourth straight held in Omaha.
As an Omaha metro resident, it seems like they were just in town deciding the 2016 team headed to Rio. Then again, it feels like the first Trials held in town in 2008 were just a couple of years ago.
So much has happened in and around the city since 2008, and each year, when swimmers and fans return to River City, there is something new and exciting to show off and promote for everyone to see and enjoy.
As things are currently shaping up, 2020 will be no different.
New buildings. New restaurants. New exhibits. A new name on the arena.
New swimmers – same level of excellence.
Here are a few of the noticeable (and maybe not-so-noticeable) changes/developments in Omaha for you to enjoy when you come back for 8 days in June 2020. I’m sure there will be even more between now and then.
New Name, Same Arena
Last time you were in town (if you were in town in 2016), the arena where the Olympic team was chosen was called the CenturyLink Center.
Late last year, it underwent a rebrand with a new sponsor – CHI Health Center Arena. CHI is one of the leading healthcare networks in the region, and they put out some hefty bucks to have their name prominently shine from the outside of the arena.
Nothing else has changed about the arena/convention center itself. The pool will still be in the same place – in a temporary pool on the floor of the arena, and the warmup pool will be adjacent to that. The Aqua Zone will be housed (most likely) down the hallway in the convention center area – making it an all-inclusive spot for great swimming and great fun.
Gene Leahy Mall Facelift
If you stayed in any of the hotels south of the arena (closer to the Old Market), you most likely drove or walked past the outdoor grassy area and lagoon in the center of downtown Omaha.
The Gene Leahy Mall (named for a past mayor) has been a staple and favorite walking spot (and light show during the holiday season) in Omaha since the late 1970s – and it’s getting a much-needed facelift.
Starting next month (February) the mall will be closed for a total revamp. The lagoon will be filled in and the whole area will be extended, connecting with the Missouri River. There will still be some water features (and if you enjoyed the slides in the mall, they are staying), but the multi-million-dollar project financed by private and city money is expected to completely change the look and interactivity of downtown Omaha.
The timetable for completion is up in the air right now, but hopes are that it will be done when you all arrive in June 2020.
As someone who has been a longtime lover of the outdoor mall (and had my wedding photos taken on the bridge there over 20 years ago), I’m sad to see the lagoon disappear. But I’m also excited to see and enjoy the final product.
Capitol District Complete and Ready for Action
In 2016, the Capitol District (just south and east of the arena) was in the early stages of development as a new 4-star Marriott hotel and entertainment district were being built.
Timing is a little hazy for me (living here, you lose track of timetables when things begin and end), but I think the hotel was nearing completion and the nearby luxury apartments were as well.
The surrounding outdoor entertainment area (bars, restaurants, clubs, etc.) opened around St. Patrick’s Day last year and was a huge hit during the College World Series.
Whether you stay at the Marriott or any of the nearby hotels (and there are many now within a short walk), this is an area you will want to visit while you’re in town. It’s jumping during the summer with live music and lots of fun.
New Kiewit Headquarters
It’s difficult to say at what stage of construction/development the new Kiewit Corporation headquarters will be at by June 2020, but that area several blocks west and a bit north of the arena will be buzzing during Trials.
One of the world’s largest construction, mining and engineering organizations (and designer and builder of the CHI Health Center arena in the early 2000s), Kiewit has called Omaha home since its founding in 1964.
As it’s grown, it’s run out of space at its longtime headquarters in midtown, so now it’s moving closer to downtown.
As I said earlier, construction shouldn’t interfere with Trials because it’s far enough away (although it might make street parking more interesting, especially during the three-day overlap with College World Series), but it will be a noticeable change to the city – especially downtown.
College World Series Overlap
As I mentioned before, for the second time (also in 2016), there will be overlap between the last few days of the College World Series and the first few days of Olympic Trials.
With the TD Ameritrade Ball Park just a few steps away from CHI Health Center Arena, that whole area will be FILLED with people – making for a wild mix of sports fans and spectators.
This will make parking (lot and street) complicated and congested and the hotels will be FULL, but I anticipate a lot of fun action for the duration of those two-plus weeks of summer sports in downtown Omaha.
If you’re a baseball fan, take in a game or two between swim sessions – although tickets are at a premium near the end of the championship.
Stayed turned for more Updates from Omaha as 2020 Trials get closer. Before you know it, it will be time to hit the pool or cheer on friends and family at the CHI Health Center en route to Tokyo!