September 29, 2022

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Check out the new features at Omaha’s Gene Leahy Mall | Local News

Ezra Salazar smiled as he ran up the concrete steps to the top of Gene Leahy Mall’s metal slides. 

The 3-year-old joined a crowd of children at the top, some with wax paper in hand, a few waving to their parents below, all eager to slide down one of the park’s most iconic features. 

The slides have gotten a lot of use since the downtown park’s reopening July 1. 

Tens of thousands of people visited Gene Leahy Mall during its opening weekend, both to see the park that was under construction for more than three years, and to take advantage of dozens of free events. 

The overhaul of the mall and two other downtown parks began with the formation of the fundraising nonprofit Downtown Riverfront Trust.

Including a city contribution of $50 million, the Downtown Riverfront Trust raised about $400 million for the three-park project. 

The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority (MECA) manages the park.

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Construction on the mall started in March 2019. Heartland of America Park and Lewis & Clark Landing are in earlier stages of renovation and expected to reopen in 2023.

Below are some of the new and improved features at the revamped Gene Leahy Mall.







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Ani, a 5-month-old Bernedoodle belonging to Ron and Peggy Bulbulian of Elkhorn, plays in the dog park at the Gene Leahy Mall Wednesday. After a closure that lasted more than three years, the park reopened July 1 with new and improved features, including the dog park on the east end of Gene Leahy. The dog park has two sides, one for larger dogs and one for smaller. Both include turf hills for the dogs to climb and dog-level water fountains.










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Gene Leahy Mall’s Performance Pavilion hosted a number of high-caliber shows during the park’s opening weekend. Stretching out from the pavilion to the west is a 42,000-square-foot green lawn where thousands of people gathered during the venue’s first performances. Park officials describe the pavilion as reminiscent of the iconic Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles, which has a similar arch-shaped covering over the stage. At night, the pavilion can be lit from underneath to create a glow effect.










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Along the southern edge of the park, halfway between 10th and 13th Streets, orange arches rise into the sky. The arches, available for children to climb on, are part of a new and modern playground. The area includes a rope forest, a wooden deck for climbing and a rock wall.










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A 26-foot-tall sculpture stands at the western end of Gene Leahy Mall. The piece was commissioned by MECA and created by London-based artist Yinka Shonibare as an iconic component of the downtown park. The sculpture, which took about a year to make, is an expression of Omaha, Shonibare said in an interview over Zoom. Details of the city can be found in the hand-painted fiberglass, which was made to look light and airy, like a piece of colorful fabric floating in the wind. Native plants were included in the sculpture’s details, and the prevalence of water can be seen in some of the ripples of the design.










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Five public art pieces make up Gene Leahy’s sculpture garden on the north end of the park, along Douglas Street.

A trail guides visitors through the garden with native plants, fire pits and seating areas that make the space a bit quieter compared to the playground on the opposite side of the green lawn.

Candice Crutcher walked through the garden Wednesday with her parents.

“It’s a great space for people to come and walk, people with families, people with dogs, people by themselves who want to hangout and find a place to sit,” Crutcher said. 

The sculptures featured in the garden were brought to Omaha through a partnership between local art gallery Kaneko and MECA. Kaneko turned to the International Sculpture Center, which helped identify 10 artists, who were then narrowed down to five.

The five pieces will be rotated out after three years. 










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Omaha’s historic metal-and-concrete slides were spruced up with a new concrete overlay before the park reopened. Shade canopies were installed near the slides for parents and guardians to take a load off. Three more slides were added, including a “roller slide” that people can race down on their bellies. A sledding and rolling hill is just to the north of the slides. As 3-year-old Ezra raced up and down the metal slides, his sisters prepared to go down a smaller slide nearby. Camila Salazar, 9, sat at the top of the slide with her sister Galilea Salazar, nearly 2 years old, in her lap. Of all the park’s new features, Camila said the slides were her favorite. 




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