Coram Deo Church has joined neighbors from the Fairacres, Memorial Park, and Dundee neighborhoods in voicing opposition to a proposed redevelopment of the former Temple Israel property at 7023 Cass Street. I thought it would be helpful to state clearly and simply why we oppose this redevelopment plan.
First, I want to make abundantly clear that our opposition is NOT to Bluestone Development or its owners and investors. Bluestone is a respected and reputable development company. We are thankful for the fine work they do to make Omaha a better place. We desire to see them thrive and prosper, and we’re thankful for the ways they’ve contributed to the flourishing of our city. Our opposition is not to Bluestone, but merely to this specific project.
Here are five reasons for our opposition.
1. We are opposed to this project because it would destroy one of Omaha’s historic buildings. The Temple Israel synagogue building has stood stalwartly at 7023 Cass Street since 1950. It’s a beautiful symbol of mid-century architecture and an important component of Omaha’s built environment. This is a building worthy of protection, preservation, and re-purposing. There may be other buildings in our city that deserve to be razed to the ground and replaced with modern apartments… but Temple Israel is not one of them.
2. We are opposed to this project because it is not in the best interests of the neighborhood or the city. Stronger neighborhoods are built as people move from renting toward owning, increasing the number of people who have a vested interest in the good of the neighborhood. Adding 400-500 new apartment-renters works against this sense of commitment and ownership, and is therefore a step backward for the neighborhood, not a step forward. Additionally, the flourishing of a healthy city depends on the presence of institutions – like churches, synagogues, and nonprofit agencies – that promote the spiritual, ethical, and cultural well-being of the city and its residents. The Temple Israel facility has housed such an institution for decades. Replacing this sort of institution with high-density apartments is not in the city’s best interest.
3. We are opposed to this project because it contradicts the city’s own Master Plan. Omaha By Design, the city’s comprehensive urban design plan, directs the city to “pursue policies that will make it easier for older buildings to continue to be functional.” This guiding document states that “older buildings… are part of Omaha’s cultural heritage and contribute to the City’s sense of place… [they] should be recognized as a potential resource to be preserved as heritage, as useful parts of the City’s built environment, or to reinforce a community’s sense of place.” The City Planning Board acknowledged that the Cass Place development was in conflict with this provision of the Master Plan, yet recommended the rezoning of the property with the observation that “the Master Plan is merely a guideline.” In the city’s own future land use map, the Temple Israel property is designated as “civic” space within a broader mixed-use boundary. And in the city’s own artistic rendering of what the 72nd and Dodge St. area will look like after full redevelopment, notice that the Temple Israel building still stands (lower right quadrant – image taken from the Omaha By Design document, p. 28). It’s clear that tearing down this historic building contradicts the city’s own vision for its future.
4. We are opposed to this project because it sends the wrong message to the city’s residents. Actions speak louder than words. Bulldozing a historic place of worship and replacing it with an apartment complex communicates something very negative about the value of religious communities in our city. It implicitly says that Omaha esteems economic growth over spiritual growth; that we value housing diversity more than spiritual diversity; that we value gaining new residents over providing for the spiritual needs of all residents.
5. We are opposed because of our own self-interest. We might as well be honest: our opposition to this development has a high degree of self-interest. This is a building our church wants. We’d like to own it. We’d like to inhabit it. We’d like to serve our city and its residents from it. We’re trying to be up-front about that. We’ve negotiated in good faith over the past year to purchase this property. We’re continuing to negotiate, even now, to increase our financial stake in the property and show the seriousness of our intentions. We think the current situation can be a win-win for everyone involved. We think the Bluestone apartments deserve to be built – but not at 7023 Cass. We’d love to see the Temple Israel property become the new home of Coram Deo Church, and we’d love to see Bluestone take the concept they’ve designed and execute it on a different parcel of ground. We believe the goals of preservation and development, of spiritual growth and economic growth, can complement one another in exciting ways and lead to the flourishing of a vibrant city.