The 140,000 square-foot Ray & Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Omaha, NE, stands as a testimony to what can happen when civic leaders are totally sold on a great idea to benefit the community. A local foundation, Heritage Services, stepped up to the plate, helping to raise $15 million locally—making Omaha one of the 26 awardees of a Kroc Center across the nation.
Gary Gates, CEO of Omaha Public Power District and a board member of both Heritage Services and The Salvation Army, worked closely on the community center’s proposed business model, finances and other details. Heritage helped create the 1,100-page proposal in the competition.
The Omaha Kroc Center redefines what a community center is all about. This unprecedented place of gathering and enrichment houses an array of education, sports, faith, arts and supportive programs never before assembled in the Omaha metro. The programs, as well as the building itself, have been designed to stimulate the mind, body and spirit, to provide hope, and to transform the life of every member of the community. The Kroc’s construction began in May 2007 and the facility celebrated its Grand Opening in January 2010.
The partnership with Heritage Services led to connections that resulted in funds being raised for the Kroc Center.
An average 1,000 visitors per day enter the Kroc Corps Center and pass a wall displaying the names of 39 Heritage Services donors. The center occupies over 15 acres on six city blocks that once housed the former Wilson Packing Company. That fact alone makes the Kroc location in Omaha most appropriate.
“The fact is, much of the former Wilson Packing Company rests beneath the present Kroc Center,” exclaims Jonathan Kuebler, Kroc Director of Operations. “In fact, when we were installing lights for the ballfield, to install the poles they had to get a concrete drill to go through the concrete that is just below what is now ground surface!”
It’s an ironic reminder of the history of Omaha upon which The Salvation Army Kroc Center rests.
There’s no argument that the Omaha Kroc is the central-most facility of the 26—located just 200 miles from the geological center of the contiguous United States.
The Wilson house was only one of many packing companies located around what is now the Kroc Center. Omaha was one of the largest meatpacking centers in the country—at one point even surpassing Chicago.
“In fact,” Kuebler continues, “when you come to the Kroc from the north, you pass the red-brick building that was once the Livestock Exchange Building.”
Jobs in the industry attracted immigrants in the thousands, but once hard times eventually forced most packing companies to close, this area of south Omaha became blighted. High crime and gang warfare became a huge problem.
The City of Omaha came up with a plan to reinvigorate the area, long before dreams of landing a Kroc here were thought of. The original plan for the Livestock Exchange included a medical center and housing for seniors. The plan called for completely removing housing projects in favor of duplex housing scattered throughout the neighborhoods. A community college and a new library were also in the offing.
Enter Joan Kroc’s vision. The addition of the Kroc fit like a glove into the city’s reinvigoration plan.
“The Kroc coming here completely revitalized the neighborhood,” Kuebler says.
“It’s a ‘Beacon of Hope’ in our neighborhood,” witnesses a lady who lives right across the street from the Kroc.
“This is an historically-rich community, and while Omaha may not be the first place you think of to build a center like this, it speaks volumes of the community support of investments that continue to be made here for future generations!” says another neighbor.
“Omaha stood behind it,” Major Thielke agrees. “It’s been a wonderful gift to the community.”
—Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor, National Publications