- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - One of the oldest sections of Omaha is trying to become the latest historic neighborhood business district to draw in the rest of the city.

The Omaha World-Herald (https://bit.ly/1TzeWlK ) reports that new businesses are trickling in the Florence neighborhood, and a nonprofit group is renovating a cluster of buildings for a cafe and other enterprises.

In the meantime, the city is preparing to put in new streetlights and sidewalks in the area. The work will be part of the second phase of the Florence streetscape improvements, and final plans for the approximately $250,000 project are expected to be complete by May. Construction should begin this summer and finish by fall.

Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, whose district includes the area, said that the streetscape improvements will be the first step for the neighborhood’s master plan to become a reality.

“For me, this was one of the most important elements of the plan that could have an immediate impact,” he said. “And that has happened.”

The master plan - sponsored by the nonprofit Florence Futures Foundation, which is affiliated with the North Omaha Commercial Club, Florence Historical Society, Florence Kiwanis and several other groups - was proposed in 2007.

Local restaurateurs Enzo Zurlo and Nancy Bohnenkamp hope the streetscape improvements will add to the neighborhood’s momentum.

“There’s definitely a buzz in Florence,” Zurlo said. “I feel like I got here just in time.”

Bohnenkamp also says that the neighborhood is on the upswing.

“What we see down here more often, especially on the weekends, are younger people, families, college-age people,” Bohnenkamp said. “The millennials are the ones who are starting to pick up.”

Florence was originally a town of its own. It became a part of Omaha in 1917. The area was historically known for its local commerce and westward expansion, notably during the Mormon migration.

“We’re the best-kept secret in Omaha,” said Kathy Rossitto, a long-time resident and Florence Kiwanis member. “We always have been.”


Information from: Omaha World-Herald, https://www.omaha.com

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