Brickline at The Mercantile: Transforming Downtown Omaha
“[The Brickline at The Mercantile] adds to this great momentum we have of developing downtown and offering places for people to live, work and play.” – Jean Stothert, Mayor of Omaha
Omaha’s Billion-Dollar Makeover
Omaha’s downtown is undergoing a significant “renaissance” that Alvine Engineering plays a unique role in propelling to fruition. Along with the recent opening of The RiverFront project, adding 72 acres of restored recreational parkland to Omaha’s downtown offerings, other significant infrastructure pieces in the works are driving Omaha to the forefront of forward-thinking city design principles. Prominent projects significantly impacting the downtown landscape include the RiverFront, the FNBO Tower renovation, The Farnam Hotel, and the future Mutual of Omaha Headquarters. These projects have received mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP) infrastructure design services from Alvine Engineering. The latest addition to this portfolio is Brickline at The Mercantile—a first-of-its-kind luxury apartment complex located at the junction of the Old Market and Capitol District and the first phase of The Mercantile development, occupying a former piece of Conagra’s Omaha campus.
The complex hosts 375 units stretched across two blocks and surrounds a public-access parking garage. Brickline offers high-end amenities such as a resort-style pool, club room, golf simulator, communal coworking lounges with high-speed internet access, and uniquely innovative live-work apartments. The live-work spaces merge commercial and residential into one suite with a bottom floor that residents can operate as a storefront, studio, or workspace connected to a residential loft on the second floor. This type of multi-use suite that blends commercial with residential is the first of its kind in Nebraska. Brickline also boasts in-building retail access to storefronts, restaurants, and breathtaking views of the recently-finished Heartland of America park.
Due to Brickline’s unique location and size, special accommodations and innovative design solutions can be found throughout the project’s infrastructure. A rousing success, the client has reported over 50% occupancy only two months after opening its doors. Project execution required extensive collaboration with multiple parties and a fluent understanding of multidisciplinary engineering collaboration.
Going the Distance
The project’s sheer size required extensive coordination with the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD), The City of Omaha Plumbing Board, and Dwell Design Studios, as MEP engineering distribution across the site had to cover more than 800 feet of horizontal distribution. The hybrid building method also created interesting obstacles for the design team. For example, the wooden frame surrounding the residential unit required intense scrutiny to honor the heightened fire-rating safety requirements of the site. In response to this unique building demand, our team was exceptionally methodical concerning penetration placement within the insulated joist space and drywall for electrical raceway distribution and the mechanical system components.
“We had to be exceptionally cognizant of the equipment and fixtures we selected,” Brandon explained, “We helped ensure an efficient installation and avoided extra architectural detailing and the cost associated with that.”
Extensive coordination with OPPD and the developer were necessary to properly orchestrate efficient power distribution design for transformers around the building and meter centers in the building. Collaboration between all three parties allowed for efficient conductor runs and utility personnel access. The design negates voltage drop inefficiencies throughout the site.
Space constraints were an initial challenge for the mechanical design of the residential units. However, our firm championed customized valves and fittings for an optimized mechanical closet and successfully garnered a special waiver approving the design granted by the Omaha Plumbing Board. Our team coordinated system components to be located on the roof, maximizing the rentable space available for the residential building and limiting mechanical noise for apartment occupants.
The retail levels are ready for anything. Alvine Engineering was incredibly thoughtful of future retail tenants and provided utility hookups and commercial exhaust ports that could support boutique clothing stores and full-service restaurants and bars. This wide range of versatility allows the owner to market the retail space to a wider clientele base and makes the retail areas easy to market. Two restaurants, a cocktail bar, and an entertainment venue are already preparing their arrival at Brickline.
There’s No Place Like Brickline
Brickline is exceptionally unique in offering live-work apartments to its residents. The live-work spaces merge commercial and residential into one suite with a bottom floor that residents can operate as a storefront, studio, or workspace connected to a residential loft on the second floor. This type of multi-use suite is the first of its kind in Nebraska.
“It’s an exceptionally special build…not only in its infrastructure, but how it impacts the city of Omaha,” Brandon Rich, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, Fitwel Ambassador, explains, “The live-work suites offer young professionals, creators, and other small business owners a place that no one else in Omaha has.”
Brandon Rich is the project’s lead electrical engineering consultant and an Alvine Engineering principal who is a well-established industry professional with 15 years of experience.
In addition to being the only apartment that boasts live-work units, the structural design of the building is a rarity in Nebraska: The Brickline at the Mercantile is a hybrid building utilizing a one-story concrete podium slab underneath a four-story wooden frame. The building is also the largest apartment complex ever to open its doors in the Omaha metro.
The uniqueness of the building construction posed unconventional challenges for the engineering design team that required tailored solutions to make the building operational, cost-effective, and energy efficient.
Design for Community and Sustainability
The benefits to the community go far beyond providing a charming place to live in Omaha’s expanding downtown. Brickline offers convenient access to the soon-to-be-constructed streetcar and activates downtown walkability access with a 35-foot promenade.
“Because it’s on the streetcar line, we do know that a lot of the new tenants are working at the med center, and they’re thinking, ‘Great, I can live here,'” Mayor Stothert said in an article published by KETV Omaha.
Alvine Engineering supplied Brickline with a robust storm retention vault, and a drainage system was implemented to protect the structure from future flooding issues, which can be prominent in any downtown Omaha location. These large storm retention vaults provide services for the apartment building and surrounding downtown areas that do not share the same level of flood-mitigation design. In addition to assisting with the surrounding buildings, the storm drainage system also alleviates overtaxing the municipal storm drain system, assisting the city with its flood mitigation initiatives.
Lighting and electrical design are optimized for tenant experience and energy efficiency. In addition to utilizing LED lighting throughout the project, all non-emergency lighting within the amenity spaces and the parking garage boasts local occupancy sensors. The amenity deck features an innovative combination of photo sensors, time clocks, and manual controls to save on electricity while not in use.
Mechanical systems in the residential units were designed to help residents mitigate costs on utility bills while also bringing eco-friendly and cost-effective solutions for the owner. Each residential unit utilizes an air-to-air heat pump system split with an electric heat furnace, which will be used as a secondary heat source for exceptionally cold weather. The design and placement of the mechanical units within the mechanical closet allow for easy maintenance access and lower up-front costs compared to traditional centralized building systems. Air-to-air heat pumps are also a more efficient cooling option that eases electricity costs, making it an ideal choice for Brickline.
“Heat pumps were a more cost-effective choice as their initial construction cost was less than a centralized system,” Brandon Hanna, CPD, a lead mechanical designer, explained, “And with maintenance considerations down the road, everything is confined to a specific unit. If there’s a problem, it is limited to the unit and doesn’t affect the building as a whole.”
The parking garage was strategically pulled away from the apartment complex from three of the four sides to allow for optimized natural ventilation, equaling lower operation costs and maintenance for the owner. At the top of the parking garage, an ingeniously constructed snow chute pushes rooftop snow to the ground, saving the structure from snow load strain.
The on-demand fitness center houses the largest restroom in the building, which was uniquely adapted with an exhaust air energy recovery ventilation system that treats amenity make-up air, saving on climate control costs throughout the shared spaces.
Hines, the real estate developer, establishes a rigorous design standards to all their projects that leads the real estate development industry and sets the benchmark for value creation, integrity, services, and quality for tenants. Alvine Engineering’s longstanding partnership with Hines on some of North America’s most ambitious projects has allowed our team to grow accustomed to these standards. Our firm’s familiarity with Hines’ design expectations and team paves the way for enhanced collaboration and project execution. Our joint commitment to sustainable and cost-effective design practice has made Brickline at The Mercantile another successful addition to the Hines/Alvine Engineering portfolio.
“This will be the home to 375 households and probably 500 people, and it’s amazing to think what those people will do,” Steve Luthman, CEO of Hines in the U.S. Midwest, stated in an article published by The Omaha World-Herald. “They’ll create jobs. They’ll build businesses. They’ll contribute to the economy. They will be here as residents of Omaha to drive this great city forward.”
We invite you to learn more about how Alvine Engineering has played a critical role in Omaha’s downtown restructuring.