For years, a section of the Dana College campus along 27th Street was home to students living in a housing community for married college students known as Omaha Village.
But, after the college closed in 2010 and the vacated buildings and surrounding area became an eyesore, the City of Blair worked with Ed Shada, founder of Angels Share, Inc., to secure tax increment financing to demolish the Omaha Village buildings, which paved the way in addressing a more pressing issue for Blair — housing.
It's been nearly a year since Omaha Village disappeared from the former Dana College campus' landscape, but as that chapter closed, the next chapter — one centering on development of what is now known as Transformation Hill — has begun to take shape.
On Sunday, Eriksen Construction, in conjunction with NP Dodge Real Estate and Washington County Bank, will host a community open house to celebrate the completion of the first three houses along 27th Street, which is the first phase of a three-phase housing subdivision project. The open house is from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. A free lunch will be served.
Completion of the three homes marks the halfway point in the first phase, officials with Eriksen Construction said. Once complete, there will be eight, single-family houses along 27th Street.
Building houses isn't the primary focus of Eriksen Construction's work, but when the opportunity came to help revitalize the former Dana College campus and meet a growing need for housing, Vice President Jenny Eriksen said company officials were on board.
She said the company is excited to be a part of this significant neighborhood revitalization project.
"We are focusing on bringing a mix of housing types and sizes to this new neighborhood we want to call Viking Heights," she said. "We are very excited to meet the diverse needs of our community and make a lasting impact on the quality of life of its residents."
The eight houses in the first phase are being built as part of an effort to add more workforce housing in Blair. Workforce housing is housing that is priced at $275,000 and under. NP Dodge lists the house at 613 N. 27th St. for sale at $239,900.
Earlier this year, the city received a nearly $1 million grant from the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) Foundation's Workforce Housing Revolving loan fund to encourage the construction of workforce housing.
Blair City Administrator Rod Storm said, as part of the grant, companies wanting to build workforce housing, will be able to apply for low-interest loans.
Eriksen Construction is the first to get on board and, once their loan is paid back, Storm said, other companies can apply for re-use funds to build workforce housing. While those funds can be used to build anywhere in Blair, Storm said the Dana campus will be a priority.
With the first phase at the half-way mark, Eriksen has announced that the second phase of the project — housing along College Drive — has begun. The houses will be mix of ranch and two-story houses.
The third and final phase will be a maintenance-free community consisting of 14 condominiums, which will be built on a new cul-de-sac. Construction of the street — called Viking Circle — has been completed.
Viking Village, as it will be called, will consist of seven buildings, with two units in each. Eriksen said earlier this year that interest in the condominiums has been high and that potential buyers' names have been added to a list. She hopes to break ground in the next few weeks. Viking Village will have its own homeowner’s association within the neighborhood of Viking Heights, she said.
The Viking Heights development is the first of the planned developments for the former campus. The City of Blair is also working to develop a housing subdivision on the southern portion of the campus that was once home to soccer fields and a barn. Storm said lots can be purchased by individual builders, and even residents wanting to build their own house, or by companies wanting to build workforce housing. Storm said sale of the lots could begin in the next couple of weeks.
"We hope to have some purchase agreements before the council at the Aug. 27 meeting," he said. "I have interest from three or four builders who want lots, supposedly as soon as I can sell."
Storm said the city is planning to host ribbon cutting later this month for the first houses completed by Eriksen Construction.