Since the 1970s, the Gene Leahy Mall has been the city of Omaha’s version of a Central Park-style downtown mall. While it is well-known to locals and visitors alike, the Gene Leahy Mall experienced a three-year-long renovation project to become an even more attractive Omaha destination.
This construction was more than a mere facelift. The Gene Leahy Mall at The RiverFront is new, improved, and a huge source of fun for families, couples, and anyone looking to enjoy a relaxing day at the park in the middle of a big city!
A Local’s Guide to the New Gene Leahy Mall
The History of the Gene Leahy Mall
Omaha’s Gene Leahy Mall first debuted in 1977 under the name “Central Park Mall.” This original title reflected the desire to create Omaha’s own version of a popular downtown center. In 1992, the park was renamed in honor of notable Omaha Mayor Eugene “Gene” Leahy.
Leahy was a major figure in creating the vision for Omaha’s redeveloped downtown area. Leahy promoted a “return to the river” approach to revitalizing downtown Omaha. While Leahy died in 2000, before his vision could be completely realized, the project still marched on.
The mall was temporarily closed from 2019-2022 so that the park could be revamped and finally achieve Leahy’s dream. The first weekend of July 2022 brought with it a series of family events and concerts in celebration of the mall’s reopening.
The park is now known as the Gene Leahy Mall at The RiverFront. It has been open to the public since July 1, 2022, and you can check it out any day of the week between 5am-11pm.
Where to Find the New Gene Leahy Mall
The Gene Leahy Mall at The RiverFront is officially located at 1001 Douglas Street, which is situated at the corner of South 10th Street and Douglas. However, the easternmost edge of the park touches South 8th Street.
The 14.5 acre-park is bordered by Farnam Street to the south, Douglas Street to the north, and South 13th Street to the west. The park is located in an ideal part of downtown Omaha, less than a mile west of the Missouri River.
Getting to the Gene Leahy Mall
You can reach the Gene Leahy Mall by traveling east-west along either Nebraska Highway 6 or Interstate-480 (aka the Gerald Ford Freeway). If you take I-480, you can get off at Exit 3A (eastbound) or 3 (westbound) and then head immediately south to reach the park.
Metered parking is available all along the city streets near the Gene Leahy Mall. Meters are enforced every day between 9am-9pm, with the exception of Sundays and holidays. In Omaha, different meters offer certain time limits at different rates:
- 1-, 2-, and 3-Hour Meters: $1.25 per hour
- 4-Hour Meters: $0.75 per hour
- 10-Hour Meters: $0.25 or $0.50 per hour (location dependent)
You can pay parking meters using physical coins or through the ParkOmaha app. Or, if you prefer, use one of the many parking garages or paid uncovered parking lots located off of Dodge Street.
Even if you don’t have your own personal vehicle, you can take an Omaha Metro bus (you can find bus times here). As a developed metropolitan area, Omaha also has numerous ride-share options.
Upcoming Park Renovations
The Gene Leahy Mall is only the first of three downtown Omaha parks that has been overhauled. The RiverFront is a new city-owned partnership that will combine the Gene Leahy Mall with two adjacent parks: Heartland of America Park and Lewis and Clark Landing. Together, these three parks cover 72 acres in downtown Omaha.
Heartland of America Park will encompass riverfront piers and a large green lawn space. Renovations on this park began in 2019, and they expect the park to reopen in 2023. The third and final park within The RiverFront system is Lewis and Clark Landing. This area will include gardens, play areas, fire pits, and more!
Many of Omaha’s best attractions are located within a mile of the new Gene Leahy Mall. Less than a mile north of the park, you can attend sporting events, conventions, and concerts at the CHI Health Center arena. Also, The College World Series is hosted every summer at the nearby Charles Schwab Field. This is the home field of the local Creighton Bluejays ball team.
If you’re less interested in sports but still like thrills, you can check out the spooky Museum of Shadows! It’s just north of the Gene Leahy Mall and boasts a collection of “haunted” artifacts. To the west, you can enjoy a more elegant experience at the Holland Center, which features live comedy, jazz performances, and music from the Omaha Symphony.
Omaha’s Old Market has plenty more to offer visitors. The historic Old Market features fun restaurants like Blue Sushi Sake Grill and Spaghetti Works, quirky local stores like Hollywood Candy and the Tannenbaum Christmas Shop, and unique exhibits like the KANEKO art center.
Ordinarily, you could also visit Omaha’s Joslyn Art Museum, which is less than a mile west of the Gene Leahy Mall. However, Joslyn is closed for a two-year construction project. Soon, it’ll be just as spectacular as The RiverFront renovation!
Rules at the New Gene Leahy Mall
There are a few rules and regulations to keep in mind before you head over to the Gene Leahy Mall. Of course, don’t litter or hog the provided seating. They also ask that you use blankets, and not tarps or other plastic materials if you want to have a picnic. Additionally, don’t pick flowers or take commercial photos without a permit.
This is a list of some of the items and activities that are not allowed at the park:
- Use of alcohol, tobacco, or vaping products
- Climbing on permanent structures
- Panhandling or solicitation
- Adding substances or items to the park’s water features or signage
- Riding bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, or scooters on the pedestrian walkways (there are designated trails for all you cyclists, scooterists, bladers, and boarders!)
- Cooking, grilling, or otherwise using an open flame
- Glass containers (including bottles)
Another important rule is that large groups of 20 or more people (such as a class on a school field trip) need to submit a request form at least one week prior to the visit. This page contains the online form for a large group to fill out before heading to the park.
Features of the New Gene Leahy Mall
The Gene Leahy Mall is well-known in Omaha for its ornate limestone arches and iconic metal slides. Many locals can recall using the slides as children! They’d make sure the metal wasn’t too hot in the humid summer months, and then slide down for a thrilling ride. And, just as many remember traveling under the prominent arches to get to all the mall fun. Luckily, despite renovations, they preserved these two fixtures to serve locals’ nostalgia!
Of course, there is a lot more new than old. Below, I’ll walk you through all the incredible new features the Gene Leahy Mall at the RiverFront has to offer. Additionally, this map gives you a bird’s-eye view of everything at the new park.
View more photos of the new Gene Leahy Mall.
For starters, they raised the entire park to street level. Gone is the sunken, lagoon-like pond at the center of the park. And, the green spaces are flat instead of steep slopes that make tables and chairs difficult to place. It’s all level and easy to navigate!
At the westernmost edge of the new park, you can view 13th Street Plaza and the Downtown Green, which features plenty of open play space, picnic tables, and seating for large events. Keep an eye out for food trucks if you’re feeling hungry! They occasionally set up shop near this area.
At the center of the plaza’s paved section is the prominent Wind Sculpture, which I’ll talk a bit more about below. There are two long wooden benches in front of the sculpture. So, you can take a moment to sit and soak in the environment before you delve any further into the mall.
The Gene Leahy Mall at The RiverFront has a new Sculpture Garden stretching along the north end of the park. Six beautiful sculptures adorn the area, including:
- Wind Sculpture, Yinka Shonibare (a colorful 26-foot-tall imitation of the effect of a wind-swept piece of fabric)
- Helios, Linda Fleming (an intricately textured geometric piece of powder-coated steel)
- Planar and Tubular, Richard Hunt (a stainless steel, upward-pointing structure)
- Walking Flower Times the Power of Five, James Surls (steel shaped like a flower ring)
- Love Exits, John Clement (a piece with gold-colored, ring-shaped steel pipe and plating)
- Aeolis 7, Bruce Beasley (an abstract piece made of stainless steel)
The RiverFront organization plans to place a shallow pool of water at the base of the Wind Sculpture piece. This will give children a place to play near the art.
The Sculpture Garden also features fire pits, chairs, and hammocks for further recreation and relaxation. And, there are plenty of trees adorning the landscape to create a sense of natural beauty in addition to the manmade works of art.
On the south side of the park, you and your family can experience a trendy, 21st-century playground with metal slides and a climbing wall. Bright-orange climbing arches ring the playground landscape. To the west of the playground, at the corner of South 13th and Farnam, you can relax in the shade under a series of large canopies.
At the end of the downtown green space, you can set out a lawn chair or lie down on the grass in front of the new Performance Pavilion. This section’s large white performance shell is perfect for outdoor concerts and other live entertainment!
There is a paved communal area directly behind the performance shell. Along the edges of this paved area are multiple comfortable benches. So, you can still rock out or enjoy some smooth jazz even if you don’t feel like hanging out in the grass.
11th Street Promenade
As I mentioned, the Gene Leahy Mall is well-known for its classical stone arches. The renovation has highlighted these legendary arches by building a promenade through and around it. And this walkway guides you through a fun open space with unique community swings. They’re bench-length, so multiple children or adults can use a single swing at once!
Although the promenade is a paved walkway, it is dotted with trees and bushes that provide a splash of green in the midst of the concrete. In addition, strings of lights run along overhead to create a warm and inviting atmosphere.
As you travel from the promenade toward the park’s new pond, you will reach the Cascade Fountain. This new feature gives kids and adults a chance to get their feet wet in a wading pool while soaking in the Nebraska sun.
The new slides are located east of the 11th Street Promenade and south of the Cascade Fountain. They’re right next to the mall’s pair of original slides! The new slides are not quite as steep as the classic metal slides from the original park, so they should be safe for younger or less adventurous visitors.
Stone steps accompany each slide to provide an easy way to the top. Plus, there is a slope of green turf beside the slides. So, if the steps are too tedious for your little, they can race back up using the hill to catch a spot in line! You can watch from the comfort of a covered seating area nearby.
Pond and Boat Cove
Gene Leahy Mall has pretty much always had a notable pond. Prior to the renovations, the pond actually split the park into its north and south halves. The new pond begins at the edge of the Cascade Fountain, runs under the roadway bridge at South 10th Street, and stretches until it meets a parallel with 9th Street.
Adorning the paved walkway along the pond are striking red streetlamps, vibrant shrubbery, and dozens of new trees. Pairs of Adirondack chairs look out over the water. You even have a great view of downtown Omaha’s skyline as you walk along the pond.
A boat cove is even nestled on the east side of the pond. And, the Cove Amphitheater for live entertainment overlooks the beautiful bond. With multiple benches and the Adirondack chairs, you’ll have no shortage of places to rest and enjoy whatever the day brings!
Dog Park, 8th Street Green, and Grove
Near the east end of the mall, both large and small dogs can play in the new dog park. This section of the mall offers pet-centric activities like a tunnel that dogs can climb through or on top of. This is the one section of the park where dogs are allowed to be off-leash.
And, in case all the other vibrant green space wasn’t enough, the Gene Leahy Mall also has a tree-lined lawn at the 8th Street Green south of the dog park. Plus, there is a cozy grove near the corner of South 8th Street and Farnam, which offers more beauty and fun.
Activities at the Gene Leahy Mall
The kickoff weekend for the reopened Gene Leahy Mall at The RiverFront included several free events and features, such as performances by the likes of Kristin Chenoweth, Brett Eldredge, Lauren Alaina, and the Omaha Symphony, fireworks, and dog training.
The rest of July 2022 was similarly jam-packed with both interactive events and talented performers. Moving into August and September 2022, the Gene Leahy Mall will feature regular activities during the workweek, including:
- Game Cart (Mondays from 10am-2pm)
- Fitness Boot Camp (Tuesdays at 5:30pm)
- Book Cart (Wednesdays from 10am-2pm)
- Art Cart (Fridays from 10am-2pm)
- Dog Training (Saturdays from 10am-11am)
There will also be occasional events such as food trucks, Pilates, morning yoga, and other concerts and performances. This calendar provides information about past and upcoming events.
During the month of August, the Gene Leahy Mall’s Performance Pavilion is hosting Friday Night Flicks. The free, family-friendly movie screenings planned for August include Sing 2 (August 5), Soul (August 12), Ghostbusters: Afterlife (August 19), and Encanto (August 26). Guests will be able to mark out spots at 3pm on the night of, and food trucks will arrive at 6pm, about 90 minutes before the movie starts.
If you ever need to log onto the Internet while at the Gene Leahy Mall, the park also offers free Wi-fi under the name, “The RiverFront Network.”
Accessibility at the New Gene Leahy Mall
One huge improvement to the Gene Leahy Mall is its gained accessibility. If you or a loved one use a wheelchair or other mobility device, you can enjoy the park too. The various walkways and plazas in the park use gentle slopes, and signage throughout the park offers guidance on the best path for visitors with mobility issues.
Likewise, the park’s public restroom area houses a wheelchair-accessible facility. You can find this section at the Arches Playground, which is located near South 11th and Farnam. Even the playgrounds have features that make them accessible regardless of mobility issues.
The new Gene Leahy Mall offers year-round fun for individuals and families of all ages!
I hope that you have enjoyed learning all about the renovations and improved features of the new Gene Leahy Mall. This article has covered the most important features of the park, but The RiverFront also has an official FAQ page you may find helpful at.
As you can see, this classic Omaha destination’s overhaul now makes it a perfect place for family afternoons at the park, romantic walks around the pond, and all-ages fun with its rotating set of activities.