An Interview with Othello H. Meadows III

Executive Director of Seventy-Five North Revitalization Corp., Othello H. Meadows III talks about reversing decline in a near-north side Omaha neighborhood.

What is the Seventy Five North project?
The Seventy Five North project is an effort to change the trajectory of a neighborhood that has long been in decline. The Highlander neighborhood on the near north side of Omaha, Neb., has long been plagued by the ills that have been all too common in inner cities across America. Our goal is to create a neighborhood of increased opportunity, educational attainment and wellness. We hope to achieve that goal by decreasing concentrated poverty through the creation of mixed-income housing, implementing a cradle to college educational pipeline for neighborhood children and the attraction of economic development and investment to the neighborhood. 

What makes this project unique from other urban revitalization programs?
Two things: first, the mixed-income aspect of our proposed development is different from what currently exists in Omaha. Developers here typically focus on either low-income or market-rate housing. We plan on creating true economic diversity among residents. Secondly, Seventy Five North's only responsibility is to the Highlander neighborhood. The Purpose Built model, on which this project is based, calls for a lead organization (i.e. Seventy Five North) that drives this holistic process forward and holds the numerous partners accountable. 

What is the genesis for this urban revitalization concept?
This concept, as we are implementing it, comes directly from the work done at Eastlake Meadows, a large public housing project in Atlanta, Ga. A real estate developer named Tom Cousins created a partnership with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the city of Atlanta, and the Atlanta Housing Authority to transform Eastlake Meadows from a hopeless and dangerous place into a thriving community anchored by high quality mixed-income housing, neighborhood amenities, and a high performing school. The lessons that emerged from this process led to the creation of Purpose Built Communities, a nonprofit consulting firm. 

Why do you believe Omaha is ready for this type of project, and what differences exist with Atlanta?
Omaha was at the point where people didn't want to talk about more planning and studies. The community, as well as business and philanthropic leaders, were fatigued from years of discussion about what should happen in north Omaha neighborhoods and wanted to see the wheels start to turn. There are a lot of similarities between Omaha and Atlanta but the differences are significant. For one, Atlanta had a much bigger challenge at the outset. Tom Cousins and his team had to convince residents to move out of Eastlake Meadows with a promise that they would come back to something much better. That proved to be a monumental challenge. We have the opposite challenge because the projects were demolished and, even before that, the density of this neighborhood had drastically decreased. We are trying to re-densify it in a way that attracts new investment and interest. Another difference is that Georgia, unlike Nebraska, has charter school legislation. That allowed them to build a school at the center of their neighborhood that drives the continued transformation of the place and its people. Fortunately, we have a school district that is committed to having the same type of impact on the students in the district that face the greatest hurdles.

How does this project engage the local community and residents?
This project is an outgrowth of a comprehensive, multi-year planning effort that engaged residents in an interactive and values-driven process designed to truly understand the neighborhood's needs and preferences. Our job is to take those findings from paper to dirt

What is the time line? And what do you see as your biggest challenge?
Our immediate goal is to break ground by mid to late 2014. We anticipate the entire build-out taking about three years. One of our biggest challenges will be addressing the perception that haunts the Highlander neighborhood. For years it was the epicenter of public housing on the north side and people remember what it was like back then. Conversely, the site has so many positives going for it: great location, expansive views, proximity to major employers, etc. We just have to help people—especially market-rate consumers—see the neighborhood for what it will be. 

How will the project be funded?
The project will be funded through a combination of philanthropy, tax credits, grants and traditional financing.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing urban communities? Is there hope?
I wouldn't be doing this if there wasn't hope. That being said, the challenges are incredible. In my opinion, access to the highest quality early childhood education, which then feeds into high performing schools, is the greatest tool we have in fighting generational poverty. If we make providing every child with a world-class public education, regardless of income level, we will have taken a giant step in that battle. 

What will success look like?

When people who have a choice in where they live, where they send their children to school and where they invest their money choose to do those things in Highlander, I'll know that we're on our way. 


About Othello H. Meadows III

Othello H. Meadows III is a native of Omaha, Neb. and currently serves as executive director of Seventy Five North Revitalization Corp., a community revitalization and development organization.  Prior to this position, he was executive director of the Omaha Workforce Collaborative, a nonprofit housed at the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, designed to restructure the workforce development efforts of the Omaha metropolitan area.  

Mr. Meadows returned to Omaha, after being away nearly 15 years, to run a non-partisan voter registration drive that registered over 10,000 new voters in eastern Omaha prior to the 2008 presidential election. Before returning to Omaha, he operated his own law firm, Othello H. Meadows, P.C. in Atlanta, Georgia.  He attended East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina on a basketball scholarship and earned his BA in Psychology in 1997.  He received his Juris Doctor from North Carolina Central University School of Law in 2004.

Mr. Meadows is a board member at Creighton Prepatory School, The Jesuit Academy, Girls Incorporated and The United Way of the Midlands. He also chairs the Omaha Community Foundation’s African-American Unity Fund Grants Committee.

Community Connections periodically features regional leaders committed to community and economic development.

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