Magazine article Journal of Property Management

A Natural Storyteller: Omaha's KETV Brought a Historic Train Depot Back to Life as a State-Of The-Art Media Epicenter

Magazine article Journal of Property Management

A Natural Storyteller: Omaha's KETV Brought a Historic Train Depot Back to Life as a State-Of The-Art Media Epicenter

Article excerpt

Every day the local news team for Hearst-owned, ABC-affiliate KETV in Omaha reports on the community's stories--some sad, some hopeful, all Omaha. Therefore, it is no wonder that Hearst leadership was drawn to the vacant Burlington Station when they started looking for a new headquarters for KETV.

Ariel Roblin, KETV's President and General Manager, remembers walking into the station for the first time, struck by the graffiti covering the walls of the forgotten building.

"The train station was dingy and looked awful," she said. "But then we saw the stories [through the graffiti], and they were Omaha stories. As a local news station, we tell and honor these stories--so we felt a real calling to this property."

When the historic station first opened 1898, it was lauded throughout the country for its grand architecture. Although the station spent many decades as an influential Midwestern icon, it slipped into ill repair and became a vacant derelict.

In 2013, Heart purchased the dilapidated building, with a commitment to bring it back to life as the station's new headquarters. After a two-year, $22 million renovation, Burlington Station (now known as 7 Burlington Station) opened in October 2015 as a state-of-the-art media epicenter that honors its rich history--and the history of Omaha.

HONORING THE PAST

Throughout the restoration process, KETV maintained a fine balance between modernization and preservation.

"We kept parts of every stage of the building's life--including the tough parts of it," Roblin said.

That's one of the reasons the station opted to keep some of the graffiti--namely a woman hanging prominently in the newly designed lunchroom and aptly named "The Lunch Lady."

"For 42 years, this building was vacant," Roblin said. "Part of the history of this building is the important role it played giving shelter [to the homeless]. As a broadcast station, we play a role in speaking for those who do not have a voice."

Another point of preservation pride can be found in the station's east lobby. While this part of the building was in particularly bad shape, it was the only area that had any plaster left to restore. KETV brought in two artisans who put up molds and restored the room to its former glory. At the end of the process, two painters spent a week painting the ceiling. Two local woodworkers created 1898 replica train benches for the lobby as well. Today, the east lobby is a common area for all employees and visitors to gather and enjoy.

READY FOR THE FUTURE

Of course, the former train depot required plenty of updates and reconfigurations to allow it to become a fully functioning, modern media center.

One of the biggest challenges was removing existing columns to create an open layout for KETV's ever-important studio. Structural engineers had to swap out old columns with 14,000-pound steel beams and a new frame, which can support 500,000 pounds. Then they had to jack up the ceiling to take pressure off the existing columns and original beam system in order to remove the columns.

Another important part of the project was removing the parking deck--which obstructed the view of the front of the building and detracted from its stately design. …

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