City of Omaha commits $93 million to UNMC Project NExT partnership

(Omaha, NE) -- The City of Omaha is pledging millions of dollars to the University of Nebraska Medical Center to support the school's expansion.

On Tuesday, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert announced that the city has signed a $93 million Memorandum of Understanding to support the Project NExT expansion at UNMC over the next decade. Project NExT is a proposed medical research facility and federal disaster response center planned to be built on the UNMC/Nebraska Medicine campus.

At a Tuesday morning press conference, Dr. Jeffrey Gold joined Stothert to announce the partnership, that is expected to create more than 8,700 permanent jobs and 41,000 construction jobs. “Building great partnerships is how we get things done in Omaha,” Stothert said.

Stothert said the expansion is expected to bring in $1.9 billion annually both during construction and after its completion. The MOU provides as much as $45 million for Project NExT and $48 million for public improvements, streets and a parking garage on the Saddle Creek campus.

“Our support will not increase taxes,” Stothert said.

Taxes collected on the city’s occupation tax, as well as taxes on tobacco and vaping products, will fund the city’s commitment over the next ten years. The increased smoking tax, which amount to about $4.2-4.5 million annually, will begin in 2023. Stothert said the city council passed the tobacco tax ordinance in 2012 to fund the Fred and Pamela Buffet Cancer Center. In 2019, they removed the sunset provision that would have ended the tax in 2022 and added vaping products to the tax.

The public parking garage will be funded through lease-purchase bonds, Stothert said, and other infrastructure improvements — “including streets,” she said — will be funded with transportation bonds included in the 2021-2026 capital improvement plan. In addition, the state of Nebraska approved $300 million for the NExT project, and Gov. Pete Ricketts “signed a bill committing funding contingent on additional financial support for the project,” Stothert said.

“Our medical center is uniquely qualified to respond to public health crisis and other types of national threats. We have seen that first-hand with the treatment of Ebola patients and now COVID-19 patients,” Stothert said. “Project NExT places Omaha in a competitive position to attract and retain the best and the brightest talent.”

Dr. Gold called the MOU a critically important commitment to Project NExT, short for Nebraska Transformation, “will provide a world-class home for an academic medical center. It will provide for health security for our nation, as well as provide an economic injection that drives development and prosperity in Omaha for decades after decades.”

Dr. Gold said UNMC will continue working to provide funding for the project from private and public sectors “and particularly from the federal government.”

“We are deeply thankful for this commitment, and we will not disappoint,” he said.

Councilman Chris Jerram, who represents the city’s 3rd District, said the Buffett Cancer Center and the global center at UNMC have been transformational for the city. “It’s a very exciting time in our city,” he said. “...It’s about investment, and return on investment.”

The mayor's office says that the MOU is a non-binding agreement and that in the next month, sites will be designated for the new “federal all-hazard response locations” that will serve as preparation centers for future pandemics, natural disasters, and other public health threats.

(Photo by WOWT 6 News)

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