OMAHA — From the Gretna outlet stores to Crossroads and Oak View malls and beyond, Frank Krejci in his nearly 100 years made landscape-changing impressions on the Omaha metro area.
Not only was the homegrown real estate developer behind several high-profile retail ventures, he also took on residential projects such as the West Shores lakeside community in Waterloo. He pushed numerous industrial, commercial and charitable land deals.
He once placed a $1.6 million winning bid on a 17-room mansion in Gretna, plotted a family-themed RV park on 230 acres of Sarpy County and bought a sprawling 31,000 acres of Wyoming cattle, fishing and hunting ranchland.
“The wild thing about Frank is he did a lot of everything — he never took his foot off the gas,” said Brian Kuehl, an Omaha Investors Realty broker who helped Krejci on multiple investments.
Picked up the pace
Up until recently, Kuehl said, Krejci had even picked up the pace because “he had this overwhelming desire to complete what he set out to do, which was to make his mark.”
Krejci died Monday at Methodist Hospital, a few weeks after his 97th birthday.
He was surrounded by family. Survivors include his wife of 47 years, Jane, and four children.
Krejci, of Century Development, told a reporter a few years ago that he had goals to complete before he either retired or died, and one was the makeover of the Crossroads shopping center at 72nd and Dodge Streets.
Krejci’s partner in that project, Chip James of Lockwood Development, said Tuesday that the redevelopment will continue as Krejci had wanted.
“Frank has said from the beginning of The Crossroads redevelopment that he wanted to create a legacy project for Omaha — and we will continue to strive to deliver on Frank’s vision,” said James.
James, Lockwood’s president, offered few other details Tuesday about the mixed-use campus expected to open in 2024. He said he will miss Krecji, whom he called a business visionary on multiple fronts.
“His desire and determination on achieving the Crossroads redevelopment is a testament to his lifelong pursuit towards transforming his community,” James said. “Frank was impactful on my life. He pushed me, he taught me and he supported me. And I am grateful for his partnership.”
He loved land, but he also loved something that was run down and something he could improve upon.
Krejci purchased the deteriorating Crossroads property 12 years ago, raising hope among city residents and leaders that Omaha’s first mall west of 42nd Street would return to its glory at what remains one of the area’s busiest intersections.
Numerous proposals failed before Krejci partnered with Lockwood on a plan to transform the 40 acres or so into a hub of entertainment, office, residential and retail activities. The cost is expected to reach around $600 million, with about $80 million in public tax-increment financing.
Among other of Krejci’s recent projects is the High Point, a multiple-building commercial complex that Century Development assembled in the Elkhorn area near 204th Street north of West Dodge Road.
Kuehl helped Krejci market that property and said his brokerage work with Krejci spans perhaps 15 years, back to the Pacific Springs commercial project near 158th and Pacific Streets.
“I couldn’t even begin to name all the projects Frank has been involved in in the Omaha area,” he said.
Brazen, no filter, ‘golden touch’
Those who worked with Krejci said he was as determined as he was frank, brazen and without much of a filter.
“He never pulled any punches,” Kuehl said. “Even if it wasn’t right, it was the way he saw it, and he made no apologies.”
Trenton Magid, of NAI NP Dodge and co-host of the “Grow Omaha” radio show, helped Krejci celebrate his 90th birthday. Magid sent a balloon-o-gram in which he had the singer describe his friend as “an equal opportunity offender of everyone.”
“For somebody who had so much of it, he was not about money,” Magid said. “Money was just a way of keeping score. And he had the golden touch.”
A World War II veteran, Krejci was drafted into the Army shortly after he graduated from Omaha Technical High School.
After returning from combat, he bought an auto body business in Omaha and three years later, in 1950, used profits to buy his first real estate parcel.
Deals, lots of them
A biography on a property listing said Krejci’s developments included Millard Business Park, Blackstone Centre, Nicholas Plaza, Centech Business Park and buildings in the Old Mill and North Park office parks.
Retail and residential projects included Nebraska Crossing Outlet Mall, Brentwood Square shopping center, Elk Ranch and Indian Pointe Estates, Valley Shores and projects in several other states including Arizona, Florida and Texas.
Magid said Krejci had an eye for picking the right property and for real estate projects.
“He loved land, but he also loved something that was run down and something he could improve upon,” he said.
Upon learning of his friend’s passing, Magid sent a text to some colleagues: “I’m sure he is offending plenty of people in line in front of the pearly gates. Tomorrow he will be putting up condos.”