A new look that fits the context of the downtown neighborhood.

The towering golden arches are gone. In their place is an attractive monument sign emblazoned with the world-famous “M.” The tasteful brick eatery is built to the street at the property’s corner, creating a pleasant sense of space for those who walk, pedal or drive by. The width of the sidewalks encourages their use, the neatly manicured landscaping provides a green respite from the bustle of the intersection, and a generous outdoor seating area encourages customers to linger for a moment before returning to their schedules.

Welcome to the new McDonald’s at 24th and Cuming, a working example of how Omaha’s Urban Design Element is changing the face of the city’s built environment for the better.

In the summer of 2007, when the Omaha City Council adopted a groundbreaking package of regulations designed to bring the Urban Design Element’s recommendations to life, local examples of what these code changes and additions looked like when executed were hard to come by. Today, some five years later, that’s changing, says Jed Moulton, manager of urban design for the city’s planning department. “Understanding the new requirements took a little coaching for local developers unfamiliar with these types of requirements, however, many corporate developers working nationally were well versed in such standards and adapted easily,” he said.

At 24th and Cuming – after close coordination between the planning department and the corporate offices of McDonald’s, the existing McDonald’s was demolished last spring to make way for the chain’s new “café-style” prototype featuring contemporary décor, muted lighting, flat screen monitors and more.

While these changes were in the works for the inside, Omaha’s urban design standards called for upgrades to the restaurant’s exterior and surrounding property, Moulton said.

The build-to/set-back guidelines ensured that the store was placed on the property in a manner that created a consistent street yard featuring a sidewalk of sufficient size and a landscaped plot that separated the sidewalk from the street. Shade trees now line the property in both directions.

The old drive-through lane, which previously circled around the building, is now located behind the building in the parking lot. In the old days, the single lane could only stack three cars at a time, leading to traffic snafus during peak dining times. The two new drive-through lanes, which passersby don’t have to look at while making their way up and down Cuming Street, can stack up to 16 vehicles.

The ground-level transparency guidelines ensured that a certain percentage of the building façade was transparent. As a result, a series of glass windows and doors allow passersby to see activity within the restaurant instead of a solid mass of wall.

Access for delivery vehicles proved to be a real challenge for the development team, as the site is much smaller than the typical McDonald’s prototype, Moulton said. An innovative solution was developed to create a special access driveway used only by delivery trucks. They now enter the site by driving over specially reinforced curbs and sidewalk areas. Removable bollards restrict use of the driveway when it’s not in use by delivery vehicles.

Because the back end of the building faces 24th Street, the planning department urged the McDonald’s architects to design it as though it were the front of the building. And, instead of stacking dumpsters behind the restaurant, they became part of its internal structure and thus out of the public’s line of sight.

The final touch – a monument sign similar to the one at 24th and Lake has been erected on the McDonald’s corner, designating the entrance to the historic N. 24th Street district.

A July 13 Omaha World-Herald article quotes Fay Hobley, who owns the 24th and Cuming McDonald’s, as saying the redesign has been good for business. “We are doing quite a bit more business now,” she said. “We can accommodate more, food-wise and facility-wise.”

For more information about the Urban Design Element, visit http://www.omahabydesign.org/projects/urban-design-element/. For more information about the urban design division of the city’s planning department, visit http://www.cityofomaha.org/planning/urbanplanning/sections/urban-design.