From the basement of the building that once housed the Center Theater and Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater, you can hear the footsteps from dancers above.
The dance steps represent a new era being brought forward at 3504 Center St. The unique building, which features two castle-inspired towers, now houses the Hispanic Art Center of Omaha.
Milt Schneider and his wife, Leah Moreno Schneider, purchased the iconic, 13,000-square feet building in December 2021. The Schneiders wanted to operate an event and community center for those in the South Omaha area. The couple previously leased space for a dance studio in a building at 18th and Vinton streets.
In addition to hosting and teaching classes for 140 dancers of all ages in the theater’s 1979 addition, which has been repainted and modernized to include the installation of a meticulously maintained wood dance floor, the Schneiders are undertaking a renovation of the original 1952 theater that is expected to be completed in time for a spring or early summer opening.
That theater renovation will include the installation of a 26-foot screen capable of 8K resolution. That will allow for showings of family-friendly movies such as Pixar’s “Coco.” It will also be a place for wedding receptions, birthday parties and other community events. Leah said more space for dance classes will also be possible through the renovation.
“This has been both of our dreams,” Milt said.
It was a dream that hinged on the Omaha City Council’s approval of a liquor license on Feb. 14. Initially, the Schneiders’ request for a liquor license was met with opposition from some neighbors, as it allowed for liquor to be taken off premises. Schneider said his legal representatives were following standard operating procedure in the initial liquor license application.
After the application was amended to allow for liquor to be consumed only on the property and he canvassed the neighborhood, Milt said most neighbors’ concerns were satisfied. The council unanimously passed the application.
“We’re here to be good neighbors,” he said.
Had the application been denied, the significant investment the Schneiders made into purchasing and renovating the property would have been for naught.
“It would have been the world’s most upsetting garage sale,” Milt said. “We need the event portion to cover our costs.”
The Schneiders have been privately financing all aspects of the building. That method allows them to independently make improvements.
Once the renovations are completed, the Schneiders anticipate the building will host many events including Cinco de Mayo and Dia de los Muertos celebrations. A Dia de los Muertos festival and art exhibit has been scheduled to take place this year from Oct. 20 through Nov. 6. The Schneiders said the center is welcoming to people of all ages, cultures and nationalities.
Councilman Danny Begley, who worked with Milt and the neighborhood pertaining to the liquor license application, praised Milt’s willingness to communicate. Begley also noted Milt assured the council of his plans to improve the center’s parking lot, including upgrading the street lights and his plans to have bilingual security for events where alcohol is being sold.
“He wants to make sure that it’s a great center for people who want to come in and enjoy it,” Begley said.