OMAHA,NEB. - For more than half a century, the Livestock Exchange Building served as the center of Omaha’s livestock industry—before it fell vacant as the stock pens stood empty.

Now the dramatic brick building is the center of 34-year-old Blanca Ruiz’s family life.

“It’s my castle. I feel like the queen of the building, because everything is at hand,” said Ruiz, who moved to the Livestock with her two sons about 18 months ago.

Born in Durango, Mexico, Ruiz has been a resident of the United States for 9 years. She lived in East Chicago and Indiana for a while before moving to Omaha. The Ruiz family lived in a onebedroom apartment in a nearby complex prior to the Livestock.

“It was hard living three people to one room,” said Ruiz. “The difference is huge between now and before. This is a beautiful building. The price is wonderful for all the room we have in the apartment: two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a living room, and a kitchen.”

“We have a washer and dryer in the apartment,” she continues. “In the other apartment, we had to go outside the building and then come in a different door to do laundry. And here, any problem we have in the apartment, they try to solve them right away. There’s great security in this building. No one can access my floor.”

The Livestock also has much to offer Ruiz’s sons, 12-year-old Eloy and 6- year-old Alejandro.

“Any time they want, they can play outside in the park,” said Ruiz. She also appreciates being able to keep an eye on her boys at the school bus stop, which is in view of her apartment.

Constructed on the Omaha Union Stockyards site, the Livestock Exchange Building dates to 1926. Architect George Prinz designed it as an eclectic mix of Romanesque and northern Italian Renaissance revival styles. NuStyle Development renovated the imposing structure into 102 affordable rental units and three floors of commercial space.

OneWorld Community Health Center rented 40,000 square feet in the building to provide medical and dental care and pharmacy services to the surrounding community.

And while the Livestock was being redeveloped, a bank, community college, and other businesses all moved into the neighborhood.

The neighborhood’s rebirth benefits Ruiz directly in numerous ways. She works at the American GI Forum, a nearby restaurant, and takes ESL (English as a Second Language), customer service, and keyboarding classes at Metro Community College, across the street from the Livestock.

Ruiz also cites the Livestock’s community room as an important resource.

“Most of the people who live here benefit from it,” said Ruiz, who belongs to a weekly Al-Anon group that uses the Livestock’s community room for free. “Our group was paying so much for a room at different places,” she said. “That hour and a half [we have that space] is nothing for the building, but it means a lot for many, many families.”