Sunday, June 17, 2007

As the Blatt Turns: Remodel or Start Over?

As the College World-Series wraps up day three, folks are talking about plans for replacing Rosenblatt Stadium with a new ballpark near the Qwest Center. Even the NCAA is talking about it "between pitches". What is the right answer? It's not as cut and dried as people think. Rosenblatt certainly has a lot going for it; ESPN raves about it during each and every game. But that also doesn't mean that things couldn't be better.

When people talk glowingly of Rosenblatt, they frequently mention the general admission bleachers as a place where the average fan is still welcome (as long as they get there early enough) and it's still very affordable to go. They also mention the comaraderie of long-time season ticketholders who've had season tickets for years. You certainly don't want to eliminate the little things that helped make the College World-Series the event it is.

But step inside the concourses and you'll see the dirty little secret of the College World-Series. Claustrophobic concourses, long restroom lines, few concession stands. Saturday night's ESPN broadcast showed fans still trying to get inside the stadium long after the game started. (At last year's Nebraska-Creighton game, it took me 20 minutes to get from the stadium entrance to my seats through the crowded concourse!)

I don't think the city of Omaha wants to replace Rosenblatt. It has history, and the city has invested millions of dollars into it. But the NCAA wants things to be upgraded. They want some controls over the flea-market atmosphere outside. They want some raw infrastructure upgraded (skyboxes, new locker rooms, meeting/office space). So the City of Omaha started to total up the cost of improvements and started to choke on the numbers. $25 million for starters, and you still haven't begun to address much of the infrastructure.

It's a sobering total. Even the NCAA recognized this...and they suggested that maybe it's time to consider a new stadium. It's an intriguing idea. We could spend $25 million over the next 5 years to upgrade Rosenblatt, then find ourself in a position to spend another $25 or $30 million in 10 or 15 years to address the problems that aren't being addressed. Can you say "Money Pit"?

The key to solving this is to identify what makes the College World-Series what it is...and make sure that no matter what happens, it still exists. General admission? Gotta have it. Long-time season ticketholders? Assure them that they'll still have seats in the same approximate locations near the same people they've sat by previously. (I've heard a rumor that Creighton would control the tickets for their boosters, obviously people reacting to Creighton's ticket policy for other NCAA championship events.) Zestos? Certainly you've got to find a way to get Zesto's near a new stadium.

Some of the silliest criticism of the new stadium idea revolves around moving downtown. The new stadium would likely be located about 4 blocks west of Omaha's new Qwest Center arena which is undergoing a lot of development as we speak. 4 new hotels are under construction literally across the street from the proposed location. Thousands of parking spaces are available at the Qwest Center. Creighton's new soccer stadium and the Qwest Center are available for festivities...again, all within walking distance. New bars and restaurants, including Omaha's new indy-rock mecca, Slowdown. Oh yes, and my daughter's child care center as well. (Does that address the "is it safe" argument?) I drive through this area daily, and it's easy to see how this part of town would explode if the CWS moves in. Many refer to this as "NoDo", the counterpart to Denver's LoDo district that was revitalized when the Colorado Rockies moved in about 10 years ago.

But by that same token, the new stadium plan has questions. How would 16,000 temporary seats work? Can you really do it for $50 million? If Omaha decides to build a new stadium, it cannot afford to screw it up. The College World Series brings in $34 million to the Omaha economy, according to a 2003 Creighton survey. Personally, if Omaha is building a new stadium and is thinking long term, you start with 30,000 seats with an eye on eventually needing to hold 40,000.

Deep down, I think this new stadium is going to happen. Omaha needs the College World Series, and pumping $25 million into Rosenblatt without solving all of Rosenblatt's issues could be one of the biggest mistakes we could make.


Anonymous said...

You work at UP Mike? I believe I work at that child care center so I can attest that the area is "safe" or at least as safe as the Rosenblatt area is (we make frequent field trips in the area and haven't had a problem yet). Also that section of downtown does have some downtrodden spots but it is picking up rapidly and will look niiice in a couple of years.

The problem I have with the area though is not necessarily the parking (which isn't all that much more compared to Rosenblatt) but the access to get to the area. Some of those road systems down there are difficult to manage even on a morning commute let alone when 45,000+ people are headed to the area. Also there is the factor the the atmosphere totally gets taken out or at least gets altered a great deal.

Husker Mike said...

For now anyway, I work at UP. :-) Personally, I think the roads around North Downtown are a little better than around Rosenblatt; 2 ramps to I-480 (13th & 17th) plus Cuming. Not to mention Dodge Street.

The atmosphere is a huge concern, but the atmosphere isn't built on the stadium, but rather the fans inside. As long as you keep that intact...the atmosphere will translate.

Kalthalior said...

Mike, I've been against the idea for quite a while now, but you've made a much more convincing argument than has the Mayor or anyone else. I work downtown as well, and the traffic/parking congestion could be murderous if it isn't thought out well. There are a lot of issues that would have to be addressed (how much will the city be on the hook for dollar wise) before I'd get on board, but you've made me at least consider it, which I didn't think was possible. Kudos.