This morning, I had to see the dentist, and when he came in, he asked me whether I was following the College World Series stadium controversy. I said of course, and that I'm surprised by how contentious it is becoming. He agreed, and said that building a new ballpark was stupid since the NCAA is going to demand even more in two years or threaten to move.
And suddenly, the whole debate became clear to me.
Omaha is now Bizarro World. A place where up is down, left is right, and everything is the opposite of what it really is. I tried to explain that if the NCAA didn't agree to a twenty or thirty year commitment to staying in Omaha, the city would drop all of these plans, but he wasn't having any of that. And since I had to get to work, I wasn't going to argue the point.
Listening and reading various comments, my dentist isn't alone in this apparent Bizarro Omaha. Or maybe it's just myself and a handful of others that have it backwards. Opponents of the plan make plenty of claims, many of which are countered by various media reports. Who's right and who's wrong? From my perspective, the media reports have more substance to them, so I tend to put more faith in them. (Or maybe the Omaha World-Herald is really the Bizarro World-Herald...)
Here are some of the wild claims that I've heard, and the evidence that say just the opposite.
Claim: Mayor Fahey has always been about building a new downtown stadium; he's never considered Rosenblatt. Fahey made the first proposal to the NCAA for a downtown ballpark.
Evidence: The Omaha World-Herald reported on October 12, 2007 that Fahey started negotiations with the NCAA to remodel Rosenblatt in November 2006, and proposed a $26 million renovation of Rosenblatt in February 2007. The NCAA's response on March 12th said that remodeling Rosenblatt would be an "expensive band-aid" and that the city should build a new stadium downtown instead. Of course, the idea of a new downtown ballpark was first raised in 2005 by the Omaha Royals, not Fahey. Fahey was lukewarm to the idea of a new ballpark at that time.
Claim: MECA never was included in the CWS Stadium discussions. They just want to make sure everything is coordinated.
Evidence: David Sokol, chairman of MECA, was involved in the original discussions in 2006, per the World-Herald. Back when Fahey proposed a stadium in lot D, he said that a new stadium should be operated by MECA.
Claim: The NCAA loves Omaha and is a kind organization.
Evidence: In the real world, the NCAA is considered rather evil. Their motivation is to maximize their revenues and they pretty much operate as an out-of-control bureaucracy.
Claim: No other city will lure away the College World Series.
Evidence: Former Mayor Hal Daub told ESPN.com last summer that New Orleans and Indianapolis attempted to lure the CWS away from Omaha when he was mayor.
Claim: The NCAA is just going to ask Omaha for more in a couple of years.
Evidence: Omaha is going to demand a long-term deal of 20 or 30 years to do this. No going back to the piggy bank if we do this. (This claim kind of sits in opposition to the previous one, which indicates that not everyone in Bizarro Omaha is on the same page either...)
Claim: Where would people park at the College World Series? Traffic around the Qwest Center is horrendous!
Evidence: There is probably two or three times more parking at the Qwest Center versus at Rosenblatt. HDR did a traffic survey after a recent Creighton basketball game and identified solutions to the traffic issues as well as suggested a plan to replace the 896 parking stalls that the stadium would use with 1,500 to 1,800 new stalls.
Claim: What would happen if there were a baseball game at the stadium, a Creighton basketball game, and a Home Show going on simultaneously. (A real question posed by Mike'l Severe of KOZN Radio today)
Evidence: Well, the chances of that happening are pretty low. Baseball season is April through September. Creighton basketball games are played November through March. OK, so swap out a Creighton basketball game with a sold out concert. That could happen, though it's unlikely to have big crowds all simultaneously. For one thing, there are only so many part-time workers available to MECA to staff all three events simultaneously. In the summer of 2007, I only saw four big events on the Qwest Center calendar (Faith Hill/Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, and the AVCA Volleyball tournament). None of those were scheduled during the CWS; in fact, the Qwest Center generally is unused during the CWS anyway.
Claim: A remodeled Rosenblatt would be just fine for the NCAA.
Evidence: A remodeled Rosenblatt would not meet the NCAA's requests for hotels within walking distance. On the other hand, Ken Stinson of the CWS committee thinks a remodeled Rosenblatt could earn a contract renewal up to 20 years long, versus up to 30 years for a downtown stadium.
Claim: This is another Fahey Folly like his manhole covers he's wasting taxpayer money on.
Evidence: Omaha placed an order last summer for 200 new manhole covers for replacing old, worn-out manhole covers. When they placed the order, the foundry in Lincoln that makes them had to make a new cast, and since a new cast had to be made anyway, asked if the city would like to have a design put on them. The new manhole covers won't cost the city anything extra.
Now, has this project been poorly communicated to the public? I'd say yes; in fact, I'd suggest that too much information has been released so far. Get the NCAA's buy in first, then present the whole plan in it's entirety. Many people are skeptical because there are unanswered questions about how to pay for this, and when people have unanswered questions or you refuse to answer the question, they frequently assume ill-intent.
We also don't know what the NCAA needs versus desires. They may ask for the world, but be willing to accept less.
I don't know what they will accept or reject for a stadium in Bizarro Omaha.