Back when I was in high school, my physics teacher used to use wacky and absurd examples to liven up otherwise droll physics classes. Much like Dr. Tim Gay's "Football Physics" features that used to run on the HuskerVision screens at Memorial Stadium years ago, they kept me awake as physics class used to be in that dreaded "pre-lunch" spot on my schedule. Many of the examples used the "Chalco Olympics" as the background since the Olympics provided plenty of interesting sports for basis, and the absurdity of a major sporting events in Chalco, Nebraska added extra humor. Chalco, you see, was essentially a spot on a railroad line along 144th Street in Sarpy County with a grain elevator. Over the years, the grain elevator became surrounded by homes and other industrial development, especially just south around the Sapp Brothers truck stop.
A few years ago, development in this area took a step forward when PayPal and Cabelas located about two miles east of Chalco. (Legally, it's called "LaVista", though it's still twice as far from LaVista as it is from Chalco.) The area is seeing a boom as car dealerships, hotels, and restaurants join in the growth. Now comes word that Sarpy County is considering building a ball park in Chalco for the AAA Omaha Royals. Radio is abuzz over it, as is the World-Herald's Tom Shatel.
Yet it still sounds almost as absurd as the Chalco Olympics to me.
Could it happen? Of course! Will it happen? Maybe. Should it happen? Unless there's something that I'm missing (which is very possible), absolutely not.
Why Chalco? Well, there are a few good reasons. The new downtown stadium is nearly twice as big as is desirable for triple-A minor league baseball. MECA seems to be ambivolent at best towards the Royals playing at the new stadium. And the Pacific Coast League really hates trying to schedule the Royals around the College World Series.
But then the reasons get downright silly. Parking costs for one thing. We've been told that MECA's $6 parking charges are too high for minor league baseball. Ok. Let's do a quick survey. Oklahoma City ($5), Indianapolis ($5), Des Moines ($6). So much for that argument.
Interstate access? That's a funny one as well. There's one access point to the Interstate at the Cabela's exit. One. Can you say GRIDLOCK? ("I knew you could.") Go downtown to the Qwest Center, and you've got your choice of three within about a mile. (Oh, I guess you could drive 3 miles south and west to Sapp Brothers, or wind through Millard for about five miles to get on at L Street...)
Control over stadium advertising revenues is another. Here's the issue with that... the NCAA doesn't allow advertising during the College World Series, so guess what. There won't be any advertising revenue for the NCAA to demand.
Office space is currently an issue at Rosenblatt, and it's a true issue. The Royals must shut down and pack everything away when the NCAA comes to town. But couldn't there be a way to build space to accomodate BOTH organizations in the new downtown ballpark?
Then there are the reasons why it's simply a horrible idea. The new development is on the fringes of Omaha. It's not centrally located at all; it's surrounded by farm fields on the south. From my home in northwest Omaha, Google Maps says it's still over 15 minutes to drive there. Sure, it's more convenient to drive there from Millard and LaVista, but what about the rest of the metro area? Just ask the Omaha Lancers how that move to the fringes of Council Bluffs, free parking, and interstate access worked for them attendance wise.
Suburban ballparks have had some success, but by large, most new stadiums are built downtown at both the major league and minor league levels. There's a reason for this.
Bottom line... how is a new stadium going to be funded? A lot of people criticized the amount of money that the new downtown stadium is going to take. The Royals spent several years trying to make a downtown stadium financially viable...and failed. Are the costs in the 'burbs cheaper? Probably a bit. But is that enough to make this viable? I don't see it. Omaha is using hotel and car rental taxes to pay for the stadium, along with stadium revenues. Those are sources that are going to be tough to do in Chalco. Free parking means no parking revenue. No airport in Sarpy County means very low car rental taxes. And while Sarpy has some hotel rooms, Omaha has far more to work with.
So where does the money come from? That's the question. My guess is that in the end, it's property taxes. I don't live in Sarpy County, so it doesn't bother me if they hike their taxes. But in this state, I'm not sure I think that proposing a tax increase to fund a new ballpark is going to be very popular.
Maybe there's a funding source I hadn't considered or underestimated. Maybe this ballpark won't cost the taxpayers that much. But color me skeptical. I understand that there is a desire by some to "stick it to Omaha and Fahey" by yanking the Royals away, and that sentiment does exist in this community.
In the end, Spite is a poor way to run any organization, whether it's business or government. And right now, that seems to be the main reason to move the Royals to Chalco.