In response to concerns raised by nearby businesses, Omaha's Urban Design board limited their approval of MECA's plans to foundation work for the new downtown ballpark today. What does this mean? Well, construction can begin next month, but only on the underlying infrastructure.
Saddle Creek Records, a local indie music publishing company, developed the "Slowdown" project just west of the new ballpark in part based on the promise of a new downtown ballpark that would bring vitality to that part of downtown. Over the years, the ballpark grew in size to accomodate the College World Series, but with the prospects of the Royals moving to Sarpy County instead (if Sarpy County can ever figure out a way to pay for it) and MECA eliminating the retail elements of the stadium that would bring activity to the area even when the stadium isn't in use, landowners around the stadium hit the panic button this week.
The idea of moving the stadium back to it's original location in Lot D sounds nobel, but that fight was waged last year, and lost. But the push to drive MECA to build something closer to the original vision should be welcomed. I'm not sure I agree that building a stadium a block to the east is a barrier to development; after all, what does that present a barrier to? The other Qwest Center parking lots?
But it does represent a missed opportunity to launch the "North Downtown" area. Part of the reason the NCAA wanted the College World Series downtown was for the proximity of hotels, restaurants, and shopping. It wanted a vibrant area around the stadium where fans, teams, and NCAA officials could walk to any number of attractions. The current MECA plans don't support that vision.
I understand the frustration of the downtown developers. MECA seems to have failed to find a way to make the downtown stadium work for the Royals, and now seems to be failing in the design. It's great that Omaha is keeping the College World Series, but it would seem that it would make far more sense to build the stadium with the amenities that the NCAA wanted in the first place.
Will Omaha's Urban Design Board be able to push MECA to design the stadium to encourage development around the stadium? Do they have enough clout? That's a story worth watching over the next few weeks. The stadium is going to be built; the only question is what will it look like.