Some people thought that Tuesday's Sarpy County board vote to approve a preliminary agreement with the Omaha Royals was the end of the debate as to where the Royals would play. It's actually just the beginning. The real battle is going to be waged in the State Legislature, and it all began today.
We all knew that the battle was going to revolve around how Sarpy County was going to fund the ballpark. I always assumed that the chief opposition would come from Omaha and the rest of the state, refusing to pay for the Boondoggle. Turns out that the mayors of Sarpy County have cut to the head of the line to protest the county's plans to pay for the stadium. Mind you, they aren't opposed to the ballpark, per se. It's how the county will pay for the ballpark, and specfically how that affects the rest of Sarpy County. The proposed entertainment district essentially becomes a black hole that presents an impediment to growth of cities, and potentially siphons the tax base away from cities. It's clear that the cities of Sarpy County and the county board are in fundamental disagreement as to how Sarpy County should grow. Sarpy County has filed lawsuits against Gretna and Papillion over annexations, and that seems to be at the heart of the battle between the competing Sarpy County interests. So now, the mayors of Bellevue, La Vista, Papillion, Gretna, and Springfield have united to oppose the Sarpy County move. Again, not because of the ballpark itself, but rather because of the means that Sarpy County wants to use to pay for the ballpark. It's a power play being waged internally between the various entities of the county.
This seems to stack the deck pretty hard against the Sarpy County board. I figured that Omaha's state senators would oppose the plans, and sure enough, they do. But now the internal battles within Sarpy grow even larger. Sarpy County's recent record of development bungles, such as failure to enforce design standards around one of the proposed ballpark locations or failure to comply with federal regulations for a road project, have resulted in a high degree of skepticism of Sarpy's ability to manage growth.
There's still 45 days left in this session, and 70 days before Sarpy County is locked into this deal, so a lot can change between now and then. But right now, a new front in the battle over the ballpark has been opened. Meanwhile, Omaha sits back and watches the infighting in Sarpy County.
Tom Shatel seems to feel that the Sarpy ballpark is a done deal, even though he doubts that Sarpy County will succeed in the Legislature. That's putting a great deal of faith in the willingness of Sarpy's taxpayers to pick up the tab for this.