Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Mea Culpa over the Chalco Boondoggle

It's time for me to admit I was wrong about the prospect of Sarpy County building a ballpark for the Omaha Royals. Doesn't mean I agree with the decision; I'm still convinced that the second stadium isn't necessary and that a solution could be found for the Royals to play in the new downtown stadium.

But it's not happening. Barring a huge change of opinion by the Sarpy County Board, it will all become official next Monday. The question isn't if, but rather where.

Why was I wrong? I've spent most of the last time arguing the question was really "how". How could Sarpy County pay for a new stadium? The idea of the Legislature paying for it was pure folly, and I was convinced that once the charade was over, Sarpy County would back down.

What I failed to consider was that Sarpy County really wanted the Royals. When you REALLY want something, you usually find a way to make it happen, whether you can afford it or not. Some might argue that's the root cause of today's economic crisis; people overextending themselves on spending. (That's another issue entirely, for another blog.)

In the end, Sarpy County wants the stadium, and will find a way to make it happen. We may never know what "Plan B" really is, as I kind of expect Sarpy to muddle through on paying for it through next year, and try to resurrect LB 615 once construction has started and both sides have begun to consumate the relationship with real money and real commitmets. When that fails again (and it should because the state should not be funding a ballpark for Sarpy County), we may finally learn what Plan B is.

So where will Sarpy County build the stadium? I go back to the original suggestion: Cabela's is the best location, bar none, if money is not an issue. But I think money still is a huge factor, which breathes life into the Bellevue and 370 locations. Bellevue makes the most sense in my opinion; it redevelops a blighted area, and it's more likely to get support from the state as a redevelopment project. The downside to Bellevue is that this stadium has been sold as a "west Omaha stadium" (even though it's not in west Omaha and is almost as far from parts of West Omaha as the downtown stadium is), and Omahans may reject the Royals as the "Bellevue Royals." The highway 370 location is intriguing only because of the prospects of little league fields for Papillion and two much-needed ice rinks. The idea of shopping and restaurants developing around the 370 location sounds intriguing, until you realize the dearth of that type of development on 13th street, where the stadium is co-located with the Omaha area's biggest tourist destination.

The dynamics of the Sarpy County boondoggle have made it difficult to protest or criticize it. We don't know where it's going to be built, we don't know how it's going to be paid for, and we don't even know exactly how much it's supposed to cost. And nobody outside of the Royals and the leaders of Sarpy County will know those answers until it's a done deal: signed, sealed and delivered.

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