The Sarpy County Board made it official today, selecting the site at 126th and Highway 370 as the new home for the the Royals Triple-A affiliate. It's a bittersweet moment for the metro area in my opinion. The good news for the Omaha area is that the Royals will be remaining in Omaha area. The bad news is in an ideal world where all entities (local governments, the Royals, and the NCAA) cooperated, one stadium could have been sufficient. In this time when the economy is contracting and government is criticized for spending too much money, the notion of two ballparks in the Omaha area is regrettable.
After reflecting on things over the weekend, I realized that while I think the decision to build a stadium in Sarpy County is the wrong one for the Royals and Sarpy County, if Sarpy County insisted on building a stadium in Sarpy County, the highway 370 location was very likely the best decision for the county. Not necessarily the Royals, mind you. For Sarpy County, it was kind of a no-brainer. The land and infrastructure costs were the lowest at that site, and the promise of potental development was the highest. From the county's perspective, highway 370 is low risk - high reward. Papillion is booming and the promise of shopping and recreation is a benefit to everyone. The opportunity for the developer bringing an ice rink or two to the area is another benefit. Omaha suffers a shortage of ice for skating and hockey because of the expense, so additional rinks represents a good thing for the metro area.
I still believe that the proposed stadium is still a mistake for both the Royals and Sarpy County...but both organizations have now signed off on it, making my objections irrelevant. We still don't know how Sarpy is going to pay for it, which was my #1 objection all along. I also question what a $25 million dollar stadium that holds 6000 fans looks like when the going rate for a 7000 seat stadium is double that. Heck, a single big screen will cost over $1 million. (For comparision, Nebraska is installing two new video screens and ribbon boards at this time for a total cost of $3 million) And yes, it's too far southwest of the metro area.
Twice in the last day or so, I've heard references to my blog in the media without any attribution. Which is fine; I'm open to criticism even if they don't want to acknowledge the source...but they shouldn't be surprised by a response.
Some have mentioned why my motivation is, even questioning why people oppose "progress". My motivation is simple: I want the best thing for the metro area. The city is already committing many millions of dollars for the downtown stadium, and the money being invested in a second stadium is a waste of resources in a time when there are far greater needs in this city than a second stadium. The downtown stadium was a no brainer; Rosenblatt had infrastructure issues that weren't going away, and the NCAA was requesting a new stadium by all accounts. It's unfortunate that the Royals and MECA couldn't come to an agreement downtown, and for that, I blame all parties: MECA, the Royals, Sarpy County, and to a lesser extent, the city of Omaha.
In an interview yesterday, Alan Stein denied that the Royals tried to play one bid off of another one in their dealings with MECA. Whether that's true or not, the Royals were already in discussions with Sarpy County long before they negotiated with MECA, and there is no way that those discussions could not have influenced the Royals positioning. When you know that you are going to have alternatives, you aren't going to be interested in compromising. The Royals knew of interest from Sarpy County, and MECA likely knew as well and weren't going to get into a bidding war.
In my rush to post (with a cranky one-month old on my lap) Friday night, I didn't make my objections to the location very clear. For most of the metro area, the proposed stadium is further away than either Rosenblatt or the new downtown stadium; that's not going to encourage fans to attend Royals games. Except, of course, for folks who are located nearby: Papillion, La Vista (to some extent), Millard, Gretna, and Elkhorn. I used the I-80/680 interchange as the focal point because it illustrates the areas where the 370 location is better than the alternatives. For people southwest of I-80/680, the 370 location is definitely closer. Northwest, it's somewhat of a push since many of these people would use the interstate either way. Northeast of I-80/680 is the audience that loses in this discussion; those people just got a disincentive to attend the Royals games.
The real question is whether there is a latent demand in Papillion, Millard, and Gretna for sporting events that will make up for the inevitable loss of fans from the rest of the metro area. That's the gamble the Royals make. Lot of families there, absolutely. But there are families everywhere in the metro area. Don't forget the Royals play one block west of the premier family destination in this region; the current location doesn't seem to hurt the Henry Doorly Zoo one bit.
Nearly seven years ago, the Omaha Lancers moved to Council Bluffs in an attempt to reenergize a fan base and serve an underserved audience for sports in southwest Iowa. After a failed name change, they are moving back to Omaha this fall, leaving the Mid America Center with a questionable future after watching Lancer crowds dwindle as the move alienated more fans than attracted new fans. The proposed stadium in western Sarpy County is even further away from the city limits than the Mid American Center. The question remains to be answered: did the Royals move towards their fan base ... or away?
It's been interesting to observe the various biases that have emerged over the past year and a half over this issue. The Omaha World-Herald, for it's measure, has been strongly in favor of the downtown stadium. Kevin Kugler and Mike'l Severe of KOZN radio, on the other hand, have been negative towards the downtown stadium and the biggest cheerleaders for the Sarpy County stadium. Obviously, any reader of this blog knows my position, as this is an opinion blog.
In any event, the debate is over. The stadium in Sarpy County is underway, right or wrong. Will I be wrong, as I was over the ability of Sarpy County to pull it off? We probably won't know for sure for another five or ten years.