Monday, June 01, 2009

It's Official: The Royals Will Play on Highway 370

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.


Hosh said...

I do think that the Cabela's site, while not "made" for a baseball stadium, was the best site of them all. What they make up in customizable space in Papillion they lose in visibility from the interstate. I think you could've developed some more areas along Giles and Harrison, although, again, they wouldn't be as visible from the stadium. I also will be interested to see how the financing works. There still hasn't been total clarity from all parties.
Having said that, I have a hard time worrying if the people downtown or in the eastern part of Omaha will come to the stadium. They didn't support the Royals when they were at Rosenblatt, so why not put the stadium in an area closer to a larger concentration of families? Yes, I do think putting it on 370 won't be AS convenient as Cabela's, but it won't be terribly once 132nd and 120th St. are developed from Giles to 370. While I don't expect that the new stadium will be sold out every night, I think that this could be a huge boost to both Sarpy County and the Royals franchise.

Mark said...

I agree with Hosh on the point that why worry so much about all the people on the middle/east side of Omaha they have not supported the Royals for the last decade so why keep it there, are they all the sudden going to start going to games? As for the people Northwest I think that yes it may still take about the same time to get to the stadium but it is an easier more relaxing drive going down 120th 132nd or 144th versus having to get on the interstate and go all the way downtown. On the financing I am still waiting to see what kind of package they can put together to get this done so I think the jury is still out on that. That being said we do need to drop the argument that there is so much more the money can be spent on than two stadiums. Omaha’s tax dollars will have nothing to do with building a stadium in Sarpy County and Sarpy County will not be contributing to the building of the stadium in downtown Omaha. So if you live in Omaha and Sarpy wants to spend their money on a stadium why do you care? And if you live in Sarpy County and Omaha wants to spend their money downtown why do you care? As an Omaha resident your tax dollars are not going to change and your roads are not going to have any more potholes because folks in Sarpy County want their own stadium and want to develop their own area.

Husker Mike said...

Omaha's taxpayers won't be paying for much of the downtown stadium. If all goes according to plan, donations, and taxes on hotels and car rentals should pay for the majority of the new stadium. Those taxes are primarily paid by visitors.

But sales taxes paid on concessions during the Royals games is leaving, so that hurts Omaha to some extent. So Omaha is hurt a little bit by the Royals moving south of the border.

Having two stadiums also dilutes the impact of each stadium. Yes, that means that some development that would have happened downtown is now happening in western Sarpy County. Sarpy County views that as a good thing, Douglas County views it as bad. What would have been better is if Sarpy County would have found something else to invest in that would have brought something new to the metro area. What is that? I don't have a good idea off the top of my head. NASCAR track? MLS Soccer? Horse racing? Another ice arena (which apparently is part of the plan) is a start. Maybe a huge recreational lake for boating.

My point is that I still think the Royals would still be in Omaha no matter what Sarpy County decided. From that perspective, I'm not sure the metro area really benefits by Sarpy's investment.

Mark said...

I agree it would have been best for all parties if there were one stadium for both the Royals and the NCAA. I felt the City and MECCA came into it too cocky saying this can get done without the Royals and did not really put forth the effort to get the Royals down there, they just assumed it would happen. Triple A baseball is a big thing for a City and if the Royals left it would be years and maybe never if we were even to attract a team back to town. The Royals did not want to play in a stadium that big and bow down to everything MECCA wanted and there are other towns out there that would have done what Sarpy County did like Sugarland, TX (check the link below). I guess to me it ultimately came down to keeping Triple A baseball in town and not settling for anything less and if this is what needs to be done to keep it here then I am all for it.