Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Sarpy County Built It, They Didn't Come

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to find myself out at Cabela's, and decided to head south towards the "Trailer Park"...aka Werner Park, the second baseball stadium built in the Omaha area. I've been teased about how "it's not really that far away" and how "you can see the light towers from the Interstate" over the years, so I thought, what the heck... let's take a second look.

So I headed south...or tried to.  Tried a couple of roads heading south, and ended up at dead ends.  So rather than continue to waste time, I headed back to the Interstate and wound my way back to 126th Street and Highway 370.  So what's happening out in "BFE" as I like to call it?

"Pennant Place" in April 2013. Still a vacant field more than two years later.

Yeah, there's a baseball stadium there.  But that's it.  There are plans for development.  "Pennant Place" was announced two years ago, but despite multiple anticipated announcements, nothing is happening.  Real estate experts said at that time that while the area will eventually develop, it won't be because of the ballpark:
“When it comes to restaurants and retail,” [Trenton Magid, principal at World Group Commercial Real Estate] said, “commercial users ask ‘Where are the daytime customers and where are the night customers?' Right now, that location near Highway 370 and 126th (Street) needs both.”
Fast forward two years, the picture says it all. Nothing. Sarpy County was listed in the Top 100 counties in the entire nation for economic growth last year.  And still, nothing is happening out at BFE.  So I headed home.  My son fell asleep in the backseat as we drove back to Omaha; it's the same length of drive going from my home in West Omaha to BFE as it is driving downtown, despite the perception that the Trailer Park is a "west Omaha facility".

Friday night, I found myself back at TD Ameritrade Park.  I've been to baseball, football, and even hockey games at Omaha's new downtown stadium.  It's a great location.  After I finished up my post-game report on the Nebraska-Creighton game for CornNation, I walked past all of the new businesses that have been built around the new downtown ballpark.  GoodNights had a decent crowd.  Blatt Beer was jammed full of patrons.  (I hoped to get a Zesto's hot fudge shake for the drive home, but the sign on the window said that they weren't opening until May.  Boo.)

As I headed back to my car, all I could is wonder what could have been downtown.  The College World Series is great for downtown, but it's just two weeks.  Creighton baseball is nice, especially when Husker fans take over the ball park.  But after the Fourth of July, there isn't much scheduled at the downtown ballpark.  The Red Sky Festival only lasted two years.  The United Football League imploded despite setting great attendance numbers in Omaha.  Minor league baseball certainly would have filled a few more dates downtown, and probably led to even more growth downtown.

Eventually Sarpy County will develop around the Trailer Park...but it won't be because of the stadium, but rather because of the natural growth of the Omaha metro.  If it were actually because of the stadium, construction would have not only started, something would actually be open by now.

Maybe the people who said that the Royals' Triple-A affiliate would leave the area unless someone built them their own facility were right, and Sarpy County saved the day. I'm skeptical, because I still believe that Walter Scott and Warren Buffett would not have allowed the team to leave.  Once Sarpy County stepped in to give the team a sweetheart deal in exchange for a long-term commitment, Buffett and Scott no longer felt the need to maintain their ownership.
“When the wonderful decision was made by Sarpy County to build this terrific stadium — it’s the best stadium I’ve ever seen — it became clear that this team was going to be in Omaha forever,” Buffett said in a Tuesday press conference at Werner Park.
“And so Walter and I didn’t feel the same obligation any more because Sarpy County had taken care of our obligations.”
And as long as Sarpy County was promising to give the team nearly everything they wanted, there was no point in pursuing a compromise solution in Omaha.

So we now have two underutilized stadiums in the Omaha area.  One maintains a nationally prominent event in Omaha, but sits empty half the year.  It has led to moderate development, but it's not all it could be.  The other sits in outer reaches of the metro area, gets used a bit more, but sits in relative isolation.  Even more so, it is not all it could be.

And we're left to wonder... what could have been?  What if all of the interested parties (the NCAA, minor league baseball, the Zoo, and the associated government agencies) had worked together on finding the best compromise solution and found a way to make the downtown stadium work for everyone.

I understand why some of the organizations acted the way they did.  I suppose that's to be expected, to tell you the truth. But in the end, what the Omaha metro area got was less than what was possible when the whole Rosenblatt debate was going on.

Two stadiums are not better than one.

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