Friday, September 21, 2007

Fahey & NCAA Agree on Replacing Rosenblatt; Flat Earth Society Protests

Today's announcement that the NCAA and the City of Omaha have agreed to move forward with a new downtown ballpark to replace venerable Rosenblatt Stadium was met with a understandable, yet very disappointing response from the SaveRosenblatt folks. The next steps are to begin to designing the new ballpark and providing folks with the details, but will opponents even stop to listen? Listening to criticism of Mayor Mike Fahey today was like listening to the Flat Earth Society claim that Planet Earth is not a sphere.

First of all, let's provide some background. I was opposed to the idea of building a new stadium downtown originally, but I changed my position much like our city fathers did. Why the shift in opinion? Look at the NCAA's list of demands:
  • Open concourses
  • Nearby Practice Fields
  • New Locker Rooms
  • Surrounding Clean Zone to eliminate the Mardi Gras zone outside
  • Nearby Hotels and Restaurants
Now, how do you fit this into Rosenblatt? Rosenblatt's infastructure is 60 years old, and much of the original steel structure is nearing the end of it's useful life. Opening up the concourse to the field would likely require removing thousands of seats, and widening the concourse might provide to be an engineering challenge since the outer wall is load-bearing. Plus, you literally have to dig up the underpinings of the stadium to expand and add new locker rooms as well. That's why remodeling Rosenblatt isn't a feasible option anymore; you literally have to tear it down and start over. Unpleasant, but when the NCAA is asking for such major changes, sometimes you have to realize you can only do so much with the old ball park.

The other demands from the NCAA also demand that the College World Series move downtown. The NCAA wants nearby hotels and restaurants. Nothing around Rosenblatt, but there are plenty downtown with even more under construction. Nearby practice fields? None there, but Creighton is planning to build baseball facilities downtown as well.

I understand the history and tradition at Rosenblatt, but the history and tradition isn't the stadium. It's a patchwork of renovations and expansions. The real history and tradition revolves around the people who attend the games, and that won't change if you move it 3 miles north.

The College World Series keeps on changing to fit the needs of the NCAA. Next year it starts a day later. They've eliminated Dingerville, and want to eliminate the Mardi Gras atmosphere outside that wasn't there in the past. Now, they want these changes, and it sounds like they've asked for more than is possible at Rosenblatt Stadium. Is that too bad? Yes...and no.

Yes, because replacing Rosenblatt is going to be expensive. Yes, because it's decisive and emotional.

But also No, because the NCAA is considering an unprecedented long-term commitment to Omaha. Mayor Fahey is pushing hard for a 20 year guarantee with automatic renewals based on meeting certain performance measurements. If successful, this will mean that the College World Series will stay in Omaha for generations to come.

It's not an automatic decision to replace Rosenblatt. We still don't know the price tag. But the benefits are oh-so-tempting... a guarantee that the CWS stays in Omaha for many, many years. Land for the Henry Doorly Zoo to expand, creating a new South Omaha anchor. A centerpiece for north downtown redevelopment.

I see the SaveRosenblatt folks are planning their own counterproposal for an expensive alternative that addresses a few things at Rosenblatt but fails to address most of the NCAA's requests. Perhaps they need to try it for themselves and fail; that's certainly their prerogative, but it doesn't change my opinion that Mayor Fahey's plan is exactly what Omaha and the College World Series needs.


SQJTaipei said...

Mike... thanks for the great post about the stadium issue.
I'm from Bellevue, but now live in Taipei and I *love* to hear news from home. I've been able to follow the stadium issue only a little bit. The points that you mention which convinced you to support the downtown stadium are strong indeed. If Fahey can pull off a 20 year guarantee with automatic extensions... that will make almost any expense worth it. That would be so great for Omaha. I hadn't even thought of the zoo expansion. Another great point because that zoo rocks already and they would make GREAT use of that space, I'm sure. All of it works together to make Omaha a better city. Surely we aren't going to cry about a 60 year old minor league ballpark?

Omababe said...

Mike, I have to admit it's probably a Good Thing for Omaha overall, but I really think that a lot of this was handled under the table and not very openly. I sense a lot of spin in what's been told to the public and a lot of undercurrent beneath it. It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, kind of like that bad taste from when Frankie was summarily canned. :(

Oh well, so it goes ...