Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Here We Go Again With MECA

Just when it was looking like MECA and the City of Omaha had finally come to an agreement to allow a new baseball stadium to be built next to the Qwest Center, it all fell apart this week. Apparently it has little to do with parking and traffic flow issues; those issues appear to be settled.

No, the issue seems to be MECA's desire to guarantee future control over the Qwest Center property. Most specifically, MECA is now demanding that the city waive the power of eminent domain over the Qwest Center property. Apparently Mayor Mike Fahey agreed to that, but two legal opinions rejected it, saying that plan would violate state law.

So the city revised the proposal...and MECA naturally rejects it, insisting that the original deal be honored.
"If the mayor doesn't waive eminent domain," MECA chairman David Sokol said after a MECA board meeting Tuesday, "it's not going to happen on lots C and E."
Which raises the question... Is MECA negotiating in good faith? When MECA continues to insist on a deal that violates state law, that raises serious doubts about that good faith. Waiving eminent domain would seem to raise a dangerous precedent, as any other organization negotiating with the city might demand similar treatment. With a 95 year deal with MECA, that would ensure that MECA would control this property until the turn of the century. Does anybody realistically think that the Qwest Center will still be a viable facility in 2090? Likely not..but the MECA lease will still be in force and the city would have no way to work around it. Who knows what the requirements of the city will be in fifty years. Perhaps the city wants to put some sort of mass transit in place in a few years, and require small amounts of property to build the infrastructure. Without eminent domain, the City might not have any way to accomplish this.

That's not to say that MECA doesn't have valid concerns about the stadium. But I'd argue that with the City on the hook for the bonds for the Qwest Center, the City of Omaha is ultimately on the hook for anything that negatively impacts the Qwest Center. If there isn't enough parking around the Qwest Center, the facility loses money that would have gone to help pay off the bonds.

Rather than insist on illegal options, MECA needs to lay their cards on the table as to what their concerns REALLY are. Not enough parking spaces? OK, then come up with an agreement that no matter what happens, there will be a guaranteed minimum number of parking spaces. Concern about traffic flow? Set minimum expectations for traffic flow to ensure that whatever changes occur down the line, a process is in place to adapt to those changes.

At a certain point in the future, something is going to need to be done to the Qwest Center parking lots, stadium or no stadium. MECA has talked about expanding the convention center into Lot D. (Nevermind that MECA has struggled with operating the convention center; this is just for purposes of working this position out...) If Lot D disappears, that means less parking. And if the convention center grows, it likely will mean that MORE parking will be needed. So where will those additional parking spots come from? That's a dilemma. You are going to need to build parking garages on some of those lots. So what's the difference between rejecting a parking garage for a new stadium versus building a parking garage to support an expanded convention center?

Co-locating the Qwest Center and the new stadium simply makes sense. Other metropolitan areas put arenas and stadiums close by. Denver's Pepsi Center, Coors Field, and Invesco Field are all located within a few blocks of each other. Philadelphia located Citizens Bell Park, Lincoln Financial Field, and the Wachovia Center all within a few blocks of each other. Cleveland's Quicken Arena and Jacobs Field are across the street from each other. There's absolutely no reason why this can't work logistically. Both facilities can share the parking infrastructure, as there are likely only a few opportunities for conflict each year. Certainly not during the College World Series, since no conventions or arena events take place anyway due to the lack of hotel rooms. Certainly not during the winter when nobody wants to sit in an outdoor stadium.

This smells more like a political vendetta than anything else.


Josh said...

Aaagh! This stupid stadium "debate" continues to not make a lick of sense. First off, I'm not 100% sure that emininent domain can ever be "waived." Eminent domain is a necessary police power of the state. It's not that MECA is trying to demand illegal conditions, just unenforceable ones. What's the point of demanding an unenforceable condition, besides just saying "we will not negotiate with people we don't like."

Personally, I'm starting to think that the MECA board is just playing politics with Fahey and trying to delay this until one of their cronies can get elected next year and push the deal through anyway. Normally, I'm not so cynical, but this whole thing has now gone from your "Bizarro World" comparison to something wholly inane (at least Bizarro must hurt Batzarro because he am Bizarro's best friend).

Husker Mike said...

...or maybe they are playing politics in order to get Fahey recalled...

Josh said...

Seriously, Daub vs. Fahey is so 7 years ago. Can't they just put things behind them? Or is Daub trying to move on to old-fashioned Machine Politics like good ol' Boss Tom Dennison?

Of course, I say that, and it looks like "Boss Hal" is not seeking reappointment to the MECA Board. Is this a precursor to an attempt to regain city hall?

Husker Mike said...


But by that same measure, there was absolutely ZERO chance that Hal Daub was going to be nominated by Mike Fahey. So Hal withdrew before Fahey had a chance to dismiss him.