Monday, June 17, 2013

From a Development Perspective, Two Omaha Stadiums are Less than One

Friday's Omaha World-Herald featured a Henry Cordes' article discussing the growth around TD Ameritrade Park and how it's slowed recently.  Some of it is a pause, now that the Blatt and 9ines projects have been completed. Others express concern about the ability of the ballpark to generate traffic after the Fourth of July.  In past years, the stadium hosted the Red Sky Festival and the Omaha Nighthawks...but both are gone.  Nothing is scheduled between the annual fireworks display and next season's Creighton baseball games.

Certainly that'll bring up claims of "white elephant" and "Fahey's folly"...but the College World Series justifies the development of the stadium.  I don't believe that the NCAA would have signed up for a long term contract at Rosenblatt Stadium without a major investment, and frankly, by all accounts, keeping the Series in Omaha pays the freight. (Just looking at the number of LSU fans downtown yesterday hammered that point home.)

This isn't second-guessing the decision to build a stadium downtown. It's asking whether it could have been done better.  And for that, everybody shares in that. Start with the NCAA who rejected portable seating plans.  Nevermind that portable seating is used when the NCAA baskeball tournament is played in domes.  But the biggest blame in my mind goes toward the Omaha Royals and Sarpy County for pushing the second stadium idea. If the stadium were in use through Labor Day, nobody would be arguing that the ballpark was sitting idle. And the more regular foot traffic would lead property owners to invest in bricks for buildings instead of canvas for tents. Those bricks would hold businesses that would stay open and drive more people to the area, even when events weren't scheduled.

Sarpy County stepped out and offered the Royals their own stadium in an effort to keep the Royals in the Omaha area...even though Warren Buffett and Walter Scott's ownership was meant to keep the Royals in the area. Buffett and Scott sold their interests in the Royals last year, now that the team is locked into Sarpy County for another 23 years.  Their investment was no longer necessary, because Sarpy County did that.

The hope of Sarpy County is that the new stadium would drive growth in the far outskirts of the metro area.  That isn't happening at the area I like to call "BFE".  Plans have been discussed, but nothing is happening.  The "Trailer Park" is still surrounded by empty fields and "For Sale" signs. Clearly, minor league baseball isn't a driver of growth by itself.

But if the Omaha area had consolidated minor league baseball and the CWS downtown, would that have generated more growth?  I'd argue yes.  In this situation, the two stadiums are less than one.  I don't believe the Royals were leaving Omaha with the ownership by Buffett and Scott, but I do think that at some point, the CWS would have, if the NCAA's needs weren't taken care of. 

It's somewhat crying over spilled milk at this point, as the situation is what it is now.  But I still can't help but wonder about the opportunity that was lost when the Royals decided to leave Omaha.

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