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A new state tax incentive aimed at helping Nebraska's largest purveyor of outdoor gear could be just the ticket to landing the Omaha Royals in a new downtown ballpark.
Omaha Royals officials are watching the progress of Legislative Bill 500, a tax incentive proposal meant to create new tourism and entertainment destinations. Dubbed the Cabela's bill, the proposal would help Cabela's open a new Sarpy County store.
If the incentive bill passes, "we'd absolutely take a look at it," Matt Minker, the Royals' president, said Monday.
Financing has been one of the major questions since the Royals first floated the idea of leaving Rosenblatt Stadium for a more modern, cozy environment.
Creighton University, which might use a downtown ballpark, says it can't invest in a project.
The City of Omaha says it doesn't have the money either, although it might provide infrastructure and assemble the property needed for a ballpark.
The Royals might have to find $40 million for the north downtown anchor that boosters think would spark the area's boom.
Cabela's, the Sidney, Neb., based-outdoor retailer, originally sought the incentives bill, hoping to build a destination showroom, probably along Interstate 80. Last month, an amusement park developer said the bill is key to his project, also eyed for I-80 in the Sarpy County area.
But the bill also appears to fit the vision of an entertainment district between Creighton and the Qwest Center Omaha. Boosters consider an entertainment venue such as a ballpark key to developing an area with shops, restaurants and new employers. The ballpark could span four square blocks near 16th and Cuming Streets.
State Sen. Gail Kopplin of Gretna, who designated the legislation his priority bill, said he hadn't heard about the Royals' interest. But he said he could see the incentives working for Omaha, along with other parts of the state.
"It's a destination tourism thing," he said. "The Royals would be a destination tourism thing."
The bill, which is awaiting debate on the floor of the Legislature, allows for the creation of entertainment and tourism districts where bonds could be issued to support projects. Those bonds could be paid off with up to 75 percent of state sales and lodging taxes generated within the area. If revenues would fall short, the bonds would not be repaid using property taxes.
Those tourism districts could be either inside a city or as far as 10 miles outside city limits. The targeted areas would have to lack economic growth but have the potential to develop into destinations because they are close to major highways or existing entertainment and tourism activities.
If the bill passes, groups interested in using the incentives would have two years to step forward before the law expired.
Minker, the Royals president, said discussion of a new stadium is still early, with the ballpark and its place in the north downtown area proposed just two weeks ago. He said the Royals are considering "all appropriate sources" for funding.
"Everything is on the table at this point," he said.
Jennifer Mahlendorf, an aide to Mayor Mike Fahey, agreed that the incentives would be worth considering if the bill passes.
"Any kind of incentive package we can utilize, especially in north downtown if it applies," she said, "we're going to do it."
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