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THE 37TH FLOOR OF THE FIRST NATIONAL TOWER - Even on a cloudy day, you can see forever.
The view from high atop our city is spectacular. I was visiting a friend this week in the First National tower and sneaked a peak at the north side of town. At "NoDo."
Denver has its "LoDo," its "Lower Downtown" area, rows of shops, bars and restaurants that lead you to Coors Field, a crown jewel of a ballpark. Looking down at our north end, the natural corridor that goes from the Creighton campus and soccer stadium to the Qwest Center Omaha, it's easy to envision a dynamic northern downtown. Or "NoDo."
Where there are pawnshops and empty lots and vacant buildings, there could be a thriving business and entertainment district, complete with condos and, yes, a new ballpark. Haymarket Park East.
Imagine parking at the Qwest Center and walking two blocks to 14th and Cuming for a baseball game. You have dinner. Take a trolley to the new Holland Performing Arts Center.
Maybe you're going to a Creighton game. Or a concert. You park in "NoDo." Walk or trolley it to the Qwest Center. Hit a sports bar on the way back to the car.
Imagine this type of attraction for an NCAA or U.S. Olympic Committee looking for a place to set up a sports carnival.
Imagine what Omaha will look like to visitors driving in from Eppley Airfield, as they see the giant convention center/arena on one side and a renovated neighborhood and new ballpark on another.
Talk about Extreme City Makeover.
Developers, city officials and Creightonians are salivating over the possibilities of a "NoDo" area. The anchor that could set it in motion is apparently the new Omaha Royals/Creighton ballpark. Yes, another ballpark. I'm in favor of it. But only on two conditions:
1. It makes sense financially for the city and taxpayers, who are none too eager to dig deeper after the Qwest Center project.
2. Rosenblatt Stadium and the College World Series are maintained, at all costs.
The latter will be the easier of the two tasks. The first? That will be an interesting poker game.
Indeed, if you enjoy watching Texas Hold 'Em on ESPN, pull up a chair. The players are Creighton, the Royals and the city. This is going to be fun. The Royals are the big proponent of the new ballpark. It would hold between 8,000 and 10,000.
The Royals' group, led by majority owner Matt Minker and General Manager Doug Stewart, have a plan.
Of course, they have yet to reveal any of the financial numbers of that plan. For one, they don't want to kill any momentum in the public. Secondly, well, that's where the poker game comes in.
Interestingly enough, Creighton and the city hold most of the cards. CU's president, the Rev. John P. Schlegel, says Creighton could not invest in a new ballpark. CU would be interested in a deal like it received from MECA: The school would not pay for the building, but would be a major tenant.
The Royals also know that Creighton has looked into building its own baseball park, which would be considerably smaller. Schlegel said last week that it could be "10 to 14 years" before such a new CU stadium would happen.
Truth or dare? I say dare. Schlegel is asking the Royals to call his bluff. Now there is the city. Omaha's hand, in this case, comes in the form of the Royals' lease at Rosenblatt Stadium. What an incredible sweetheart deal.
The current lease, signed in 2000 by former Mayor Hal Daub, was awarded to then-majority owners Warren Buffett, Walter Scott and Union Pacific. It must have been given under the guise of thank you for bailing out the franchise. Under the lease, which Minker took over in 2001, the Royals:
Pay the city rent of $5,000 per year.
Keep all concessions and are awarded a cut of 9 percent of gross concessions sold at the College World Series.
Don't have to pay any of the workers at Royals games.
Get $100,000 from the city every year that the CWS plays at Rosenblatt.
With a lease like that, you wonder why the Royals want a new place. The easy answer is that the Royals want their own fan-friendly park with open, wide concourses where you can see the game standing in line for a Coke, a park that fits their attendance and has the amenities other minor league parks have.
What will be interesting is what sort of negotiation will take place for the city and a new ballpark. If the city were to partner on a new park, would it allow the same sort of perks to the Royals again?
You wouldn't think so, especially considering that a city official estimated the city would save $500,000 a year if the Royals didn't play at Rosenblatt. Which leads to another reason to think about a new park: The NCAA would love it.
Leaving the CWS as the only tenant would not endanger Rosenblatt's future. Moreover, as the NCAA's Dennis Poppe said, it would enhance it. The NCAA is a finicky organization. It has a way of doing things, of running its events. The NCAA loves Omaha and Rosenblatt Stadium. What it doesn't love is having to share it with the Royals.
The NCAA would be thrilled if it were the only game at Rosenblatt all year. In fact, it's not hard to envision the NCAA going in as a partner with the city. Rosenblatt could be the NCAA's facility, its baby. The NCAA would make sure it was cared for. The NCAA could even put money into repairs, renovations, etc.
It should make for an interesting next year or two. Let the poker game begin.
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