As Sarpy County officials petition the Nebraska Legislature for financing tools on a new ballpark, some Omaha legislators are wondering why the Omaha Royals aren’t playing in a downtown ballpark. The short answer: Basically, Omaha city officials didn’t want the team.
As Sarpy County officials petition the Nebraska Legislature for financing tools on a new ballpark, some Omaha legislators are wondering why the Omaha Royals (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League aren’t playing in a new downtown ballpark designed for the College World Series. The short answer: Basically, Omaha city officials didn’t want the team.
Yesterday Sarpy County lobbyist Kermit Brashear testified before the Legislature’s Revenue Committee to argue for three changes in state law, giving the county the power to levy local taxes to pay for a new $23-million ballpark. Three new sources of revenue would be instituted on the county level: a Super-Sanitation Improvement District and cigarette taxes dedicated for infrastructure needs (both of which already used in other municipalities), and the creation of a family entertainment district, where sales taxes generated by the development would be used to finance the new ballpark.
None of these are particularly controversial; using tax-increment financing or some form of it is a time-honored way to pay for a new ballpark or arena. But some legislators are wondering why the O-Royals aren’t playing at the new downtown College World Series ballpark instead of pursuing a new facility.
“I don’t think we can support two minor league teams. We’re going to now have a brand new stadium and no one to play in it,” Sen. Mike Friend said at the hearing.
Why the O-Royals are pursuing a new ballpark instead of playing downtown lies in the original agreement between the city of Omaha and the Metropolitan Entertainment & Convention Authority (MECA), the entity managing the downtown Qwest Center and will be responsible for the day-to-day management of the new ballpark. In the agreement, there’s a clause expressly prohibiting MECA from offering a "sweetheart" deal to any team leasing the ballpark apart from the College World Series. It was perceived by many within MECA and the city government as a measure forcing the O-Royals to pay above-normal rents and agree to a deal where MECA would receive all suite revenues, most advertising revenues and much of the concessions. It would also have given the O-Royals little say in how the ballpark was managed.
That’s OK; MECA and the city are putting up the money for the new CWS ballpark, and in their eyes the Royals are a secondary tenant financially speaking. But they played a game of chicken with professional baseball, and the O-Royals decided to pursue more financially viable alternatives. Hence Sarpy County.
The Uni committee is expected to discuss the proposals again next week.
RELATED STORIES: Sarpy County mayors express doubts about new O-Royals ballpark; Details of O-Royals/Sarpy County lease revealed; Agreement reached on new O-Royals ballpark; O-Royals, Sarpy County on verge of signing ballpark deal
Subscribers to the weekly Ballpark Digest newsletter see articles before they’re posted to the site. You can sign up for a free subscription at the Newsletter Signup Page.