Archive for May 19th, 2008

A Stadium Dilemma in Omaha

This is one of those deals where you can’t make everyone happy. Omaha, Nebraska is the legendary home of the College World Series. Creaky Rosenblatt Stadium has had numerous face-lifts, but the NCAA has been hinting that they’d like a more high-end home for one of their signature events. In order to hold off other municipalities that would enjoy the reported $40 million in enhanced economic activity that the Series generates, the city has proposed a swanky new $100 million park that seats 24,000. Old-timers grumble, but time marches on, eh?

Well, they’re not the only ones who aren’t crazy about the new plan. The Omaha Royals, the triple-A counterparts to the Kansas City club, don’t exactly love the idea of playing in an echo chamber all year long:

The team averages fewer than 5,000 fans a game and would prefer a 7,500- to 10,000-seat facility to capture the intimacy that these games thrive on. At Rosenblatt — which is already too big, with a capacity of 23,145 — empty chairs at Royals games far outnumber fans.

Alan Stein, who with a partner owns 50% of the team (investor Warren Buffett and fellow Omahan Walter Scott each owns 25%), said he would prefer a ballpark with amenities popular elsewhere. Zephyr Field in New Orleans features a pool and two hot tubs. The ballpark in Jacksonville, Fla., has a putting green. “Those things go in the outfield,” said Mr. Stein, who also owns teams in Kentucky and Michigan. But in Omaha’s plan, he added, “the new stadium has seats there.”

If he doesn’t like it, Mr. Stein could leave. He is negotiating with Omaha but said at least four other municipalities would build him a ballpark if he chooses to move.

[Wall Street Journal]

It seems fairly certain that some modern facility will be built. The city of Omaha can’t let nostalgia push the future out of Nebraska. So all that remains is the question of appeasing the Royals. Can the Royals swallow the notion of a ballpark in which they are (as usual) second-class citizens? Is there another municipality of equivalent size that can spirit them away?

My humble opinion is that the Royals should stay put. I can’t imagine they’ll find a better home than they have in Omaha. Perhaps they can come up with a revised seating plan that keeps the asses to seats ratio in good proportion, and we can keep this midwestern baseball heaven humming right along.

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