Showing posts with label NoDo. Show all posts
Showing posts with label NoDo. Show all posts

Sunday, June 23, 2013

What would they know of such things?

This is the view from Omaha's TD Ameritrade Park just north of downtown.

One sportswriter from Baton Rouge, home of the LSU Tigers, apparently finds this as surprising as he finds the new home of the College World Series lacking in charm.

While I will admit that, with the dismantling and redevelopment of the Union Pacific repair yard and the ASARCO lead smelter, NoDo doesn't have the "gritty" charm of, say, a vista dominated by refineries, chemical plants and a crumbling working man's paradise, you sometimes have to wonder how willfully insular some people -- and places -- can be.

Scott Rabalais writes in The Advocate:
As for the College World Series’ new home, there is no question the ballpark is an upgrade over old Rosenblatt Stadium, a collection of jigsaw pieces the NCAA and the city of Omaha assembled into a 24,000-seat ballpark over the years.

TDAPO is clean, has a broad, sweeping main concourse that allows you to keep up with the lack of offense on the field from any concession or souvenir stand, much improved locker room facilities, indoor batting tunnels and state-of-the-art media facilities.

What it doesn’t have is charm, something the College World Series has lost in the quest to be bigger and better.

Rosenblatt wasn’t the best ballpark in America. It had claustrophobic, dark concourses, few of the all-important club seats and cramped clubhouses for the participating teams. It was the kind of place where you had to go outside to change your mind.

But what it lacked in modern amenities it made up for with buckets of homey ambiance. It fit into the slightly gritty South Omaha neighborhood that grew up around it like a ball in a well broken in baseball glove. The ballpark was like a beloved weekend retreat on False River — not the place where you would want to entertain heads of state, but where you wanted to visit over and over again.

TD Ameritrade Park shiny and new and is surrounded by shiny new restaurants, watering holes and eateries. As an example of urban renewal, it’s top notch. Who knew Omaha could look so slick and refined?

But the new ballpark has the feel of something valuable behind glass that is to be admired but not touched, and certainly not a place where you would feel comfortable putting your feet up on the furniture. It’s a place you would like to visit, but sort of like going to the White House. You’re afraid if you sit on a chair the Secret Service is going to come repelling out of the rafters and hoist you away.

Another thing TD Ameritrade Park probably has over Rosenblatt: big walk-in freezers. In that respect, the new CWS ballpark is in keeping with the warm and fuzzy feeling that everyone gets from the NCAA.

At least TDAPO accomplishes one very important thing: it kept the College World Series in Omaha with an unprecedented 25-year contract. If a new home that leaves everyone with a bit of a chill is the Faustian bargain necessary to guarantee that the city which nurtured the CWS – which loved it before rest of the country figured out it was cool — then it’s worth the loss of rough-hewn folksiness that was Rosenblatt. But just barely.
WHO KNEW it would take a downtown stadium for a sportswriter who's been following LSU to Omaha for years to notice the city's progression toward "slick and refined" over the last couple of decades?

As someone who happily left Baton Rouge for Omaha before it became "so slick and refined," my inner snarkster muses that Rabalais' profound revelation about my city is kind of like a resident of South Sudan proclaiming his disbelief at how "slick and refined" were the Norwegian aid workers. Get out much?

THEN AGAIN, when this is your ballpark just north of downtown, maybe people should just consider the source. Though I'm sure Pete Goldsby Field is loaded with charm. Tell 'em the story again about how Felipe Alou wasn't allowed to play in an Evangeline League game there against the Baton Rouge Rebels in the late '50s because of . . .  you know.

I always find it amazing, though not necessarily surprising, when folks from places that rarely even try give left-handed "compliments" to places that bust their asses to excel. Is where I'm coming from.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A river runs over it

For your flood watching edification, here are some scenes from downtown Omaha on Sunday.

Yes, the Missouri River continues to consume everything in its bloated path.

Monday, June 27, 2011

35 feet and rising

A couple of months ago, it wouldn't be unusual for visitors to be "swept away" by Omaha's riverfront.

Now, if you're down by the Missouri downtown, it wouldn't be too hard to get swept away on Omaha's riverfront. There's a distinction here, and it involves minding the barricades and signs.

The muddy Mo is running rampant and consuming just about everything in its wild and woolly path. So far, that pretty much has been limited to levees, farms, homes, roads, an interstate highway, a town or three, some parks and bunches of marinas.

And now the River That Ate the Midwest has its gastronomic eye on a couple of Nebraska nuclear power plants for dessert. Lovely.

FORGIVE US in this part of the world if we've become prone to visions of John Cleese and the "thin little mint . . . a tiny wafer" in Monty Python's the Meaning of Life. Only radioactive and sort of apocalyptic.

I guess we'll let the Nuclear Regulatory Commission worry about that for now. At top, you can see that Omaha has its hands full keeping the College World Series -- and the rest of north downtown -- dry.

What you're looking at is where crews tapped into the area's storm sewer that has been backed up by the flooding Missouri. Now the city pumps out runoff that would otherwise have nowhere else to go -- well, apart from all over city streets and into neighborhood businesses -- and send it over the floodwall and into the swollen river.

Moving south a bit, at left above, this is what the "Labor" sculpture on Omaha's Lewis and Clark Landing looked like Sunday evening. If you look closely, you'll note a couple of figures that have just about been covered by the rushing floodwaters.

They're about 8 feet tall. And they stand atop a platform the entire sculpture rests upon.

AT RIGHT is what "Labor" looked like a couple of weeks ago. Here's a link to the scene from when the waters just began to overtake it.

Perspective -- it's a useful thing.

Now back to keeping north downtown -- NoDo in local speak -- somewhat dry. It's not easy when the river's so high the storm runoff can't run off.

That's where these pumps (below) come in.

It seems Omaha has become a northern New Orleans. Complete with the street flooding until the pumps can get all the water lifted out and into the river.

THE STORM WATER goes from the sewerage (top picture) to these pumps (above), and then to a makeshift slough across what was, until a few days ago, the parking lot of the National Park Service regional headquarters.

THIS IS the drainage slough to the river and all the plumbing coming from the newly added sewer pumps.

Beneath this is the concrete parking lot. It's covered with plastic tarp, walled in with concrete traffic barricades and buttressed with sand berms. One-ton sandbags close off the slough in the foreground.

by the way, used to be the lower level of Lewis and Clark Landing. Now it's the Missouri River.

this used to be an old pier that stood well above the Missouri River. Now it is the Missouri River.

AND LIKE the riverfront trail, this post must come to an abrupt end.

Stay dry out there.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

If the Big Easy doesn't want its musicians. . . .

Some people think Omaha is dull.

Unlike places like, oh . . . New Orleans.

But while the City That Care Forgot has been making news by trying to roll up the sidewalks -- at least for street musicians -- by 8, here's what I found Sunday night in boring ol' Omaha's Old Market. The top shot was taken at 8:31 p.m.

THIS WAS at 8:44 p.m. . . . on a really slow night for Old Market buskers.

AND THIS was at 8:52.

In New Orleans, this would be nearly an hour past "music curfew."

THERE IS a term for this kind of thing in a city that lives (and dies) by tourism and music. I think it's "nuts."

In fact, it might be the craziest damn thing you hear this year.

Now if New Orleans
-- prone to occasional hissy fits in which it bites the musical hand that feeds it . . . probably some sort of subconscious rebellion against having "always depended on the kindness of strangers" -- doesn't appreciate its wealth of musical talent, we'd be happy to take some of it off the Big Easy's hands.

They could play on Old Market street corners (
or, for that matter, in up-and-coming NoDo) until, say, 11 without getting busted. And I'm guessing they could do pretty good business, especially on weekends.

In fact, I'm thinking the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau ought to bring New Orleans' most-harassed group, the To Be Continued Brass Band, up here this fall to lead a jazz funeral for Rosenblatt Stadium after the Omaha Central-Creighton Prep football game there -- one of its last events. Just second line all the way up 10th Street from the old ballpark to the new place in NoDo.

And get
ESPN to cover it for SportsCenter.

I'm seeing,
in my mind's eye, a weekend "celebration of life" for Rosenblatt and a "welcome your baby" shower for TD Ameritrade Park. Then, To Be Continued could play a Saturday-evening show in the Omaha Chamber of Commerce courtyard at 13th and Howard streets.

Go ahead. Pass the hat.

Because Omaha is that kind of town.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Still hangin' in there

Another scene from Memorial Day on the Missouri River. Right here in the Big O.

Don't let the sun go down on me

In about three weeks, Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium will play host to its final College World Series, an event that has made its home there since 1950.

Next year, the CWS will move to the brand-new downtown TD Ameritrade Park, and the sun will set on South Omaha's old ballyard on the hill, which will give way to expansion of the Henry Doorly Zoo next door.

For now, though, the Memorial Day sun sets on the new stadium being built in NoDo -- Omaha speak for North Downtown.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's not a stadium. It's an opportunity.

Omaha's powers that be -- after long musing about the prospect -- this year finally decided to carpe diem, build a new downtown ballpark and lock in the College World Series for a long, long time.

But now that the ink is dry on the contract and construction is almost ready to begin, it looks like city fathers have just had a "What in the world have we done?" moment and, according to the Omaha World-Herald, decided maybe they've carpe'd more diem than they can chew.

One thing that’s likely to be missing from the final stadium plan is a major commercial area. Though initial concept drawings included shops and a restaurant in the stadium structure, Jensen said concerns about the project’s cost and how often the public would frequent the businesses nixed the idea for now.

That change is a disappointment to Jason Kulbel, one of the developers of the Saddle Creek Records complex near 14th and Webster Streets. He said he is still holding out for a retail area near the stadium along Webster.

He said that’s essential to generating foot traffic, which is what Saddle Creek developers envisioned when they invested $10 million in the area.

“We’re hoping,” Kulbel said, adding, “I feel like we’re fighting the battle of our lives.”
Kulbel said he plans to make that case before Omaha’s urban design review board, which will review the plans at a public meeting at 3 p.m. Dec. 18. The meeting will be held in room 702 of the City-County Building, 1819 Farnam St.

The board was created in 2007 with the help of Omaha By Design to review and approve major city construction projects, thus ensuring uniform design standards. The board, which includes an architect, an engineer, a planner and a citizen representative, could ask for changes in the plans. It must sign off on the design before the city can issue building permits.

Jensen said a small amount of retail space is included in the stadium design. A store at the ballpark could sell team memorabilia, for instance.

However, in developing the final ballpark plans, Jensen said those involved determined that a stadium would be unlikely to draw retailers and feared that large commercial spaces would sit empty.

Condos and loft apartments, on the other hand, draw retailers, Jensen said.

The Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which runs the Qwest Center, is overseeing the stadium’s design and operation.

Roger Dixon, MECA president, said the stadium plans most likely will be further tweaked before the Jan. 21 stadium groundbreaking.

“What has been filed with the city is the design at this point in time,” Dixon said.
OMAHA, I KNOW times are tough and getting tougher. And that's exactly why now is the wrong time to go all wobbly on us.

You can't have a big stadium sitting in the middle of North Downtown (NoDo), eating up real estate but generating no economic activity for most of the year. That's insane -- but with no retail and no Omaha Royals, that's what you're going to have.

The folks from Saddle Creek Records stuck their necks out to jumpstart NoDo's development and -- to mix my metaphors -- the city is about to kneecap them. This is a game where you're either all in . . . or you fold.

OK, so a full-bore retail development might not be the smartest thing at this time. But the stadium site needs some retail -- and a relocated Zesto's. Seriously . . . Zesto's. The mom and pop hamburger stand is as much a part of the CWS as cheesy organ music and overpriced bratwurst.

But what else might draw foot traffic -- and car traffic, too -- to the new ballpark year round? What might keep the NoDo momentum going in tough times?

How about this? Pick one retailer and make it a larger one. Choose a niche market that's underserved downtown, but one that's wholly compatible with the College World Series. See whether the store could be part of a comprehensive naming-rights package for the stadium.

RIGHT NOW, I'm envisioning Cabela's Stadium with a scaled-down retail store focusing on product lines not featured at the retailer's big-box stores but which could be part of its online catalog -- say one part American Eagle clone and two parts athletic and team apparel. And I'm seeing "Official merchant of the NCAA Men's College World Series."

If the deal is sweet enough, they just might put up the scratch to build it.

The other thing I'm envisioning is even more important to the economic viability of NoDo and all its retail establishments. And, on a grander scale, Omaha itself.

It's all about synergy and joint ventures. Bear with me here, this will take some explaining.

IN THIS NEW MILLENNIUM, we find all our traditional media in a state of upheaval amid a digital onslaught. This isn't necessarily a crisis. Except. . . .

There's this rather large question hanging over the Internet's conquest of all media: What happens to the Fourth Estate as the digital revolution overruns the positions of local television and radio . . . and especially the hometown newspaper? What's the economic model for local media in an Internet world?

How do local media -- particularly news media -- transition to the 'Net and still make enough money to keep the doors open and the public informed? What would become of a city, its civic culture and democracy itself if local news media became shells of their former selves or, God forbid, shriveled up and died?

How could that be good for anybody?

Who, in a coordinated way, is trying to work the problem? Is the working media effectively partnering with academia to, for one, develop new ways of doing journalism and, for another, effectively prepare tomorrow's reporters, producers and editors?

Obviously, the task is overwhelming. There's nothing but bad news on the doorsteps of newspapers today. Ditto for radio and TV stations.

And in a looming age of budget cuts to academia, what school or think tank is in a position to comprehensively tackle the problem?

THE OBVIOUS ANSWER is it's time to put heads together. We need joint efforts. We need cooperation. We need coalitions. We desperately need public-private partnerships.

And if the partnering is done right, there's something in it for everybody.

So . . . what if (for example) the Omaha World-Herald were to join with the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Creighton University, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Nebraska Educational Telecommunications to form a Midwestern journalism think tank and media laboratory?

What if it became an integral part of the journalism curricula of the three participating universities? What if it became a focus of innovation and invention for an entire industry?

What if it became an unmatched resource for each participating entity, one that would be completely out of reach for any of the partners acting unilaterally? What if it became a source of valuable year-round interns for the World-Herald and NET . . . and precious year-round internships (and practical experience) for mass-communications students from the three universities?

What if that kind of synergy between media outlets and academic institutions became a magnet for the best minds in media and academia? Right here in Omaha.

Fine, now what in the hell does this have to do with a downtown baseball stadium and NoDo development?

I'm glad you asked.

WHY NOT MAKE such a joint-venture institute -- complete with a state-of-the-art digital newsroom, audio/video production facilities and classroom/office space -- an integral part of the stadium site plan? Put the studios where some of the canceled retail space would have gone. Add a satellite-uplink facility, too.

ESPN would love it.

The visiting media would love it.

The NCAA would love it.

Mass-communications students and their professors would love a learning experience as big as the CWS every year . . . on their campus.

Wouldn't the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau love it if, say, not only were there two weeks' worth of televised CWS games live from downtown Omaha, but perhaps two weeks' worth of SportsCenters as well? If you build the facilities, at the stadium, with a built-in labor pool, just maybe they'll come with half the network.

How many millions in advertising do you think that would be worth every year?

And what economic impact, do you think, would a college campus -- and maybe hundreds of students and professionals -- have on NoDo and downtown year round?

I mean, as long as we're building a big, new stadium, why not make it a field of dreams? And new realities.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Does that make Hal Daub 'Mini Me'?

You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll be amazed!

Then you'll watch the College World Series leave Omaha after 60 years and hightail it to Indianapolis . . . or Oklahoma City . . . or Orlando as David Sokol -- starring as "Dr. Evil" -- uses his frightening MECA weapon to vaporize an event thousands of Omahans have busted their rumps to build over generations.

Because the parking lots are his. And don't you forget it.

Chances are you won't.

It's Dr. Evil and the Lots of Doom . . . now playing downtown.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Go to bat for Omaha

We're in the middle of an epic debate here in Omaha, the kind that only comes around every decade or three. We're trying to decide how to best keep the College World Series in town.

Do we build a new baseball stadium downtown? Or do we completely redo 60-year-old Rosenblatt Stadium . . . which lies Not Downtown.

HERE'S A FEW WORDS of wisdom to ponder before we proceed to disemboweling one another: You don't tug on Superman's cape; you don't spit into the wind.

You don't put lipstick on a pig, and you don't do yet another patchwork redesign of a stadium. Omaha has done that once -- remember the Civic Auditorium remodel? -- and we still ended up building the Qwest Center Omaha arena and convention center.

And a good thing we did.

Now, we're supposed to think fixing up old Rosenblatt Stadium is the way to go to keep the College World Series in Omaha forever and ever, amen. That probably would work OK if we didn't have to worry about a few things.

One, that the National Collegiate Athletic Association is a demanding mistress. A very, very demanding mistress. You give her a Buick, and she's gonna want a Mercedes as soon as she can get away with demanding another new car -- which, in the case of the NCAA, would be when the new "extended" contract is up for renewal in 15 years or so.

Just like when it's time to buy a new home computer, buying less than what you need never is a wise long-term decision. And for so many reasons, losing the CWS is not an option for the Big O.

Another consideration -- a big one -- is economic development. Where is the boost to the region's economic development in fixing up Rosenblatt Stadium?

Bueller . . . ? Bueller . . . ? Bueller . . . ? Bueller . . . ?

THE FACT IS, there is no boost. Renovating Rosenblatt and keeping the College World Series down on 13th Street -- assuming that fixing up the old stadium can keep the CWS down on 13th Street for the long term -- is, at best, a status quo proposition economically.

The prospects for economic development down on South 13th lie not in an old municipal baseball stadium, but instead in the nationally acclaimed Henry Doorly Zoo. There, we find the state's No. 1 paid attraction hemmed in by the old ball yard -- unable to expand and short of parking when the CWS is in town.

For the average fan seeking to kill time before, after or between CWS games, there is no shopping or sit-down dining within walking distance of the stadium. Hotel rooms are few near the venue.

You do have a couple of bars, a beer garden and some otherwise vacant old houses turned into whatever for two weeks out of the year. Parking, naturally, is a nightmare, and South 13th isn't exactly a mass-transit hub for the greater Omaha area.

Nor could it be made into a mass-transit hub, assuming anyone wanted to. And why? For two weeks a year?

Building downtown . . . even building downtown at twice the cost of renovation, you have the probability of collateral development and business growth far outpacing the extra money the city shells out. I think someone once dubbed that phenomemon "You gotta spend money to make money."

The impact on downtown Omaha would rival that of replacing a century-old lead smelter with a riverfront park and the Qwest Center Omaha. A new stadium would be a natural anchor for new retail and restaurant development, while serving as a boost to existing downtown businesses.

And a lot of visiting fans who formerly had to load up the car and drive to the Series would instead walk out of their hotel, saunter down the street a ways and walk in the stadium gate. As would a lot of people already downtown . . . because they work there.

SPEAKING OF DOWNTOWN, how'd you like Omaha's "King Corn" image from the recent American Idol episode taped here?

With the CWS at Rosenblatt, ESPN's exterior shots on game broadcasts can center on a congested 13th Street lined by repurposed, semi-dumpy old houses. Or you can get a shot or three of the zoo. Or fans grabbing some burgers and malts at Zesto's.

Perhaps a nice shot of fans milling around the parking lot.

Did I mention the zoo and Zesto's?

How, pray tell, does that advance Omaha's "branding," shifting it toward the cosmopolitan and away from cows and corn? Or corn and cows?

Short answer: It doesn't.

The easy, natural visuals from downtown would belie the stereotype, no matter how hard network crews might try to perpetuate it. Every wide shot would include Omaha's growing skyline.

And surrounding the new stadium, within range of roving camera crews, would lie the spruced-up Missouri River landing. The towering new pedestrian bridge across the Missouri. The charming Old Market. The emerging North Downtown (NoDo) entertainment district, including Saddle Creek Records' Slowdown club, with all its indie-rock cred.

What else could the TV cameras show the nation, without crews much breaking a sweat?

How about street musicians, pub crawlers and people solving the problems of the Free World at cafes and coffee shops?

The green space and lagoon of the Gene Leahy Mall. Horse-drawn carriages filled with young lovers and smiling tourists. Century-old Central High School.

The Joslyn Art Museum and the Durham Western Heritage Museum.

An emerging cosmopolitan city.

No cows. No corn.

Unless, of course, the Nebraska Cornhuskers made it to college baseball's big dance. Then you might see a few "cornheads."

I think most marketing types would call a downtown stadium's PR value to Omaha a "home run."

I CAN ENVISION a new stadium somewhere in NoDo giving the whole district a big dose of NoDoz. Imagine a stadium busy year round because it would have "storefront" eateries and retail incorporated into its design. A public plaza, too. And a Zesto's.

Picture Johnny Rosenblatt Field at . . . Cabela's Stadium. With a scaled-down Cabela's as the anchor storefront retail tenant, specializing in jerseys, fan apparel and basic sporting goods. Like balls, bats and gloves.

Imagine the marketing tie-in potential . . . and the growth potential for a Nebraska corporation. As in "Official Retailer of the NCAA's Men's College World Series."

Not too bad, eh? Or if Cabela's didn't want to go there, "there" being far afield from the "outdoorsman" thing, what about Dick's? Or whatever?

Being that Omaha now has a choice to make, it's useful -- necessary, actually -- to give the possibilities of What Might Be equal consideration to the nostalgia Rosenblatt backers Wish Still Was.

BUT HERE'S THE THING. The College World Series of Mom, apple pie, hot dogs, the "Twizzler Man" and a big small town has been all but killed dead by the Two Horsemen of the Apocalypse -- Progress and Money.

Yes, I know you THINK there's supposed to be a full Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. But when you have Progress and Money on the horizon, riding at you, any more would just be overkill.

So, trust me. The CWS my father-in-law helped bring to Omaha, the one he tirelessly promoted for more than three decades . . . that CWS is part of Omaha's history. Already, it's been written out of this city's future, Rosenblatt or no Rosenblatt.

Long gone are the days when my wife and her siblings helped her dad put up CWS posters in store windows and big promotional signs in hotel lobbies.

There is no more "Dingerville," the ad-hoc summertime small town of recreational vehicles, cold beer and good cheer. Its mayor, die-hard Louisiana State fan Glenarp Allmendinger died some years back, and what was left of his "municipality" got relocated and, finally, evicted for good.

Likewise, the Twizzler Man now roams the left-field bleachers only in our memories. Only in our sweet dreams of bright June afternoons do we still hear his credo, recited by all after another of his dozens of bags of red Twizzers had been passed among the sunburned baseball faithful:

"Share with your neighbor, and don't be stingy."

SEE, you can't bring food into the stadium anymore. Not even Twizzlers. Cops search your stuff to make sure. That, and to make sure you're not toting a "dirty bomb" in this post-9/11 world.

And bottled water is three bucks. That's enough to make a person stingy.

It's also enough to make clear that what we loved about the College World Series, and Rosenblatt Stadium, hasn't existed for some years now. At least not within the NCAA-governed confines of the old ballpark. What we have inside the concourses and below the grandstands has come to more closely resemble the big-time, big-money, Big Media worlds of college football's BCS Championship Game and college basketball's Final Four.

There, there's no room for the Twizzler Man. No accomodation for a Midwestern city's nostalgia for the more innocent days of a cherished local institution.

My father-in-law -- Mr. CWS if ever there was a Mr. CWS -- died before my alma mater, LSU, won the second of its five national titles in 1993 . . . an eternity ago. There are no more signs in hotel lobbies, and my wife slapped her last CWS poster in her last storefront window more than three decades ago.

Money and Progress are telling us, in all likelihood, that we can hold on to the relic that is Rosenblatt or we can hold on to the College World Series. The NCAA can't take the memories we hold so close to our hearts as Omahans, but it can pack up the series and move it to Money's new favorite getaway.

It's time to do what we must. Let the College World Series become what it's bound to become, but let it do it at a shiny new home in cosmopolitan downtown Omaha. As opposed to cosmopolitan downtown Indianapolis . . . or wherever.

The venue may change, but that can't stop Omahans from still being who they are, or from making brand-new memories in a brand-new ballyard. Memories, one hopes, just as sweet as the ones we have from the old place, back in the day.

Just different.