Business Beat: Aug. 8

OMAHA, Neb.’"Talk that the College World Series may some day be played in a venue other than Rosenblatt Stadium doesn’t sit well with Crystal Rhodes.

That’s why she is part of a group of Omahans trying to drum up support for fixing up Rosenblatt rather than building a new downtown ballpark. The Save Rosenblatt group has collected more than 7,700 signatures on an online petition that it will present to Omaha mayor Mike Fahey.

“We want to drive home the point that a (new downtown stadium) is not something the community wants,” Rhodes told The Omaha World-Herald. “Rosenblatt is a landmark. To us, it’s Wrigley Field or Fenway Park.”

Rosenblatt has something in common with those two venerable ballparks’"it’s getting old. The stadium, which has played host to the CWS since 1950 and is home of the Triple-A Omaha Royals, was built in 1948. The original grandstand had 10,000 seats, but a series of renovations since the 1980s has increased capacity to more than 23,000.

The City of Omaha has spent more than $35 million on the improvements. Additional improvements to the stadium and the surrounding neighborhoods will be necessary for the city to get an extension of its contract with the NCAA that runs through 2010. Preliminary studies indicate those improvements could cost $25 million.

Fahey suggested in May that, instead of sinking more money into the aging facility, the city might consider constructing a new ballpark north of the downtown area in the general vicinity of its $300 million arena and convention center. Fahey originally said the city would consider building a stadium that features 9,000 permanent seats that could be expanded to 25,000 with the addition of temporary seats.

Royals’ officials have expressed their interest in playing in a smaller ballpark that would enhance the typically smaller minor league crowds’"the team averaged 4,634 fans last year and ranked 13th in the 16-team Pacific Coast League after drawing 319,777. However city officials have made it clear that the primary reason for considering building a new stadium or making additional renovations to Rosenblatt is to secure a long-term extension (10 years with an option for five or 10 more) with the NCAA that will keep the CWS in Omaha.

Originally, the mayor said a new facility would cost about $50 million. Others have questioned the estimate, saying that a more realistic price tag would be at least double the mayor’s original figure.

Don Thorson, an assistant to Fahey who’s handling the ballpark issue, said the city is also exploring the possibility that older sections of the main grandstand could be razed and rebuilt.

One of the major criticisms of the facility is the narrow concourses that weren’t built to handle the crowds that now attend the CWS. The 2007 CWS, won last month by Oregon State, drew an average attendance of 23,131 per session. The event drew a total of 300,702 fans for its 10-day run.

“This stadium on the hill’"we’ve all grown up with this dream in mind, this goal in mind, this vision in mind,” Cal State Fullerton coach George Horton said. “This piece of property is very, very special. If things can be fixed, and if the NCAA and the city of Omaha can accomplish everything they want to here, then I say keep it right here. It’s not broke. In fact, it’s almost perfect.”

Even Rosenblatt’s staunchest supporters admit that the stadium needs improvements to become more fan-friendly. The NCAA also would like to see the area surrounding the stadium improved. Parking, always a problem, also is an issue that must be addressed.

NCAA and officials from the city and College World Series Inc., the event’s local sponsor, held informal talks throughout this year’s CWS and NCAA and city officials are to meet in late August to discuss the issue.

“We would like to make a decision at some point but more important, we would like to make an informed decision,” said Dennis Poppe, the NCAA’s senior director for football and baseball. “We all have been doing our homework, and we’ll continue to do it. We’re looking at all the advantages and disadvantages to both proposals.”

If the decision is made to build a new stadium, Poppe said Rosenblatt probably would serve as home to the event for the next three or four seasons.

Omaha World Herald

Staying Put

The Devil Rays will now officially move their spring training home down the Gulf coast of Florida, after the Charlotte County Commission finalized plans to build a state-of-the-art facility for the team.

The planned $27 million facility’"which will include a children’s play area, tiki bar and a boardwalk concourse that will encircle the ballpark’"will bring professional baseball back to the county for the first time since the Rangers moved their spring-training base out of Charlotte to Surprise, Ariz., in 2002. The complex is scheduled to open in 2009. It will be partially paid for by a grant the state gave five cities and counties for ballpark development or renovations.

“We tried to maximize the things that are great about spring training,” Devil Rays spokesman Michael Kalt told the Herald Tribune of Sarasota, Fla.