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Omaha area going arena-crazy

With the city of Ralston voting on whether to build a $32 million ice and events arena and the University of Nebraska at Omaha interested in building a new ice arena just three miles away, the World-Herald wonders how many arenas is too many for their metro area.

They report that Council Bluffs’ 9-year-old Mid America Center is posting annual losses of about $1 million.

I found this paragraph most interesting:

Ralston, which brought in consultants to study the arena’s feasibility and its finances, projects that the facility will generate a profit from year one. Groesser also predicts the arena will perform so well that Ralston’s property taxes will drop and that it will boost commercial development in a community hungry for economic activity.

Sound familiar? It’s easy to hire consultants who will tell you the arena is feasible and will generate a profit. (Sometimes those same consultants even get a piece of arena work later, as happened in Lincoln with Convention, Sports & Leisure, despite the conflict of interest) Consider this graf about the Mid America Center:

Outside the Mid-America Center, for instance, the largely-empty retail shops — originally intended to enliven the arena area — went into foreclosure and were sold at auction in February. Aside from a Famous Dave’s restaurant, the only tenants are a chiropractor, a Social Security office and a military recruiting center.

As the mayor of Council Bluffs is says in the story, ““When we started, we had the same projections as everybody else — life was going to be rosy.”

Now they’re looking at using the arena for other uses.

Good reporting by the World-Herald. I know how difficult it can be to try to present a fair picture of pros and cons and what’s at stake, when all the city’s bigwigs seem to be behind a project.

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