Omaha group trying to save College World Series stadium

OMAHA Neb.

An Omaha group has already collected more than 4,000 signatures as part of a campaign to save Rosenblatt Stadium, which has been home to the College World Series since 1950.

The group hopes to persuade city officials to abandon a plan to replace Rosenblatt with a new downtown ballpark. A decision about the venerable south Omaha stadium’s future is expected by the end of the year, but could come as soon as August because city and NCAA officials plan to meet then.

Two neighborhood associations in the area around Rosenblatt are leading the campaign to save the stadium that has been home to NCAA Division I baseball’s national championship for more than 50 years.

Crystal Rhoades said the group plans to collect signatures throughout the summer, and present them to Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey.

“We want to drive home the point that (a new downtown ballpark) is not something the community wants,” Rhoades said. “Rosenblatt is a landmark. To us, it’s Wrigley Field or Fenway Park.”

Rosenblatt was built in 1948 and opened as Municipal Stadium. It was renamed in 1964 in honor of Johnny Rosenblatt, Omaha’s mayor from 1954 to 1961. The stadium, which originally seated 10,000, now has a capacity of 23,145.

City Councilman Garry Gernandt represents the area around Rosenblatt and has helped collect petition signatures.

“I think it would be devastating for the neighborhood to lose the stadium,” he said.

The city has spent $35 million the last 15 years to upgrade the stadium with, among other things, new seats, a video board, a sound system and concession stands.

But CWS Inc., the local organizing body, determined two years ago that to make the event the best it can be, at least $25 million in more improvements would be needed. The NCAA suggested that if Omaha were to consider spending that much to renovate Rosenblatt, maybe the city should think about a new stadium.

That’s part of why the city has submitted two plans to the NCAA. One calls for building a new downtown stadium. The other calls for major renovations at Rosenblatt.

But before committing to either plan the city wants the NCAA to agree to keep the College World Series in Omaha through at least 2020. The current contract ends after 2010.

If Rosenblatt were renovated, the stadium would require structural upgrading and amenities such as new clubhouses and interactive areas with activities for fans. The renovation plans call for a new village setting outside the stadium where vendors could operate and fans could congregate.

Initially, city officials said a new downtown stadium would have 9,000 permanent seats with the ability to expand to 25,000 for the College World Series. But now city officials acknowledge they are considering stadium options with more than 9,000 permanent seats.

The city would like to have a more intimate ballpark for the Triple-A Omaha Royals and Creighton University to use, but NCAA officials want the College World Series to be able to continue growing. The event last month attracted a total of 300,702 people to games over a 10-day span.

On the Net:

Save Rosenblatt: http://www.saverosenblatt.com

CWS Omaha: http://cwsomaha.org/html/home/index.asp

NCAA Sports: http://www.ncaasports.com



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