Got Zambonis? Omaha’s New Publicly-Funded Arena Doesn’t

There’s quite a bit of excitement heading into the 2012-13 season for the Omaha Lancers. A new arena in the nearby suburb of Ralston, Neb., is set to be christened with the Lancers’ home opener Oct. 26 against rival Tri-City. Only problem is, the planners forgot to budget for ice resurfacers, among other really important things for a sports arena, and are short $4 million.

Oops.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

The arena project at 72nd and Q Streets, approved overwhelmingly by Ralston’s voters in May 2011, did not have the funds for the facility’s furnishings and equipment — including hockey nets, basketball flooring and all electronics and scoreboards.

Now city officials have made a late move to approve an additional $4.25 million to cover those expenses as the arena nears its October grand opening.

The additional bonds will drive up the project’s total cost by 13 percent to $36 million.

Mayor Donald Groesser and other city officials said the $4.25 million in added costs were largely unknown at the time the bond project was presented to voters. In 2011, Ralston presented plans for a two-sheet, 3,500-seat indoor ice arena. At the time, Ralston had only one main tenant, the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League.

Eeeeeesh. Publicly-funded facilities like Ralston Arena are risky at best. Riskier still when the planners consider ice resurfacers and scoreboards to be unknown costs for a hockey rink.

We’ve heard about cities pouring funds into major league stadiums, with rarely the return promised to the community in the planning stages. If you’re unfamiliar, check out Field of Schemes. However, the allure of adding a multi-purpose facility to a relatively small community is undeniable for both city officials and taxpayers.

Still, this arena was approved with only a Junior A hockey team as its primary tenant. The Lancers are one of the finest organizations in Junior hockey, but that’s a bit of a reach when utilizing taxpayers’ money.

Making matters worse, it shouldn’t do much for voter confidence that the people they put faith in to handle their money could make such careless errors. In the planners’ defense, other things cropped up, like changing their minds on some of the initial plans for catering at the facility, that helped contribute to the shortfall.

According to the mayor, the city was “very cautious” with its spending on the arena. Perhaps not careful enough.

As he told John Ferak of the World-Herald, “We’re very excited to bond this. This is not a negative thing at all. … Everything we have done, we have been very diligent and we have been very open with the public.”

So to recap: They wanted to build a hockey arena, but forgot to budget for the resurfacers to maintain the ice. The nets in which players are supposed to put the puck. The scoreboards to keep the time of the games being played in the facility. Forgetting, or at least not leaving enough money for these necessities, especially when the initial plans for the building included only hockey as a tenant, is kind of a big negative.

Also, I wonder if the Ralston taxpayers are excited their elected official is excited to spend 13 percent more on a publicly funded facility for Junior hockey, indoor football, lingerie football and roller derby.

According to Ferak’s story, before issuing the bonds, the city tried to raise the funds necessary to purchase the items you must have to operate a hockey arena through a community campaign. Apparently Mrs. O’Leary’s cupcakes didn’t go for $4.25 million at the community bake sale.

And how will the $4.25 million in bonds be re-payed?

The Ralston Arena would be eligible to receive 70 percent of the state sales tax revenue collected within 600 yards of the arena to help pay off its bond debt. The incentives can help fund construction, land acquisition and facility equipment.

Apparently, there’s a Menard’s coming and it’s going to be built within 600 yards of the rink. Save Taxpayers’ Money at Menards.

Said City Councilman Jerry Krause:

“I guess we took a leap of faith, and the citizens who voted for this agreed with our leap of faith.

“We’ve got all kinds of excitement, and we don’t see it failing. It’s going great.”

They’ve got all kinds of excitement. They just don’t have Zambonis. It’s going great.

(H/T @blackblueblog)

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About Chris Peters

Editor of The United States of Hockey. Contributor to CBSSports.com, USA Hockey Magazine and more. Former USA Hockey PR guy. Current Iowan.
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