Werner Park is a hit with Omaha Storm Chasers fans, but hopes for development around the stadium remain a field of dreams.
The Pennant Place development has yet to break ground, although more than three years have passed since Sarpy County selected the site near 126th Street and Nebraska Highway 370 for the new ballpark.
Developer Roger Langpaul donated his family's land for Werner Park and pitched plans for an ice arena, a water park, a fitness center, hotels, shops, restaurants, a grocery store, executive offices and new homes.
County officials touted the stadium as Sarpy County's next big development project and planned to tap its tax revenue to help pay for the publicly funded ballpark. The County Board chairwoman at the time proclaimed the development to be the county's economic stimulus package.
As the Storm Chasers play to strong crowds in the team's second season at Werner Park, roughly 300 acres of farmland remain the ballpark's neighbor.
The slow development is a financial matter for local governments, and so far, they have gone without a key source of revenue they envisioned.
But Langpaul said his proposed project is building momentum.
He said he is working on two separate deals for Pennant Place and anticipates that construction will start by next year. He said he expects to make an announcement in about 60 days.
In addition, Langpaul has sold a 20-acre parcel east of the ballpark to the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society for a senior housing community.
Sarpy County Administrator Mark Wayne said that organization wants to start construction next spring.
County officials say the absence of commercial development surrounding the ballpark is not unexpected.
“We never expected much development to occur in the first two to three years due to the slow economic climate for new developments, not just in Sarpy but the whole region and across the United States,” Wayne said.
Sarpy County is counting on property and sales taxes generated by the development to help pay off the debt for the 25-year stadium construction bonds.
The City of Papillion spent about $815,000 bringing water and sewer lines to the ballpark site and expects to recoup those costs as the area develops.
“You have people saying that nothing has happened out there, but I know in my mind, it's a good area,” Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said. “I am not disappointed. I think it's good that Roger Langpaul was not in a rush to throw any development in that area.”
Langpaul said that with the economic slowdown, development deals have taken longer to complete.
“It's not that they are saying ‘No,'” Langpaul said. “The approval process with lenders and corporate bureaucracies to put a deal together just takes much longer today.”
John Winkler, general manger of the Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District, said he isn't surprised that the site has been slow to develop.
This fall, the NRD plans to break ground for a $30 million lake near Werner Park and the development site.
Winkler said the lake, which will resemble Papillion's Walnut Creek Recreation Area when completed in about three years, should help create interest in Langpaul's project.
“With the way the economy is, everybody is waiting to see who is the first development to go there,” Winkler said. “I think it will develop and fill in. It's a beautiful area and a beautiful stadium. Time will tell whether it was the right spot for the stadium. I personally feel it is.”
Baseball fans have taken to the ballpark.
During Werner Park's 2011 debut, the Storm Chasers drew a regular season average of 5,947 — higher than during Rosenblatt Stadium's farewell year.
This season, the team is only slightly behind last year's average, drawing 5,839 fans per game. But Martie Cordaro, the Storm Chasers' president and general manager, said he still expects to equal or surpass last season's attendance total.
Toby Churchill, executive director of the Sarpy County Economic Development Corp., said he has been fielding more calls than in years past from investors interested in Pennant Place.
Churchill said the site was considered for the new SAC Federal Credit Union headquarters, which will go near Shadow Lake Towne Center in Papillion.
Churchill said the economic downturn has meant increased competition throughout the metro area for development sites.
“I think it's a timing issue,” he said. “Roger came on the market when the housing market took a little slump. It's a great development with a great future.”
Dennis Hoth, a developer involved with the nearby Southport West project around Cabela's, said Langpaul's site could use development anchors besides the ballpark.
“Ballparks alone cannot be considered an anchor,” said Hoth, whose site was a finalist for the ballpark.
Two County Board members, Rusty Hike and Tom Richards, wanted to build the stadium in Bellevue along the Kennedy Freeway.
At the time, Richards said it was important for development to “happen as quickly as possible.” But Richards recently said he remains confident that the site will develop in time.
“It's just not developing at the speed people would like. ... It will develop,” he said. “It has to at some point, when you look at the growth of the Papillion and La Vista area.”
Meantime, real estate signs and billboards touting Pennant Place dot the area around the stadium. The proposed ice arena has melted now that Ralston is building a $32 million arena.
Langpaul said he is pursuing “all avenues that make sense.”
“Werner Park has just been a wonderful asset to have. ... We've got a fabulous project, and in time, the lots will develop.”
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