In little more than a year, the Ralston Arena has risen from bare ground to completion, ready to ring in a new era for the city.
Situated northwest of the 72nd and Q Street intersection, the $36-million arena eventually will host a wide range of activities — basketball, hockey, indoor football, trade shows, banquets, graduations and more.
“We want to have as many events as we can here,” said Ralston Mayor Don Groesser. “And if we need to, we can host three different functions at the same time.”
The Ralston Arena's first tenants will be the University of Nebraska at Omaha men's basketball team, the Omaha Lancers junior hockey team and the Omaha Beef indoor football team. In all, the arena is slated to host about 200 events in its first year.
The arena's three large event spaces — the main arena, the adjacent secondary ice sheet and the banquet hall — are what make it possible to host separate events simultaneously.
The main arena seats about 4,700 for basketball, volleyball and wrestling, and about 4,000 for ice hockey. Concert capacity can go up to 5,300.
The secondary ice rink, to the south of the main arena, has a capacity of 500. The banquet room, on the east end of the arena, can seat nearly 400.
Nearly 200 club seats fill the east end of the arena, and include a private bar and waitstaff. A pair of Super Club rooms (also on the east end) each offers 18 permanent seats and dedicated waitstaff.
“These are going to be great areas for company outings and staff parties,” said Curtis Webb, arena general manager. Though the view from every arena seat is great, visitors will first be impressed by the view from the parking lot: more than 1,200 spaces, all free of charge. For those who don't want to drive, a Metro bus stop is less than a block away on 72nd Street. The Big Papio and Keystone Trail systems are visible from the front door.
Convenience is the name of the game inside as well. Each corner of the main arena houses a concession stand and restrooms. Each end of the arena features a 24-by-30-foot LED video board.
Above the seating areas on each side of the arena are six more LED video boards that can display advertising, team graphics, game information and more. Ribbon-board LED panels are included in the visual package.
The concession stands will be operated by the arena's in-house staff and feature food from Maria's Mexican Restaurant, Famous Dave's, Domino's Pizza and Omaha Steaks, among others.
Groesser said the arena will offer good food at a reasonable price.
“We'll make sure everything is priced right, and the quality is good,” he said. “We won't have $8 or $9 beer or anything like that, either.”
Besides event concessions, the arena will house a Jittery Joe's coffee bar, which will be open to the public every day. The rest of the retail space will be filled by the Dugout, which sells hockey equipment and licensed, team-branded apparel.
Under the concourses, the Lancers and the UNO men's basketball team have dedicated locker rooms and facilities. Three additional locker rooms, plus six more for the auxiliary rink, will make the arena an inviting home for youth and adult hockey and basketball tournaments.
“The auxiliary locker rooms aren't fancy by any means, but they're good-sized and will make it easy for teams to get in and out,” Webb said.
In terms of efficiency and environmental impact, the building uses geothermal heating from 60 wells that are more than 200 feet deep.
Heat given off by the ice maintenance plant is recirculated throughout the building to maintain a steady temperature. The plant will keep both rinks frozen year-round.
Taking the efficiency initiative further, urinals in the men's restrooms feature waterless technology that will save thousands of gallons of water each year.
“We made sure to pursue the green technologies that would allow us to save a lot of money over the life of the arena,” Groesser said.
The arena was funded by a May 2011 bond referendum that Ralston residents approved overwhelmingly. The bonds will be repaid in large part because of a 2010 law that will allow the city to keep 70 percent of sales taxes collected within 600 yards of the arena.
Unlike many other arenas, the Ralston Arena is owned and operated by the city. Groesser said he expects that the facility will employ up to 13 full-time staff and 200 part-time workers.