Though the opening of the Ralston Arena marks the end of one story, Mayor Don Groesser hopes it's just the beginning of a new chapter for the city.
He wants the multipurpose arena to serve as a magnet that can help draw new businesses and development to downtown Ralston, which is just six blocks away. Groesser envisions new restaurants, retail shops and even apartments and condos, all with easy access to not only the arena, but also to Interstate 80 and surrounding communities.
“This is an opportunity to really catapult us forward,” he said. “This can help make our city that much better.”
The arena itself will be home to two businesses when it opens.
The Dugout, which also has a location in downtown Omaha, will sell hockey equipment and licensed team apparel. A Jittery Joe's coffee bar will occupy a small space just inside the main arena entrance.
Farther down the street, Groesser hopes to see additional development piggybacking off the arena's success.
Revitalization plans began several years ago with a look at the downtown area itself, followed by examinations of the Main Street corridor from 72nd Street, Country Club Road and the old granary building.
But when the opportunity for the arena popped up, it quickly took center stage.
“We thought that if we had an arena, it could help make our plans for Main Street come about,” said Ralston City Councilman Jerry Krause. “This all fits into what we were thinking, though our plans didn't originally include an arena.”
Now that the arena is in place, the city is considering how to use it as a starting point to realize the original revitalization goals.
To foster that development, the city is currently working on a 10-year plan that will, among other things, re-imagine Country Club Road — a six-block stretch of tree-lined street that leads to Ralston's historic downtown. Groesser sees it as a walkway that could eventually rival downtown Omaha in terms of accessibility and atmosphere.
“It's a really walkable distance,” Groesser said. “That's shorter than the walk from the Old Market to the CenturyLink Center. I can see the arena and our downtown area taking on that kind of a feel.”
Though Ralston would likely reap the bulk of the benefit from added development, Omaha stands to gain from more activity along the 72nd Street corridor.
A newer strip-mall development on the east side of the intersection of 72nd and Q Streets that currently sits mostly empty will be much easier to fill with increased traffic for some 200 days each year, said Krause.
As the arena hosts more events — think multi-day youth hockey tournaments — nearby Omaha hotels will likely see increased demand.
“At one point, many people were curious as to what this is going to do for Ralston,” Krause said. “But Omaha should benefit from this project as well. And we appreciate the City of Omaha's cooperation to help get the whole project done.”