MECA manages two of Omaha’s crown jewels — the CenturyLink Center and TD Ameritrade Park.
It’s not as easy as it looks.
Luring major conventions, big-name concerts, world-class sports events and more to those venues is a tough job that is getting tougher.
Competitors — from the new Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln to sparkling arenas in Des Moines and Kansas City — are vying for many of the same events and the millions of dollars they bring to a town. Cvent, a meetings-management company, counts some 350 convention centers nationwide.
Omaha has had great success in attracting the U.S. Olympic Swim Trials, for example, but look at who else was in the most recent running: St. Louis, San Antonio and Indianapolis. We aren’t the only ones who understand the value of the trials’ $30 million economic boost and national television exposure.
To keep Omaha in this highly competitive game, the city relies on the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority to soundly manage a half billion dollars’ worth of public assets.
The city needs smart, savvy, qualified people serving on MECA’s five-member governing board.
In recent weeks, the appointment of Jamie Gutierrez Mora to that board has raised some questions that need to be resolved.
Gutierrez Mora won unanimous approval from the Omaha City Council this spring. She’s a capable, successful businesswoman whose ability to make a valuable contribution to MECA hasn’t been challenged.
What has come into question is whether Gutierrez Mora meets the current “resident elector of Douglas County” requirement for board membership, and whether she lives at a house in Bellevue or at the South Omaha address that’s listed on her most recent voter registration.
Voter registration laws are important and cannot be considered an inconvenience. A determination is needed by the proper authorities as to whether her voter registration complies with Nebraska law. Secretary of State John Gale, the state’s chief elections officer, is investigating. That’s appropriate.
This situation also offers an opportunity to look at the bigger picture: That’s making certain MECA and Omaha are in the best position to compete with other destination cities while prudently managing Omaha’s world-class facilities.
MECA and the city should look at revising their development agreement to spell out with clarity who is eligible to serve on the authority’s governing board. The public, city officials — and potential board members — should know exactly what those requirements are.
CenturyLink and TD Ameritrade Park draw customers from outside of Omaha. The vitality of those concerts, conventions and sporting events depends on more than just Omahans.
However, it is important to remember that the City of Omaha issued the millions of dollars in bonds to help build the arena and the ballpark — and it is Omaha taxpayers who are on the hook, not those of Bellevue or Gretna.
While there are many qualified Nebraskans who could fill the role, expanding MECA board membership to a wider geographic area at this time seems ill-advised.
Members of MECA’s governing board should be Omahans, those with a record of involvement in and commitment to the city, who have a stake in what happens here.
The convention, concert and sports facility competition is tough. But assemble the best MECA team possible to oversee these important assets, and Omaha can play with any city in the country.