The Omaha City Council will soon fill a job that typically gets little notice but carries big responsibilities. It’s a vacancy on the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority board.
That five-person board oversees operations of CenturyLink Center Omaha and TD Ameritrade Park, two of the city’s most visible and important assets, along with the Omaha Civic Auditorium.
It’s more than guitars and basketballs.
As we’ve noted previously, attracting conventions, concerts and sports events to these impressive venues is a tough job that is getting tougher. Since the 1990s, there has been an explosion in the number of arenas and exhibit halls being built around the country. The competition among cities is fierce.
The Wall Street Journal reported last year that from 2000 to 2011, convention center-exhibit hall space around the country expanded by 35 percent, even as attendance slightly declined.
Cvent, a meetings-management company, tracks who goes where. Its latest list of the top 50 U.S. meeting destinations was topped by the traditional convention locales of Orlando, Fla., Chicago and Las Vegas. But several smaller newcomers also made the list, including Tucson, Ariz., Coronado, Calif., and Salt Lake City.
Closer to home, Lincoln’s new Pinnacle Bank Arena and the modern arenas in Des Moines and Kansas City are vying for many of the same concerts and other events that Omaha would like to host.
So MECA is in a big, competitive business that’s important to Omaha’s future as a vibrant, growing city. The board seat left vacant by the resignation of Jamie Gutierrez-Mora is no ceremonial post.
More than 1.2 million people went through the CenturyLink doors during the 2011-12 fiscal year. The College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park this summer drew 341,483 fans and was a two-week-long national TV commercial for Omaha. Every big event generates money for the city, its hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
Omaha has done an impressive job of attracting events. The U.S. Olympic Swim Trials is headed back here for a third time in 2016, but Omaha wasn’t alone in seeking that event. St. Louis, San Antonio and Indianapolis were in the competition, all understanding the value of the trials’ $30 million economic boost and the national exposure that such events bring.
In filling the MECA seat, City Council members need to look for the person they believe brings the best combination of experience, business acumen and vision to provide oversight of MECA operations, transparent protection of taxpayers’ financial interests and the ability to keep Omaha’s half-billion dollars in venues at the front of the line for hosting these events.
The good news is that there are four good candidates from whom the City Council can select. All Omahans should hope that council members remain focused on the talents and abilities necessary to run these important assets.