It’s not shops, hotels and offices — but development is on the way around Werner Park.
Streets are being poured at residential subdivisions north and south of the minor league ballpark at 126th Street and Highway 370 in Sarpy County. Construction on an elementary school and a nearby recreation area is underway, too.
Several projects in the area are pending with the City of Papillion, including apartments, villas and a commercial development that would offer Werner Park’s first shops and restaurants.
Some people expected — or hoped — that commercial projects would’ve already opened around Werner Park. Earlier this summer, the developers behind a commercial project that would’ve been the ballpark’s first changed course and decided to build in La Vista.
As the ballpark rounds out its fourth season, the initial development has a markedly different tone than what was originally expected.
Martie Cordaro, the Storm Chasers’ president and general manager who helped bring the minor league team to Sarpy County, said the ballpark itself is “absolutely successful.” But he had hoped that the surrounding development would have included retail and entertainment within three to five years of the ballpark’s opening.
“Will we have some neighbors in year five? Absolutely we will. Are they the types of neighbors we would have hoped for? Probably not,” Cordaro said. “But we’re not in the position of picking and choosing. We’re here to be a great development partner. We’re going to work well with everyone.”
Trenton Magid, principal of World Group Commercial Real Estate and a listing agent for Pennant Place, a proposed commercial site next to the ballpark, maintains that development near Werner Park is on track.
“What we’re seeing is everything is kind of closing in on this location from the east and west,” Magid said.
“We knew that when Werner Park was built, it would take five to 10 years.”
Former Speaker of the Legislature Kermit Brashear, who served as a consultant to Sarpy County during the ballpark’s planning, said development around the ballpark “has been slow” despite strong game attendance.
The Storm Chasers play more than 70 games per year at Werner Park. In the team’s first regular season, attendance was 410,326. It was 415,650 in 2012 and 390,957 last year.
Through this past Sunday, the team has averaged 5,628 fans a game this year, more than 309,500 over the 55 games so far.
“I really thought aggregating that many people together 72 times a year made for a destination and nexus of economic activity,” Brashear said.
The lack of development is more than an issue of having something for fans to enjoy outside the ballpark.
Sarpy County built Werner Park with the expectation that property and sales taxes generated by development would go toward paying off construction bond debt. So far, according to the county’s fiscal administrator, Brian Hanson, the county is having no problem making payments.
The $46 million in bond payments and interest are being covered by $450,000 in annual rent from the Storm Chasers, plus concessions and seat surcharges, a merchandise assessment and naming rights, which last year brought in a combined $242,300. The county also is using money from countywide lodging taxes.
Even so, activity around the ballpark is welcome.
Building soon will commence in the North Shore and Ashbury Farm housing developments, and the City of Papillion already has received 12 requests for building permits in North Shore and two in Ashbury Farm, said city spokesman Darren Carlson.
Both housing developments are projects of real estate developer Jerry Torczon.
North of the ballpark, North Shore has some 300 single-family homes in its first phase. And Prairie Queen School, the new Papillion-La Vista elementary in the development, will open in fall 2015.
Nearby, the Prairie Queen Recreation Area is substantially completed and expected to open in the spring, said John Winkler, executive director of the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District. The rec area includes a 135-acre lake, 260-acre park and 4 miles of trails.
South of the ballpark and Nebraska Highway 370, Ashbury Farm has lots for more than 100 single-family homes and a mixed-use area where residential, civic and commercial uses are proposed.
Pending projects in the area include a commercial development just west of the ballpark called North Shore Commercial. According to preliminary plans, it would have restaurants, offices, retail, a hotel and a church. No tenants have been announced.
At the corner of 120th Street and Lincoln Road, the Good Samaritan Society is working on a mix of villa townhouses and apartments that could break ground next spring, said Roger Langpaul, the Good Samaritans’ director of mergers and acquisitions.
Langpaul, also the developer of Pennant Place, helped organize his family’s donation of Schewe Farms, where Werner Park now sits.
More apartments are proposed at 120th Street and Ballpark Way. The Werner Park Apartments project, with more than 500 units, is by Alchemy Development, which developed Shadow Lake Square at Shadow Lake Towne Center.
Farther east, across from Papillion-La Vista South High School, is a proposal for Torczon’s Granite Falls subdivision, which includes more than 20 single-family homes, 270 multifamily units and a middle school. Next door is its proposed commercial component with 263,500 square feet designated for retail and office space.
Magid said Pennant Place is in talks with two strong contenders for family-oriented entertainment projects. Either would complement Werner Park, he said, adding that Langpaul is “still very much a seller” and simply wants to do the project right.
“Sure, we’d love to have sold it all, but you’re going to get a lot better development and a lot more successful development” by waiting for the right one, Magid said.
“There’s few retailers and grocery stores and restaurants who can afford to be pioneers. If development comes at the right time, then it grows in a healthier fashion and is more successful.”
The drafthouse cinema planned for Pennant Place fell through after it was announced last fall. Instead, an Alamo Drafthouse Cinema was announced in June for La Vista’s Southport West.
Papillion Mayor David Black said the drafthouse wasn’t a huge loss for Werner Park, especially since the city never received a formal application from the project to start the city planning process.
Langpaul said he’s confident that over the next year or two the area will be transformed, starting with housing that’s “coming with a fury.”
“We’re patient. We’re hopeful that, you know, the projects we’re working on will materialize. There’s no question they will, just because of all the groundwork we’ve done and all the groundwork up Highway 370 and Cornhusker (Road) and all the residential developments that are coming,” Langpaul said.
Papillion Planning Director Mark Stursma said the city continues to get regular inquiries from developers on the status of homes around the ballpark, and that’s encouraging because rooftops jump-start commercial work.
Cordaro, the team president, agreed, saying that though he’s eager to see commercial development, he’s pleased about the momentum the home, school and recreation projects bring to the area.
“It’s going to be pretty cool,” Cordaro said. “I’ll tell you, if I was an elementary school kid, that would be the school I would want to go to, being right by a minor league baseball ballpark.”
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