CHICAGO - Omaha city leaders and officials from the National Collegiate Athletic Association are expected to sign an agreement this week to keep the College World Series in Omaha for 20 years following the city's announcement it would build a new $140 million baseball stadium downtown.

Officials from the College World Series - which is run by the NCAA - and Omaha last week announced their intention to keep the annual Division I baseball championship in Omaha through 2030. The city has hosted the tournament since 1950, and estimates the event's accumulated revenue at $515 million through 2018.

The 20-year contract, which is officially between the NCAA and the College World Series of Omaha Inc., is unprecedented for the NCAA, which currently holds no contracts longer than five years, officials said. The city will then sign a separate contract with the College World Series securing the 20-year commitment.

"My goal has always been to secure a long-term contract with the NCAA that keeps Omaha as host of the Men's College World Series for many years to come," Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey said in a statement in April as the city was announcing plans to move forward with construction of a new ballpark. "Building this new baseball stadium will accomplish that goal."

The $140 million facility will be built in downtown Omaha, on city-owned parking lots adjacent to the five-year-old Qwest Center, the city's main convention center. Financing would come from a mix of private and public sources, officials said.

Under the current proposal, about 31%, or $43 million, of the total $140 million cost would come from private donations, which would include paying off $12 million in existing debt held by the Rosenblatt Stadium, where the series is now held.

The remaining $97 million would come from the sale of lease-purchase bonds that would likely mature in 20 years, according to Carol Ebdon, the city's finance manager. The bonds will be backed by the general fund subject to annual appropriations. Officials are determining whether the bonds can be tax-exempt, Ebdon said.

The stadium, which is expected to open in 2011, will be owned by the Omaha Public Facilities Corp. and leased by the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority. MECA also operates the Qwest Center.

D.A. Davidson & Co. will likely be the underwriter and financial adviser on the transaction, according to Ebdon. Kutak Rock LLP will act as bond counsel.

The city is expecting to enter the market with the bonds early next year, Ebdon said.

Debt service on the bonds would be paid largely through a hotel-motel tax increase and revenue generated from the stadium, including naming rights and premium seat rights.

Under the plan, the city would increase its hotel/motel tax by 1%, a move that would put Omaha's hotel tax at 17.48%, among the highest in the U.S. The tax hike is expected to generate $22.3 million over 20 years.

Stadium revenues are expected to generate an additional $37 million over 20 years. A $2 car rental fee increase would bring in $9.6 million, and keno revenues are expected to bring in another $28 million over 20 years. Unallocated city funds that currently cover payments on Rosenblatt's debt would contribute $18.4 million over 20 years.

City officials said stadium revenues would first go toward debt service payments, then toward operating costs for the ballpark, then into a capital improvement reserve fund for future repairs. Any additional revenues would be shared with the NCAA.

 

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