Lessons from the Qwest

November 29, 2006 at 1:25pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

One of the most interesting pieces in today’s Journal Star was buried in Deena Winter’s column. It is notable enough that I will quote the section in full:

Arena proponents ought to pay attention to what’s happening up in the Big O.

The Omaha World-Herald recently reported the city-owned Hilton Omaha isn’t generating the kind of revenue projected. Also, the city will likely have to tap reserves to make a bond payment on the hotel, and convention bookings are expected to be down next year.

Nevertheless, that city’s convention and visitors bureau is pressuring the city to expand the Hilton to attract bigger conventions. The World-Herald reported Omaha has struggled to attract large national and regional conventions—conventions Lincoln hopes to attract, too.

Difference is, Lincoln would prefer to get a private investor to build a new convention center and hotel, as a mayoral task force has recommended. That way, the city wouldn’t be on the hook for their performance. However, the city could be on the hook for incentives it offers a developer, like free land.

The Qwest Center is a nice addition to Omaha. But it has lots and lots of problems. If we are going to build our own arena and convention center here, we must make sure we learn from all of them. One example comes from Ken Hambleton:

[UNO]‘s Division I hockey team was stuck in a high-cost, long-term lease with Qwest Center Omaha. After years of selling out Civic Auditorium, interest seemed to wane when fans were able to find plenty of room in the new arena.

Lesson: Don’t overbuild. Crowds beget crowds; empty seats beget empty seats.

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The Comments

Mr. T November 29, 2006 at 2:08pm

I think the Qwest itself has only recently begun making a profit. What big name acts would start coming to Lincoln instead of Omaha?

foxspit November 29, 2006 at 2:41pm

I saw this in her column too.  Interesting point about the City of Omaha-owned Hilton.  I’m encouraged to hear that Lincoln wouldn’t take that approach to a convention center.

I have no problem with providing incentives (land, etc…) but getting stuck with making up for poor revenue is a bad idea.

I hear that a private developer is ready to go whenever arena plans move forward.

I haven’t heard a lot of discussion about the size of a new arena, if Lincoln decides to build one.  It seems like something smaller than the Qwest but bigger than Pershing would make sense.  And design it for expansion in mind (if that’s possible).

Neal November 29, 2006 at 3:16pm

They want Qwest size. Initially they were saying about 1000 fewer than Qwest, but then someone was quoted as saying if you put in more seats, more people will come. They genuinely think they can compete with the Qwest center.

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