Union Omaha oomph-filled venue for ‘zoomers’


Union Omaha new stadium Image: Alliance Sports

A new 7,000-seat soccer stadium for the United Soccer League (USL) League One team Union Omaha is the centerpiece of a planned $300 million housing and entertainment district announced recently for the downtown riverfront area of Nebraska’s largest City Omaha (US).

‘Nebraska Examiner’ stated that the outdoor stadium is to be home to the State of Nebraska’s first and only professional soccer club – the Union Omaha – which has been sharing Sarpy County’s Werner Park in Nebraska with a Minor League Baseball (MiLB) team – the Omaha Storm Chasers.

Tampa (US)-based the United Soccer League (USL) is an organizer of soccer leagues in the United States. It operates several men’s and women’s leagues, both professional and amateur. The men’s leagues currently organized are the USL Championship (a professional men’s soccer league in the United States that began play in 2011), the USL League One, the USL League Two (a developmental soccer league in the United States and Canada), and the youth Super Y League (a youth soccer league with teams from the United States and Canada). A women’s league, the USL W League, began play in 2022.

Union Omaha new stadiumImage: Alliance Sports

The USL League One is a professional men’s soccer league in the United States that had its inaugural season in 2019. The Division III league is operated by United Soccer League, the same group that operates the Division II USL Championship and other leagues.

The Union Omaha Soccer Club is an American professional soccer team based in Omaha, Nebraska (US). In 2020, the team made its debut in USL League One.

The 9,023-capacity Werner Park is a Minor League Ballpark (MiLB) located just West of Papillion, Nebraska (US), a suburb in the Sarpy County Southwest of Omaha. Opened in 2011, it is owned by the Sarpy County. It is the home of the MiLB team Omaha Storm Chasers and the USL League One professional soccer club Union Omaha.

‘Nebraska Examiner’ further stated that poised to take shape Southeast of the Abbott and Riverfront Drives, the new development would be near two other major entertainment and sports facilities: The 17,560-capacity CHI Health Center arena and convention center and the 24,000-capacity Charles Schwab Field Omaha, home of the College World Series (a baseball tournament held each June in Omaha, Nebraska).

Union Omaha new stadiumImage: Alliance Sports

The project also is to give rise to a future women’s soccer team that will call the stadium home. A youth training academy is also being planned.

Maintained Martie Cordaro, Union Omaha President, “The continued evolution and growth of professional soccer continues in the United States. Why not in Nebraska?”

‘Intimate’ Venue

If all goes as planned, ground would be broken this Fall, and the stadium would open to the public in Spring 2026. The stadium is to span about half of the 18-acre district.

Envisioned as an “intimate” venue, Cordaro said the cost of stadium construction alone is estimated to be $60 million, not including land acquisition and infrastructure expenses.

When ‘The Owls’ aren’t at play, the facility’s artificial turf would host concerts and other special events.

Restaurants, bars, shops, a 140-room hotel, and more than 300 residences set to rise on the broader site are expected to enhance the draw for the local and the regional crowds.

The City officials call the venture another boost to the downtown development, which includes the recent multimillion-dollar overhaul of three public parks, a new world-class Science museum and a live music venue. In progress is the construction of a $600 million Mutual of Omaha (a Fortune 500 insurance and financial services company based in Omaha) office tower tied to a modern streetcar project.

Union Omaha new stadiumImage: Alliance Sports

Observed Jean Stothert, the Mayor of Omaha, “It will create additional opportunities for business and talent recruitment, tourism, conventions and meeting bookings, and youth sports events – growing our reputation as a sports competition and event destination that promotes Omaha to a national audience.”

‘Turnback’ Tax

A source of anticipated financing would be the “turnback” State sales tax revenue available through the Sports Arena Facility Financing Assistance Act. A Bill before the Legislature, introduced by the State Senator Mike McDonnell of Omaha, seeks an amendment to the Act to open the funds to the outdoor soccer stadium. The Union Omaha representatives said that could produce $25 million over 20 years.

The ‘turnback’ tax is a law that allows State sales taxes paid at the arenas and the nearby hotels to be used to help finance the complexes.

The Sports Arena Facility Financing Assistance Act allows the political subdivisions in Nebraska to apply for State financial assistance. The assistance can help with acquiring, constructing, improving, equipping, or financing eligible sports arena facilities.

In addition, Union Omaha will seek the City’s approval of tax-increment financing and an enhanced employment area occupation tax that could help finance up to $50 million, informed Larry Botel, Co-Founder of Alliance Sports, which owns the franchise. He said the other development costs would be covered through private investment and the soccer franchise.

The Alliance Sports LLC, based in New York City (US), is owned by Gary Green and Larry Botel and was formed in 2009.

An economic impact study conducted in 2021 projected the stadium alone would have a $99 million impact on the State of Nebraska and $168 million on the City of Omaha. The surrounding development, according to the Union Omaha officials, is expected to create 450 jobs and have a $200 million impact.

Cordaro said the project will follow a model that has worked in other Cities. He said the development would be led by the Machete Group of Houston, a force behind such projects as the $500 million 3,500-capacity Orlando Sports and Entertainment District and the $1 billion 19,000-capacity Barclays Center in New York.

Resident Celebrities

According to a preliminary site plan, a hotel would be built just outside the soccer arena. The pickleball courts and the practice fields, called “pitches” in the soccer world, would ring the stadium.

Housing in the form of apartments and town homes would be positioned along the Abbott Drive, buffered with trees and landscaping. Several parking areas are carved out.

Among the first to move into the district’s housing will be the 60 Union Omaha soccer athletes, said the Alliance Sports Co-Founder Gary Green.

Averred Green, “Having our players living together on the same campus is such an important part of our winning formula.”

Building a community and campus around the soccer stadium adds value to the team, he said, and fills in a pocket of green space next to the Gallup riverfront campus. The 18 acres are still listed under the ownership of a Gallup (global analytics and advisory firm) affiliate, but Alliance Sports will buy the property, Green informed.

‘Zoomers’ and Live Soccer

Based on industry data, Green said, a new stadium is expected to triple attendance for the soccer team.

With soccer’s popularity among the post-millennial “zoomers” generation (Generation Z), Green said that he also expects the campus to help Omaha’s efforts to attract and keep young talent and workers – “Everybody talks about Gen Z and making sure they’re recruited and retained. Well Gen Zs have made the statement loud and clear that American soccer is their No. 1 sport and it’s becoming more and more important to them.”

Furthermore, Green said, “The young people want to see soccer in their backyard. They want to see it live. Live soccer is important.”

In addition to ‘The Owls’ pro-soccer schedule, the Union Omaha foresees the women’s team soccer games, high school and college matches and “friendlies” exhibition contests that feature Mexican teams.

Added Green, “We’re going to have the most racially diverse regularly scheduled sporting events in the history of Omaha.”

The seed to build a soccer stadium dates back to 2021, Cordaro said, and the launch of a feasibility study.

He said the study revealed a focus area for soccer in the Omaha Metro area as being North of the Q Street and East of the 72nd Street. The target audience, he said, was 15-to-25- year-olds, and represented a multicultural audience.

Up to 50 sites were explored along the way, Cordaro said.

Diehard Fans

Green said that the fans in the western part of Omaha and suburbs “made it clear” to the team that they’d come downtown to watch soccer in a new facility.

Green and the Alliance Sports partners also own the Omaha Storm Chasers Triple-A affiliate (the highest level of play in MiLB) of the Major League Baseball (MLB) team Kansas City Royals. Among the other teams they own are the MiLB team Richmond Flying Squirrels and the MLB team San Francisco Giants Double-A affiliate (the second-highest level of play in MiLB).

When the Alliance Sports launched the Union Omaha in 2020, it was the 11th club to play in the USL League One, and soon, in 2021, ‘The Owls’ won the USL League One Championship. Since the team’s inception, it has racked up the best winning percentage in its league, said Green.

The League One is a U.S. Soccer Federation-sanctioned pro men’s league that’s the third tier of the American soccer landscape.

‘The Owls’ new digs would open the door for growth to a higher tier of competition at the USL Championship level (U.S. soccer Division II), Union Omaha officials said.

Concluded Cordaro, “This project will move professional soccer forward in Omaha and across the State.”

Chicago (US)-based the United States Soccer Federation, commonly referred to as U.S. Soccer, is a 501 nonprofit organization and the official governing body of the sport of soccer in the United States.

New York (US)-based the Major League Baseball (MLB) is a professional baseball league. One of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada, the MLB comprises 30 teams, divided equally between the National League (NL) and the American League (AL), with 29 in the United States and 1 in Canada.

St. Petersburg (US)-based the Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is a professional baseball organization below the Major League Baseball, including teams affiliated with the MLB clubs. Entering the 2021 season, the number of full-season MLB-affiliated minor leagues with teams in the United States and Canada was reduced to 11, with a total of 120 teams.

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