Union Omaha franchise eyes new soccer stadium, and Legislature is asked to pitch in financially

By: - January 30, 2023 9:00 pm

Union Omaha Owls greet fans at Werner Park after a previous soccer match.(Courtesy of Union Omaha)

OMAHA — Union Omaha hopes to build a $100 million soccer stadium in north downtown that would be accompanied by new housing, perhaps a hotel and other related entertainment amenities.

Legislative Bill 621, introduced by Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha, would direct up to $50 million in state funds to help bring that vision to fruition.

Capacity for 10,000 fans

Martie Cordaro, president of Union Omaha, briefly outlined the outdoor stadium plan Monday during a legislative hearing on the bill, which asks the state to contribute twice the amount raised privately. The potential $50 million is to come from the state’s cash reserves.

Union Omaha soccer payers celebrate a win at Werner Park. (Courtesy of Union Omaha)

While LB 621 does not specifically identify a tenant of the stadium, which would have the capacity for 10,000 fans, McDonnell indicated during the meeting that his bill was tailored for Union Omaha. 

“It’s about economic impact,” he said.

McDonnell said the stadium project was considered — but not ultimately chosen — to be among the recommended slate of groups to share about $225 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding headed to North and South Omaha. 

Women’s pro soccer team

For about a year now, Cordaro said, the soccer organization has been exploring a new stadium for the Owls.

Currently, the 2021 USL League One champions share Werner Park in Sarpy County with the Omaha Storm Chasers, a minor-league baseball team.

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

The proposed new stadium would open the door for growth to a higher tier of competition and greater attendance, Cordaro said. 

He said the move would allow the franchise to expand offerings — including a vision to create a women’s pro soccer team and a youth training academy for elite players.

Cordaro said some of the city’s most promising young soccer talent has left Omaha, some with their families, to train in cities such as Kansas City. 

Though Union Omaha has a preferred site in mind, it has not secured the land, Cordaro said.

Other development envisioned

He said the organization is interviewing candidates to develop the proposed stadium, as well as lead a broader vision that includes housing, retail and other development around the facility.

Among payoffs, Cordaro said, would be an anticipated 195 new jobs and  economic impact of about $17 million a year. That’s according to a study that Cordaro said has not been made public yet.

North downtown would be ideal for a new soccer stadium because, he said, the franchise’s demographic information shows that Omaha metro area fans of the country’s fourth most popular sport live predominantly in eastern Omaha.

“It gives that northern part of the metro something to call their own,” he said. 

While the Owls team, just about three years old, has used Werner Park as its home field, Cordaro said Omaha soccer in a baseball park wouldn’t be “viable” in the long term.

Takes a village

A member of the Legislature’s Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee asked Cordaro why Morrison Stadium, home of the Creighton University soccer team, also in north downtown Omaha, isn’t an option for the franchise.

Sen. Mike McDonnell of Omaha
(Courtesy of the Unicameral Information Office)

To that, Cordaro said Union Omaha plans to host various community events in addition to creating the women’s and youth programs and needs more schedule flexibility. 

The Banking, Commerce and Insurance Committee took no action Monday on whether to advance the bill to full legislative debate.

But Sen. Mike Jacobson of North Platte noted that the stadium project also is poised to gain financially from separate legislation, also introduced by McDonnell, which seeks changes in the Sports Arena Facility Financing Assistance Act.

“Is it always going to need to be fed?” he asked.

Steve Swanstrom, president and CEO of Centris Federal Credit Union, touted the addition of “affordable entertainment” the stadium would bring to the metro area.

“It’s going to require the state, the entire village, to make this a reality,” he said.

GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX

 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site.

Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.

MORE FROM AUTHOR