New 7,000-seat Union Omaha downtown soccer stadium to anchor $300 million entertainment district

Housing, hotel rooms, retailers, pickleball courts are planned around the stadium, which also would host a future women’s soccer team. The campus is to rise on 18 acres along Abbott Drive.

By: - January 25, 2024 10:10 am

Rendering of new Union Omaha soccer stadium that would have 7,000 fixed seats and anchor an 18-acre mixed-use housing and entertainment district in downtown Omaha. (Courtesy of Alliance Sports)

OMAHA — A new 7,000-seat Union Omaha soccer stadium is the centerpiece of a planned $300 million housing and entertainment district announced Thursday for the downtown riverfront area of Nebraska’s largest city.

The outdoor stadium is to be home to the state’s first and only professional soccer club, which has been sharing Sarpy County’s Werner Park with a minor league baseball team.

Martie Cordaro, president of Union Omaha and Omaha Storm Chasers, speaks at Thursday announcement.  (Cindy Gonzalez/Nebraska Examiner)

Poised to take shape southeast of Abbott and Riverfront Drives, the new development would be near two other major entertainment and sports facilities: the CHI Health Center arena and convention center and Charles Schwab Field, home of the College World Series.

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

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

Stadium also to host concerts, community events

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.

A site plan of the 18 acres on which Alliance Sports plans to build a home soccer stadium for Union Omaha. Around it would be practice fields, housing, retail, a hotel, pickleball courts and parking. (Courtesy of Alliance Sports)

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 local and regional crowds.

City officials call the venture another boost to 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 construction of a $600 million Mutual of Omaha office tower tied to a modern streetcar project.

“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,” said Mayor Jean Stothert.

Turnback tax, a financing source

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

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, said Larry Botel, co-founder of Alliance Sports, which owns the franchise. He said other development costs would be covered through private investment and the soccer franchise.

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 Union Omaha officials, is expected to create 450 jobs and have a $200 million impact.

Retailers, bars, housing, hotel rooms are planned to rise on the 18 acres in downtown Omaha that will be anchored by a soccer stadium for pro Union Omaha team. (Courtesy of Alliance Sports)

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 Orlando Sports & Entertainment District and $1 billion Barclays Center in New York.

Soccer players are resident celebrities

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

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

Gary Green of Alliance Sports, which owns Union Omaha. (Courtesy of Alliance)

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

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

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 affiliate, but Alliance Sports will buy the property, Green said.

Zoomers and live soccer

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

Larry Botel of Alliance Sports, which owns Union Omaha. (Courtesy of Alliance)

With soccer’s popularity among the post-millennial “zoomers” generation, 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,” he said. “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, “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, Union Omaha foresees the  women’s team soccer games, high school and college matches, and “friendlies” exhibition contests that feature Mexican teams.

Martie Cordaro, president of Union Omaha. (Courtesy of Union Omaha)

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

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 Q Street and east of 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.

West Omaha fans say they’d make the drive

Green said that 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 Alliance Sports partners also own the Omaha Storm Chasers Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals. Among other teams they own are the Richmond Flying squirrels and San Francisco Giants Double-A affiliate.

When Alliance launched Union Omaha in 2020, it was the 11th club to play in 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.

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.

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

A new open-air soccer stadium in downtown Omaha along Abbott Drive would be home to Union Omaha, a future women’s soccer team and a youth training academy. (Courtesy of Alliance Sports)

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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.

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