Omaha, NCAA reach 20-year CWS deal with new downtown stadium

.OMAHA, Neb. (AP) – The College World Series will be played in Omaha at least through 2030, under an agreement the city and NCAA reached Wednesday.

A long-term contract has been in the works for months, with much of the discussion centered on the construction of a new downtown ballpark to replace 60-year-old Rosenblatt Stadium.

Plans for a stadium adjacent to the Qwest Center have been moving forward for weeks, and Wednesday’s “memorandum of understanding” promises a commitment of at least 20 years once the current contract expires in 2010.

“It’s a huge day,” Mayor Mike Fahey said. “We’ve been working very hard to get to this day.”

The Division I baseball championship has been held in Omaha every year since 1950. Omaha’s strong support for the event is a point of civic pride.

The CWS also is good for business, injecting an estimated $41 million into Omaha’s economy during last year’s 10-day run. The early summer tradition also gives the city national exposure on ESPN, which advertises its coverage as the “Road to Omaha” in the weeks leading to the CWS.

“Great day for the city of Omaha. Great day for the College World Series,” said Jack Diesing Jr., president of CWS Inc., the event’s local organizing group.

Though a number of cities have made inquiries to the NCAA about hosting the CWS, all did so with the understanding that the event was Omaha’s to lose. A succession of Omaha mayors have made it a priority to make sure that wouldn’t happen.

In February, Fahey and his stadium oversight committee unveiled plans for a 24,000-seat, $140 million stadium that would open in 2011.

Officially, the new agreement was between the NCAA and CWS Inc. But Fahey, who initiated conversation about a new stadium last fall and endured criticism from Rosenblatt supporters along the way, has been the point man in negotiations.

He met with NCAA officials in Indianapolis last week, and Wednesday’s announcement culminated two days of meetings in Omaha.

Fahey said he hoped a contract would be signed by June 10, four days before the start of this year’s CWS.

Taxpayers will be protected under the agreement, he said. Before any revenue is distributed to the NCAA, stadium construction debt and operating expenses and payments to a capital reserve fund must be covered.