November 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

While Ralston’s new $36 million arena is impressive, drawing big crowds and solid reviews, it isn’t getting too big for its britches.

“We’re not going to target the U2s or the Bruce Springsteens,” said Lynn Higgenbotham, marketing director for the arena. “But it’s a good size, a good fit.”

Modesty becomes it. The state-of-the-art arena can host 3,500 guests and easily accommodated the crowd for its October 19 opening concert with country singer Rodney Atkins.

Upcoming events include rodeos, UFC (Ultimate Fighting) matches, high school games, and trade shows. The arena will also host the USHL Lancers (attracted by not one, but two sheets of ice), the UNO men’s basketball team, the IFL Omaha Beef Football, the Omaha Roller Girls, and the LFL (Lingerie Football League) Omaha Heart. “They draw about 16,000 in other venues,” Higginbotham said of Omaha’s own LFL team.

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The arena sits at 73rd & Q streets in Ralston.

So the arena, at a quarter of that size, is hoping for a sell-out?

“That’s the goal, of course,” she said. While no event is too small for the arena, Higgenbotham said that its main purpose is to host major events. Direct competition with larger local facilities such as the Mid-America Center is, of course, out of the question. Such venues are able to seat twice as large a crowd. “The larger places can adapt themselves to a smaller theater setting,” she explained, but Ralston Arena is poised to set itself apart. “We want more diverse entertainment and sports events,” Higgenbotham said. “The Ralston residents really took ownership of this venue.”

That could be because, previously, there were no other event facilities in Ralston, according to Curtis Webb, general manager of Ralston Arena. “People would drive into Omaha for entertainment,” he said.

The arena, which broke ground June 29, 2011, on what used to be Lakeview Golf Course, is Ralston’s answer to a need for taxable income. Since 2008, Mayor Don Groesser had been attempting to attract a retailer onto the space with little luck. “We started talking with the Lancers about an arena,” Groesser said. Due to the scarcity of ice time in Omaha, the hockey team was excited about the idea of an arena with a few thousand seats.

“We want more diverse entertainment and sports events.” – Lynn Higgenbotham, marketing director for Ralston Arena

“Now that it’s here,” Webb said, “the venue should drive sales tax in the form of tickets, food, and beverage.” To pay down the debt of building the arena, LB 779 (or the Ralston Bill as it was known by the time it passed in 2010) puts 70 percent of the state’s portion of sales tax from any retailer within 600 yards of the arena toward the arena’s bill. As Groesser put it, “That’s basically how we’re going to pay for the building.”

As a result of this legislation, Groesser and Webb are encouraging more businesses to build within that 600-yard range of the arena. “We just got Menards to build on 72nd and L,” Groesser said. He also plans to introduce a new four-story hotel next to the facility, the first floor of which will be shops along the lines of salons, clothing, and convenience. “So another 10,000 square feet of retail,” he said. Add that on to the 4,600 square feet leased by The Dugout (clothing store) inside the arena, itself.

“We need all the new retail we can possibly get,” Groesser explained. “Everything I’ve done, I’ve tried to make sure of that.”

For more information about Ralston Arena, visit ralstonarena.com.

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