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Nebraska’s Ralston Arena: Budget Woes And Frustrated Officials

Nebraska's Ralston Arena: Budget Woes And Frustrated Officials
Ralston Arena By Jared Winkler (Own work) CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
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RALSTON, NEB. (CelebrityAccess) Ralston Arena, the 5-year-old, approximately 4,500-capacity building in the city of Ralston near Omaha, Neb., is apparently still causing financial consternation within the city government.

The arena has never been a moneymaker, which in itself may not be the most shocking of facility news, but it was built with a promise by then-Mayor Don Groesser that the arena would not only pay for itself but even lower property taxes. Instead, in 2015, Groesser considered a slew of options to cover the costs of the arena, including raising property taxes and city sales taxes, raising prices at Ralston Arena, and instituting a restaurant tax to pay for an upcoming $3.5 million bond payment installment. He also asked the mayor of nearby Omaha to shutter an ice rink to bring skaters to Ralston.

Ken Kriz, a Wichita State University public finance professor, told the Omaha World-Herald at the time that the arena was a “financial train wreck.”

“It looks really, really bad,” Kriz said.

In 2015, the arena generated $2.1 million in turnback money – more than expected – but failed to live up to early projections that led to a projected 2016 deficit of $770,000 – 7 percent of the city’s operating budget. It spurred Groesser to acknowledge that the city based early projections on faulty assumptions, according to the World-Herald, but added, “We feel we’re really very close to breaking even on the arena.”

Jump-cut to modern day and the City of Ralston is noting that the arena is still operating at a loss, with numbers suggesting it would be $1 million in the red without public support, according to the paper.

Combined with the arena’s debt, the city paid more than $4.6 million for the facility in 2017. The arena’s finances have reportedly spurred several city staff members to quit and, for the first time, Ralston officials have acknowledged the arena fell short of expectations and that “maybe this is the best the arena can do,” according to the World-Herald.

“We need a plan,” City Administrator Dave Forrest reportedly told the city council. “We need a reality check: What is it that we can reasonably expect from Ralston Arena?”

Arena GM Stan Benis told the city council that a small arena with a maximum capacity of 4,600 won’t generate the funding to pay all of its bills (Benis has had experience at much-larger facilities like CenturyLink Center and Mid-America Center).

“My goal would honestly be to break even,” Benis told the council. “Most cities go into it with the idea that the arena is not going to make money.”

CelebrityAccess emailed Benis to see if there was further comment; recent and upcoming events at the arena include 38 Special, Three Dog Night, Modest Mouse and Gabriel Iglesias.

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