Parking and traffic flow are among the problems that will have to be managed when the College World Series and U.S. Olympic Swim Trials briefly overlap in Omaha in 2012.
A total of about 35,000 baseball and swimming fans would be in venues about a block apart for one day, and potentially two, when the city hosts both events.
“People are going to find their way in,'' said Roger Dixon, president of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority. “Is it going to be a challenge? Absolutely. Is it something we can do? Absolutely.''
USA Swimming and Omaha Sports Commission officials signed a contract Thursday that will bring the U.S. Olympic Trials back to Omaha in 2012. The event will be held in the Qwest Center from June 25 through July 2, dates cemented by NBC back in April.
The CWS is scheduled to begin across the parking lot on June 15 at TD Ameritrade Park, the stadium being built to start hosting the CWS in 2011. It would end June 25 if the championship series goes two games, June 26 if it lasts three.
Adding to the crunch will be the normal workday traffic on June 25 and 26, a Monday and Tuesday in 2012. Easing the congestion some are the staggered start of the events. CWS games would start at 6:05 p.m., with the swim trials starting at 7 p.m. and lasting until about 8:15.
The main logistical problem will be parking, said Harley Schrager, chairman of the Omaha Sports Commission. “We've been working on that already,” he said, “and we think that we'll have sufficient resources to overcome that.''
Schrager mentioned shuttles and satellite lots as possibilities.
Curt Simon, executive director of Metro Area Transit, said buses already shuttle CWS fans to Rosenblatt from six park-and-ride locations around the metro area. That is likely to continue when the CWS moves downtown, he said, calling the routes to Rosenblatt “pretty successful.”
Dixon said there are 9,000 parking stalls within a 12-minute walk of the Qwest Center, and 12,000 if you extend that perimeter some. He noted that many fans will be walking from downtown hotels.
Schrager said any lodging problems would be eased by six of the eight CWS teams being eliminated before the championship series and the swim trials begin.
There are 2,200 hotel rooms downtown and 12,400 in the metro area.
Dana Markel, executive director of the Omaha Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the two final CWS teams, media, NCAA staff and youth teams will use about 800 hotel rooms during the final days of the series.
At the start of the swim trials, the athletes, coaches, USA Swimming officials and media will stay in 1,100 hotel rooms throughout the metro area, Markel said.
Neither estimate includes fans, but Markel said she is confident that there will be enough hotel rooms to accommodate everyone.
“We're in good shape,” she said. “Not everyone will have to stay downtown, and we'll have fans all over the metro area.”
None of the potential problems was downplayed during negotiations, one participant said.
“All those issues were right on the table when we were talking through the process,'' said David Brown, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce.
Thursday capped a negotiation process between USA Swimming and Omaha that started in January but included talks that go all the way back to last fall. The biggest snags were the dates.
But Omaha officials had decided immediately after hosting the 2008 swim trials that the city wanted the event again.
Getting the trials again is great for Omaha, said Schrager, who also served as chairman for the 2008 U.S. Trials. “This is a huge coup for the city.''
Schrager and Omaha Sports Commission President Harold Cliff said the organization on Monday would release the findings of an economic study of 2008, when the Omaha sports lineup included NCAA basketball tournament first- and second-round games, the swim trials and the NCAA volleyball final four.
“It's a fairly impressive number, I assure you,'' Cliff said.
Swimming drew a U.S. Trials record of 160,003 fans over eight days and 15 sessions. Initial estimates last summer put the economic impact of the trials at $30 million.
USA Swimming Executive Director Chuck Wielgus said Omaha was going to get every chance to host again, despite overtures from other cities, including those that might not have had to work around something as major as the CWS.
“One of the biggest challenges we had to face was trying to figure out how these two events can co-exist without stepping on each other's toes,'' Wielgus said. “And the NCAA and College World Series folks have been awesome in being collaborative with us on this.''
In January, conflicts were addressed when the NCAA agreed to start the 2012 CWS a day earlier than planned (a Friday instead of a Saturday) and USA Swimming gave the OK to starting later than initially requested (June 27) by national coach Mark Schubert and heads of the major swim clubs.
NBC, which has television rights to the Olympics and swim trials, then set the June 25 date, and Omaha had to go back to the NCAA and ask approval of the overlap.
“There was concern, and rightly so,'' said Jack Diesing Jr., president of CWS of Omaha Inc. “But that's the great thing about having great relationships with everybody. The NCAA and certainly USA Swimming were understanding of the benefits to all parties — and they have a great trust in Omaha because we know how to put on these events and we'll pull this off.''
The key in 2012, Diesing said, will be to make USA Swimming and the NCAA feel like “they're the only event in town.''
Wielgus said USA Swimming is just glad to be coming back, even if it does have to share some space and attention for a day or two.
“There were a lot of challenges along the way,'' Wielgus said. “Facility issues, scheduling issues, television issues, sponsorship issues, Olympic Committee issues ... and that's why this took such a long period of time. But we tackled those one by one.''
World-Herald reporter Maggie O'Brien contributed to this report.