During CWS, step up to the plate — in Old Market - Omaha.com
Published Wednesday, June 13, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 9:04 am
During CWS, step up to the plate — in Old Market

Pick up Friday's edition of The World-Herald for our 24-page College World Series special section.

Video: See some of the new food options at this year's College World Series.

Click here for College World Series fan information.

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Longtime restaurateur Ron Samuelson has a message for Omaha diners: Restaurants in the Old Market aren't slammed during the annual College World Series.

In fact, if you want dinner at one of his two Old Market restaurants, M's Pub or Vivace, or any other Old Market restaurant, you should venture downtown sometime between June 15 and 26.

“People in Omaha always assume that Old Market restaurants are inundated during the CWS,” Samuelson said. “And in the going on 25 years I've been down here, that has never been the case.”

Last year — the first year the series was at TD Ameritrade Park in north downtown — many Old Market restaurant owners expected big crowds, but they never materialized. For the most part, baseball fans didn't eat in the Old Market. They stuck to tailgating, ate at the concession stands inside the park, hung out at the CWS Fan Fest and packed adjacent restaurants and bars like the Old Mattress Factory and Slowdown.

And Omahans who thought the Old Market would be swamped didn't come, either.

This year, restaurants are doing what they can to get the word out to regular Omahans that parking, open tables and great people-watching are available in the Old Market during the series.

Jim Schurkamp, an engineer, and fellow Omaha Fire Department workers pump water Wednesday into barricades separating lanes of traffic on Cuming Street near TD Ameritrade Park, preparing for College World Series crowds. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER BURBACH/THE WORLD-HERALD

“The College World Series has always been kind of a slower time for the Old Market,” said Joe Gudenrath, executive director of the Omaha Downtown Improvement District. “With the series coming downtown and being a lot closer to the restaurants, some assumed that the proximity would yield larger crowds. Those higher expectations were not met.”

In 2011, for example, O Casual Dining and Pauli's set up a party tent near 10th and Farnam Streets but closed it several days before the series ended because business was so slow. Downtown restaurants extended their hours, opening earlier in the day and staying open later into the night, but the customers didn't show up.

Megan Longo, spokeswoman for Flagship Restaurant Group, said the Old Market locations of Blue and Roja are after Omahans, not CWS fans.

Blue will offer its happy hour all day June 18 through 21 on both floors of its downtown location, an attempt to draw regulars. And Roja offers three hours worth of free parking in an adjacent garage for customers every day from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“We'd be more than happy to see out-of-towners,” she said, “but we're really targeting our current Omaha crowd.”

Gudenrath said parking and traffic circulation around downtown Omaha — between Leavenworth and Cuming Streets and the Missouri River to 19th Street — wasn't a problem last year. This year, a Metro circulator bus will move people from the Old Market to the stadium and parking stalls all over downtown. The circulator costs a quarter a ride and runs continuously from 90 minutes before the first game all day long until 90 minutes after the final game ends each day.

Gudenrath said many of the 40,000 parking stalls in downtown Omaha are within a three-block walk of the bus stops.

One factor that may make this year different in the Old Market is the return of the Olympic Swim Trials.

The Road to Omaha led to The Battle of Omaha Youth baseball tournament for these Springville, Utah High School Red Devils teammates. But first, a detour to TD Ameritrade Park to pose for a photo with the Road to Omaha sculpture. That's "Bieber," a.k.a. Brett Whitlock, held aloft by teammates. PHOTO BY CHRISTOPHER BURBACH/THE WORLD-HERALD

In 2008, Samuelson said, his restaurants saw more out-of-town customers during the Trials than during the College World Series. Vivace stayed open late for swimmers looking to load up on carbohydrates such as pizza and pasta the night before a big event.

Swim fans, he said, are more adventurous eaters, are into eating healthy food and walked all over downtown. Baseball fans, he said, are more laid back and enjoy the casual dining options around the stadium.

“When you are a baseball person, you spend time at the ballpark,” Samuelson said. “You have to understand the psyche of the people you're dealing with. And Omaha is a big enough city now that it can handle two big events at once without Armageddon descending.”

This year the game times also are different, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Samuelson said that could mean seats for his regular lunch crowd early in the day and the potential for a dinner rush before the evening game begins. But nobody is counting on an influx.

During a 10-day event like the series, Gudenrath said, traffic all over downtown will ebb and flow. But there's room for everyone.

“I think a lot of people still have a Rosenblatt mentality,” he said. “You wouldn't ever go to the zoo during the College World Series. You wouldn't go near the stadium. And for people who might think the stadium and downtown is overwhelmed, it's truly not the case.”

Contact the writer:

402-444-1069, sarah.bakerhansen@owh.com


World-Herald food writer Sarah Baker Hansen samples some of the items available at TD Ameritrade Park during this year's College World Series.

Contact the writer: Sarah Baker Hansen

sarah.bakerhansen@owh.com    |   402-444-1069    |  

Sarah writes restaurant reviews and food stories for the World-Herald.

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