Proposal to expand Nebraska turnback tax would help develop Tranquility Park, lawmaker says

February 4, 2018 GMT

LINCOLN — Outdoor sports complexes could qualify for an arena-financing incentive under a bill introduced in the Nebraska Legislature.

The proposal could help build more fields at Omaha’s Tranquility Park, among other areas of the state, the bill’s sponsor said.

State Sen. Brett Lindstrom of Omaha said there are no immediate plans to further develop the northwest Omaha park. But Jeff LeDent, general manager of Millard United Sports, which oversees youth sports and manages dozens of city parks, said at a hearing on Friday that his group has ideas for Tranquility. He said Omaha lacks venues to host large-scale youth sporting events, and his group hopes to change that.

Tranquility is a city-owned park and any development would need a number of city approvals.

Mayor Jean Stothert, who on Friday was in San Diego for the commissioning of the USS Omaha, said earlier in the week that the Millard group hadn’t shared a specific proposal for Tranquility.

She also said she was unaware of Lindstrom’s proposed legislation.

“It does seem odd to me they’re trying to get a bill passed in the Legislature to develop property we own and they have not come and talked to us about any specific plan,” Stothert said Thursday.

LeDent and other supporters of Legislative Bill 739 said the youth sports tourism market is a multibillion-dollar industry and the turnback tax could make building complexes more feasible.

“Omaha and all of Nebraska are missing out on our true revenue potential due to a lack of quality complexes,” LeDent told the Legislature’s Revenue Committee on Friday. “We have events that can fill these complexes if we were just to build them.”

Currently the turnback tax applies to arenas in Omaha, Lincoln and Ralston. It’s also meant to help the planned Nebraska Multisport Complex in La Vista, which had been originally planned for Tranquility Park.

The mechanism returns 70 percent of the new state sales tax collected by nearby businesses to help pay off the arenas’ debt. The remaining 30 percent goes into a fund to help pay for community projects.

LB 739 would expand the turnback tax to apply to indoor or outdoor facilities with at least 12 venues, like fields and stadiums, used primarily for competitive sports. Previously, the tax didn’t specify a number of venues and applied only to facilities with an indoor component.

Tiffany Jockel with the Open Sky Policy Institute opposed the bill because it would divert state sales tax revenue away from the state’s general fund.

The bill is meant to help publicly owned facilities, Lindstrom emphasized.

Councilwoman Aimee Melton, whose district includes Tranquility Park, on Friday offered neutral testimony. She said she’s unsure if turnback tax applies to the Tranquility area because it’s unclear what new development would follow any work on the park.

And she noted that the city is already making improvements to Tranquility. A $750,000 synthetic turf field will be built this year and paid for from fees paid by the Nebraska State Soccer Association.

After the hearing, LeDent said he’s “excited to work with the city on potential opportunities.”

Lindstrom, who introduced the bill, said that the legislation wouldn’t force Omaha, or any other city, to use the mechanism.

A fiscal note for the proposal said there’s “potential for a significant cost,” though an exact number depends on a number of factors, such as a project’s location.

Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha has been in favor of the turnback tax in the past to help arenas, but he said on Friday that the concept has been “bastardized” by repeated changes.

The committee took no immediate action on the bill.