Other stories filed under Features
A Fresh Face With a Hopeful Message
Royal’s goals lofty, though not out of reach
February 13, 2017
When I first heard that a 27-year-old, who aims to build an NFL stadium on Omaha’s riverfront, was running for mayor of Omaha, one thought came to my mind: Icetown.
Icetown, the fictitious indoor ice hockey arena project undertaken by teenage mayor Ben Wyatt, is the focus of at least one episode of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation.”
The parallels between the two were uncanny. Royal is a young political novice running for mayor with a goal of building an arena, the size and purpose of which would be unprecedented for a city such as ours.
Royal is a Skutt Catholic graduate, so we sat down with him to learn more about the policies he plans to implement as mayor. I entered the interview a complete skeptic and emerged, though not totally converted, with a certain confidence in Royal’s policies and his status as a serious candidate.
When I began to question Royal about his plans and policies – like privatizing some city services, cutting taxes, and building an entertainment district with an NFL stadium – his responses showed thorough planning, attention to detail, and most of all, a passion for improving our city.
That passion stems from the time he spent growing up in Omaha, but also from the years he spent in Dallas, Texas, where he gained some ideas for how he could improve his hometown.
“It’s a whole different animal down there [in Dallas]. Very young, very energetic, very vibrant, and Omaha used to be like that,” Royal said. “Millennials have left simply because the jobs they are trained for aren’t available here. The things younger people aspire to be someday, such as a CFO, aren’t in Omaha, and it is a problem for us keeping a good economic environment.”
Royal believes that he can make Omaha more attractive to businesses and young professionals. He plans moves such as eliminating the restaurant tax over four years, improving street maintenance, and rolling back parking meter fees to encourage Omahans to patronize local restaurants and other businesses.
In order to improve street maintenance without increasing taxes or the public works budget, Royal plans to put road maintenance projects out to bid and shrink the city’s public works staff and inventory.
By contracting with private firms, the city can tap into the infrastructure and efficiencies of large firms to save money, Royal believes. This would also eliminate the future burden of paying out pensions for some public works employees.
Additionally, Royal wants to see more development along the city’s riverfront. “It’s such a natural place for development, and we’ve done so little to develop that land. We built a $40 million pedestrian bridge that [currently] leads to nowhere.”
A crucial piece of Royal’s entertainment development plan is an NFL stadium with a capacity of around 70,000 people. “The Huskers draw around 100,000 people every Saturday in the fall,” says Royal. Royal hopes to attract a similar crowd to Omaha’s riverfront on Sundays.
Royal hopes to pitch Omaha to a team that is failing in terms of game attendance, and offer them a stadium and the fanbase of Omaha. Royal expects this to bring serious revenue into the city’s economy, citing the $250 million that Husker games add to Lincoln’s economy on game days.
For stadium funding, Royal plans to reach out to private investors as well as use public funding.
Though his goals are certainly lofty, I left the interview with a better understanding of Royal’s policies and gained respect for him as a serious mayoral candidate.