A Visionary Fusion of Community, Sport, and Growth
The continuing pride of a sports-loving community, Werner Park hits a home run
From the echoes of cheering crowds to the whispers of community gatherings, Werner Park in Papillion, Nebraska, epitomizes the fusion of sportsmanship with civic pride.
Through discussions with Mayor David Black, City of Papillion, Martie Cordaro, President of Omaha Storm Chasers and Union Omaha, and Fred Uhe, Director of Tourism Sarpy County, we gain insights into how this venue goes beyond its primary function as a sports facility. Werner Park emerges as a hub for sporting excellence and a vital cultural and economic development contributor.
Beyond the Ball Game
Werner Park is more than a venue for the Omaha Storm Chasers and Union Omaha; it’s an integral thread in the social and cultural tapestry of the area. The park hosts various events, from high-profile sports matches to community-oriented activities like charity walks and historical commemorations. It’s a space where community spirit is both celebrated and nurtured.
Black reveals how Werner Park’s establishment was strategic and intertwined with the city’s broader development plans. Nestled near the major interstate I-80, this synergy of sports, recreation, and entertainment forms a vibrant nexus, attracting both residents and visitors alike.
The Storm Chasers, the city’s beloved baseball team, transcend the traditional role of a sports team. Their involvement in the community is exemplary. From engaging with local schools and civic groups to hosting community nights at the stadium, the Storm Chasers embody a spirit of partnership and community service.
Uhe, a key figure in regional tourism, paints a broader picture of Werner Park’s regional significance, highlighting how this project has been a cornerstone of the regional tourism strategy. As a focal point for various events, including sports and unique activities like the AKC (American Kennel Club) dog scent event, Werner Park draws substantial crowds, significantly contributing to the local economy.
The impact is tangible, with hundreds of thousands visiting annually, Uhe stating, “There’s probably about 500,000 – 600,000 people that come through here over the course of a year.”
The Hallmark of Werner Park’s Sports Teams
Exploring the unique relationship between Werner Park and its community, we turn to Cordaro, a key figure in the sports scene. His perspective offers a deeper understanding of how sports teams, far beyond mere entertainment, contribute significantly to local life.
Cordaro emphasizes the theme of partnership that resonates through Werner Park’s existence. The park, owned by Sarpy County and located within the City of Pavilion, symbolizes a collaborative effort involving multiple cities, including La Vista, Bellevue, Springfield, and Gretna. This sense of collective ownership extends beyond municipal boundaries, encompassing the entire county, its residents, schools, and businesses.
Focusing on the fundamental aspect of youth involvement in sports, Cordaro sheds light on Chasers Charities, a non-profit organization that supports youth baseball and softball. Their approach goes beyond providing memberships and equipment; it’s about creating safe and sustainable playing environments.
In one project, Chasers Charities partnered with the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers in response to the devastating floods of 2019. This partnership was more than just a symbolic gesture; it translated into significant financial aid for the affected community. Together, they successfully raised an impressive sum, estimated at $40,000, dedicated solely to a specific relief project.
The Storm Chasers’ contributions aren’t limited to the field. Annually, they support over 500 organizations through donations, ranging from game tickets to VIP first pitch and experiential opportunities.
Although newer and less established, Union Omaha is following in the footsteps of the Storm Chasers, gradually cementing its place within the community. Their growing involvement, especially after the pause caused by the pandemic in 2020 and 2021, is a promising sign of their future role in enhancing community engagement.
Werner Park and Its Surrounding Community
The outlook for Werner Park and its neighboring areas is exceptionally promising, highlighted by planned facility enhancements and ambitious community development initiatives.
Black clarifies the city’s role in Werner Park. Although the city of Papillion does not own the facility (that honor belongs to Sarpy County), it plays an important role in the surrounding development. Black outlines ongoing projects, including new office buildings and entertainment zones, which are set to enhance the area’s appeal.
The stadium’s proximity to two interstate exits is a strategic advantage, with nearby hotels already benefiting from their location. Black and Uhe discuss the symbiotic relationship between these hotels and Werner Park, with several partnerships to accommodate the influx of visitors during events.
As for the stadium itself, Uhe and Cordaro touch on the exciting prospects ahead. While Uhe focuses on the marketing and promotional aspects, Cordaro talks about the specifics of facility improvements, including compliance with Major League Baseball requirements and enhancing fan-facing amenities, which are high on the agenda. These developments, set to be realized in the next 6 to 9 months, are eagerly anticipated by the community.
A Broader Vision
The integration of Werner Park with the upcoming entertainment district and educational facilities (including a new college campus) illustrates a comprehensive approach to community development. These plans aim to create a dynamic, multi-faceted environment catering to locals and visitors.
Uhe states, “There’s always a variety of things going on. As far as the tourism office, we’re constantly looking for new events and seeing how they fit in with the Chasers schedule and Union Omaha schedules, but if we can attract unique, different events, we are always willing to try it.”
Cordaro highlights Werner Park’s dynamic event portfolio, ranging from Omaha Storm Chasers baseball games to Union Omaha soccer matches, state high school baseball and numerous charity events. The park’s versatility is further demonstrated by unique events like the Susan G. Komen walk and the cornfield race, drawing participants nationwide.
Werner Park’s uniqueness extends to hosting smaller gatherings, offering a refreshing alternative to conventional conference centers. Events like Baseball-O-Ween, educational seminars for local school districts, and private events for organizations like the Offutt Air Force Base showcase the park’s adaptability and appeal to a broad audience.
An emotional moment in Werner Park’s history was hosting the Wall That Heals, a replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This event honored veterans and sparked the development of a dedicated Nebraska Vietnam Memorial, an initiative Black is proud to discuss.
Vision for 2024 and Beyond
Looking ahead to 2024, Cordaro emphasizes Werner Park’s commitment to reaching beyond just sports fans, “the goal is to highlight the park as a vibrant center for community interaction, entertainment, and corporate events.” This strategy is about showcasing Werner Park as a multifaceted venue, not limited to sports but encompassing a broad spectrum of community needs and interests.
Uhe adds that Werner Park continues to evolve, hosting events even during off-seasons, such as drive-through Christmas light shows. The park’s flexibility during the pandemic, hosting outdoor trade shows, speaks to its ability to adapt and remain a central hub for various activities. The park’s role in regional tourism is evident, with plans to explore new events like rugby and grass volleyball tournaments.
Black underlines the park’s role as a central asset for residents, visitors, civic groups, and businesses, stating, “If you have visitors coming into town, you can stay in town, and you’ve got high-quality entertainment, the top professional sport in all of Nebraska.” The park’s proximity to major employment centers and capacity to host corporate events make it a valuable resource for fostering community engagement and providing high-quality entertainment.
Werner Park is a testament to the power of community-focused planning and development. Its ability to host diverse events, its role in memorializing significant historical moments, and its vision for the future illustrate its significance far beyond sports. As a venue that caters to the needs of residents, businesses, civic groups, and tourists alike, Werner Park is an example of community integration and a model for similar developments nationwide.
AT A GLANCE
What: Werner Park provides Omaha with a unique outdoor venue for sporting events, concerts, charity walks, and more
Where: Omaha, Nebraska
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