The big news event on January 21st in Omaha was the ground-breaking ceremony for a new baseball stadium to be built in north downtown on two former parking lots, which included numerous trees planted just a few short years ago.
Earlier in the week, when checking into the fate of the trees now winter-dormant in two parking lots for the Qwest Center Omaha, I'd heard about the event and knew when to arrive. My primary purpose was not to listen to speeches by city and state officials or representatives of the NCAA or College World Series, or to shake some hands, but to get onto the grounds and count some trees.
This task had already been done - in an approximate manner - using aerial photographs on the county assessor web-site, but there had to be a ground check to get more accuracy. Astride a reliable bicycle I rode eastward on Wednesday afternoon, arriving at least 30 minutes early.
I was immediately taken aback when upon asking - just for hoots - where the bike should be locked. My suggestion to use a nearby tree was nixed as soon as it was spoken. The attendant said: "The tree might get scuffed" which wouldn't be appropriate since they were going to be moved.
It was a warmish, sunny day to walk about in the immediate zone of the big, white canvas tent erected for the gathering - while patiently waiting for official doings to get underway - and mark the number of trees shown on an aerial photograph showing the landscaped areas within the barricaded construction area. A few documentary photographs were also taken for illustrative purposes.
View of trees in the east parking lot, looking southeast, towards the Qwest Center.
View of trees in the east parking lot, looking to the northeast.
The tally was about 168. These were the tree of concern, even after a few phone calls to determine this earlier in the day, and yesterday, rather than watch political coverage. Additional trees along Webster Street, were outside the construction zone, and were being left to their growing ways.
Speeches, pictures, gabbing among the throng, and other things people do when they gather to celebrate then followed. Lots of people pictures were taken. It was all glorious for the future of the Omaha Baseball Stadium.
It also helped to determine the people attending, and whom to speak with later.
One opportunity was to visit briefly with the administrative director of the Omaha Parks and Recreation Department, and mention to him that some "public" trees might be available to get placed in city parks. It would be a deal to get trees just for the cost of transport?
Public Open House
After the ground-breaking was done with shovels attached to baseball bat handles within a tent that had a big pile of not frozen, loose dirt good for throwing a shovel-full. This happened several times in order to get pictures of the people involved in various ways. And ... other pictures and interviews with the gathered press.
The days' event then moved to the nearby Qwest Center great hall, or the lobby with the big glass that is such a ... well, that is a story for some other day.
Displayed here were more details of interest, especially the architectural renderings for the structure, which will seat 24,000 fans, and open in the spring of 2011.
The cookies were very tasty, and were decorated to look like baseballs. Add in refreshment and peanuts. The main event however, was upstairs on the third floor, but upon getting there by mistake, there were ready to evict anyone without an invitation. Seemingly it was the real soiree - with more than a bag of peanuts - for some of those walking their way from the parking lot than would soon be gone.
Fate of Trees
The executive director of the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority was also present, so when an opportunity arose after lingering at the proper place, I inquired about the fate of the trees.
The reply? The trees will be reused by transplanting them elsewhere on the grounds of the Qwest Center. When spring arrives, they will be moved to a "staging area" until getting placed elsewhere, such as along Abbott Drive.
There was no intention to destroy them. If any were not going to be used, he agreed that perhaps they could be provided for use in the parks.
This additional detail was shared with the current Parks Department administrator, with a hearty suggestion to establish what might be a beneficial connection.
During the interim, each architectural rendition got a good once-over to see if there might be situations that would be hazardous to migratory birds. My intent was to see in the stadium was bird-friendly?
Nothing seemed readily apparent, so the question on this topic was posed to a representative of the architectural firm. He was aware of the problem, noting first how the translucent character of glass on the upper half of the stadium. It would allow light to pass, but was opaque to view.
On the ground-level, it seemed there were few apparent situation which seemed to be dangerous by combining transparent glass and nearby landscaping. One particular place was the public entrance at 13th and Cuming Streets. One either side plans indicate trees and glass.
A questionable aspect is the "vision-glass" meant to allow "people in the vicinity to view the activity in the stadium." This is another feature of the 13th and Cuming Streets entrance, and elsewhere. This would block egress for any birds within the playing field area, that were attempting to leave the area by flying through the entry area, rather than exiting by flying over the structure.
A potential hazard zone was show along Webster Street. Current plans are for a brick wall, but there is intense interest by the local community for a pedestrian-friendly setting that would include retail.
Adding the retail option would mean there would be a block-length stretch of trees and intermittent glass store fronts, creating a hazardous combination for birds. When this was pointed out to the architect, using fritted glass was mentioned as an option to avoid any impacts. It was surprising to hear the term even mentioned, since it is obviously a viable alternative.
This design feature is not currently planned for implementation in the stadium construction.
Since the architectural firm had not reviewed any particular bird-friendly design guidelines, links to this information on the web is going to be provided to them via email.
Aspects of a Green Stadium
With all the press about, effort was taken to inform them of how the trees would be reused and how this detail is valuable news. This was told to the talk-radio program doing a live show, and especially since he was going to interview the very person that provided the authoritative answer to the fate of the many trees.
The potential for a "green" story was also suggested to a newspaper reporter (perhaps as a follow-up story) and one local television station. Each seemed receptive to the telling the public.
The College World Series tradition continues in Omaha, and there is some worthwhile environmental news to also consider as the change in venue got underway.