$29 million to keep up Civic? - Omaha.com
Published Friday, December 2, 2011 at 12:00 am / Updated at 3:54 pm
$29 million to keep up Civic?
The Rolling Stones performed at the Civic in 1964 before 651 people.

The Civic hosted the first round of the NCAA basketball playoffs in 1977.

In 1977, Elvis performed his fifth and final concert in Omaha at the Civic. It drew more than 10,500 fans.

U.S. Sen. Lloyd Bentsen of Texas and U.S. Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana debated there in 1988 as part of the vice presidential election.

Source: World-Herald archives

The Civic Auditorium is facing a potential $29 million tab for basic upkeep, and city officials say they realize a decision is coming about the future of the aging arena.

That price tag, outlined in a new study on the 56-year-old building, would be a steep, perhaps unaffordable cost for the City of Omaha, which is dealing with tight finances and debt payments on CenturyLink Center Omaha and TD Ameritrade Park.

While the city isn't obligated to make those repairs, it's not the only significant cost bleeding out of the Civic.

With tenants leaving the downtown auditorium for a new arena and free rent in Ralston, the Civic is projected to lose $150,000 to $250,000 annually by staying open.

Although officials have yet to release the full study, those financial findings are two of its major conclusions.

The study, funded by the nonprofit fundraising group Heritage Services, does not recommend whether the city should pay the repair bill, shutter the Civic or turn the property into something else.

That decision is now in the hands of city officials, who say they will be analyzing the Civic's future.

"That's been quite a facility for Omaha over the years," City Council President Tom Mulligan said. "But I don't know if it's run its course."

Steve Oltmans, Mayor Jim Suttle's chief of staff, said that the mayor was briefed on the study and that the renovation and maintenance costs are a concern.

In a statement, Oltmans said officials “will need time to analyze the findings and make a thoughtful determination of ways the city can proceed which satisfy the best interest of the community and its taxpayers.”

For perspective, Ralston is building a 3,500-seat ice and events arena for $32 million.

That events center, due to open next year, has helped push the Civic Auditorium to a financial tipping point.

Ralston will lure away the Omaha Lancers hockey team from the Civic and has been negotiating a deal with the Omaha Beef indoor football team. The Omaha Vipers soccer team, another of the Civic's tenants, has cancelled its 2011-12 season.

Meantime, the University of Nebraska at Omaha men's basketball team is committed to playing at Ralston, after initially considering the Civic.

Even with increased competition from Omaha's new downtown arena and the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, the Civic had held its own in the market, typically generating an annual profit. But that changed in the 2009-10 fiscal year — the latest year results are available — when the Civic lost $30,000.

While the Civic draws high school graduations to the arena and occasional shows to its Music Hall, the financial losses are projected to accelerate with the lost tenants.

If the Civic lost $250,000 from its continued operation, that money would come from city funds.

Under its management agreement with the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, the city pays the first $250,000 in losses. Then MECA pays the next $250,000 in losses.

MECA President Roger Dixon said that with sports teams leaving for Ralston, there probably is no longer a demand for the Civic in that market. MECA, he said, can't match the rent deals being offered in Ralston.

The Civic still attracts a number of events, mainly in the Music Hall, Dixon said. While the facility can continue to operate, he said it is at risk of a major building system failing.

“The reality of it is, it's a facility that's seen its useful life,” Dixon said.

“A tough decision has to be made — is there a better use for it or a better use for the property.”

The city's 2009 downtown master plan suggested using the Civic Auditorium and surrounding properties for a seven-block redevelopment site with an office tower, shops and housing.

With that vision in place, the question remains when that redevelopment might happen, City Planning Director Rick Cunningham said.

Cunningham said the city has not discussed ways to move toward that type of project. Even if the city turned the property over for redevelopment, that would present costs to the city.

Right now, the city is focusing redevelopment attention downtown on the intersection of 10th Street and Capitol Avenue, where a developer was chosen to build a hotel, shops and apartments, Cunningham said.

“We will only be able to do so much,” he said. “It's going to come down to priorities.”

Mulligan said a repair costing tens of millions of dollars would be “a huge additional investment for the City of Omaha” and represent a huge decision.

“We're going to have to do a hard analysis to see if (the Civic) still fits into the picture.”

Contact the writer:

402-444-1128, jeff.robb@owh.com


New UNO center strengthens ties between campus, community
Senate candidate Shane Osborn to include anti-tax activist Norquist in telephone town hall
Teen killed at Gallagher Park was shot in head as he sat in SUV, friend who was wounded says
PAC funded by Senate candidate Ben Sasse's great-uncle releases Shane Osborn attack ad
Nikko Jenkins found guilty of 4 murders
High school slam poets don't just recite verses, 'they leave their hearts beating on the stage'
Attorney: Man accused of trying to open plane's door needs psychiatric evaluation
49-year-old sentenced to 40-50 years for attempted sex assault of child
Brothers looking for pot sentenced for violent home invasion
At Boys Town panel, experts stress it's never too early to educate children
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Gov. Heineman calls 2014 a 'very good year for Nebraska taxpayers'
Ex-Iowan behind landmark free speech case recounts story in Bellevue
Arrest made in teen's shooting death at Benson's Gallagher Park
Section of 50th Street to close for bridge demolition
Rather than doing $250K in repairs, owner who lives in lot behind 94-year-old house in Dundee razes it
Plans for new $16M YMCA in Council Bluffs at 'critical juncture'
Woodmen request would take nearly $40M in valuation from tax rolls
With fixed AC, Fort Calhoun's nuclear station ends brief shutdown
Windy day could make driving difficult on east-west roads
Richard Brown steps down as Charles Drew Health Center CEO
OPD safety expo set for April 26
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Crew working to disassemble International Nutrition plant
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
< >
Kelly: Creighton's McDermotts put good faces on an Omaha tradition
A comical roast Wednesday night in Omaha brought fans of Creighton basketball laughter by the bucketful. This time it was McJokes, not McBuckets, that entertained the Bluejay crowd.
Kelly: New $24M UNO center embodies spirit of newlywed crash victim
Jessica Lutton Bedient was killed by a drunken driver at age 26 in 2010. Thursday, the widowed husband and other family members will gather with others at the University of Nebraska at Omaha to dedicate a permanent memorial to Jessica.
Breaking Brad: How much would you pay for a corn dog?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have a new concession item: a $25 corn dog. For that kind of money, it should be stuffed with Bitcoin.
Breaking Brad: Pothole repair crew gets stuck in a pothole
In East Lansing, Mich., a pothole repair crew got stuck inside a pothole. How did this not happen in Omaha?
Breaking Brad: What do the moon, Colorado senators have in common?
How about that "blood red" moon Monday? It was as red as the eyes of a Colorado legislator.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
Dr. Welbes Natural Health Clinic
$129 for 2 LipoLaser Sessions with Additional Complimentary Services ($605 value)
Buy Now
< >
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »