Mayor Jim Suttle says he wants to assemble city leaders, MECA officials and remaining users of the Civic Auditorium to help decide the future of the aging facility.
"We're going to have some collective discussions and collective decisions," Suttle said in an interview Friday.
Suttle spoke exclusively to The World-Herald after a study concluded that the auditorium building needs up to $29 million in repairs and is facing annual operating losses of $150,000 to $250,000 as major tenants leave.
The financial issues put the city and the auditorium in a tough position.
Suttle acknowledged Friday that the city doesn't have the funding to pay the repair tab. And a large annual loss would be a hit for a city already experiencing tight finances.
Omaha could turn over the property to redevelopment, but even that would create costs. The city also could close the building.
Suttle said he was briefed on the study, which was funded by the nonprofit fundraising group Heritage Services. He classified the 57-year-old auditorium as having both "functional and financial" problems.
Although Suttle was not prepared to decide the facility's future, the coming discussions will establish a process to help make that determination, he said.
Suttle said he wants to talk with the City Council; officials with the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which manages the Civic Auditorium; high schools that hold graduations there; and dance groups that hold recitals in the Music Hall.
He also wants to talk with the sports teams leaving the Civic.
Suttle said he still is sorting through information he received and offered no timetable for having the discussions or making a decision.
Barring a major systems breakdown at the Civic, the city has some time to make a decision.
The Omaha Lancers hockey team and perhaps the Omaha Beef indoor football team are in or entering their last seasons at the Civic. The Lancers play into April; the Beef will go into early June.
After those major tenants leave, the Civic's financial losses will grow.
With sports teams gone, graduations probably would become the most heavily attended events there.
The Millard school district figures each of its three graduations fills at least two-thirds of the 9,300-seat arena.
Officials said they would have to look at their options if the auditorium closes.
Amy Friedman, the district's spokeswoman, said the crowds would be too big for some facilities, such as their high school auditoriums, but too small for others. CenturyLink Center Omaha, for instance, seats 18,300 in its arena.
"The Civic has just a nice feel," she said. "It's just a perfect fit for our graduations."
Omaha Public Schools hold all seven of their high school graduations at the Civic, although scheduling conflicts have led to a few graduations in the past being held at the CenturyLink Center, which formerly was the Qwest Center.
"I'm not really sure what we would do," said Gerry Huber, OPS executive director for general administration.
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