Mayor Jim Suttle says plans for the aging Civic Auditorium are “back to square one” after the Omaha City Council rejected yet another study on the arena's future on Tuesday.
Any new study would still recommend razing the Civic site, some council members said. Another suggested it's time to pitch the land to interested private developers.
“To me, it's pouring more money into studying something we know has been recommended for demolition,” Councilman Chris Jerram said.
Jerram was one of five council members who voted to reject funding for the latest study, which would have cost up to $50,000.
The study, proposed by the Suttle administration, aimed to evaluate whether all buildings on the site should be torn down, or if the arena could be demolished without tearing down the Music Hall and convention hall. The study also would have determined the cost of demolition.
“It's a shame we can't gain factual information to make good business decisions,” Suttle said of Tuesday's vote. “Now we're going to be making decisions in the dark.”
Suttle said the vote to forgo a look at saving the Music Hall would harm local businesses that cater to metro area dance students and sever relationships with organizations that use the facility for recitals.
The Music Hall is still relatively popular, especially for dance recitals, and it attracts the occasional concert or comedy act. But the 2,315-seat building has nearly $2.3 million in electrical and structural needs.
A 2011 study suggested the Music Hall could be spared, but made no estimates as to how much that could cost. Jerram said saving the Music Hall, if it was possible, would likely be cost-prohibitive.
One main problem is that the Music Hall's entire mechanical system is underneath the arena. The hall, which is not designed to be its own building, would need a thorough review of the load-bearing capacity of its foundation and walls, the study said.
Suttle envisioned a demolition option that would spare and renovate the Music Hall so it could continue serving dance groups and other acts, but he said more information was needed.
Suttle also suggested moving the city's central police headquarters to the Civic site, while opening up remaining real estate for private development.
The 2011 study of the Civic found the facility is facing a potential $29 million tab for basic upkeep. Meanwhile, the arena is losing anchor tenants.
“I think what we're doing here is trying to delay the inevitable,” said Council President Thomas Mulligan, who voted against the study.
“Under any scenario, it's going to be a very expensive proposition. I just don't think the City of Omaha has the money for that today.”
Council members Pete Festersen, Jean Stothert and Franklin Thompson also voted against the study.
Stothert said it would be more cost-effective to keep the city's police headquarters at its present location and sell the Civic site to interested developers.
“I would rather spend $50,000 and get a good, recent appraisal on how much the property is worth,” she said. “It's a good location, it has easy access to the interstate. Hopefully some developer could come in and make use of that whole area.”
Festersen said the council, mayor's office and Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which manages the Civic, need to come to a quick consensus on the Civic's future.
“With no tenants, the balance sheet for 2013 is not promising,” he said. “We owe it to taxpayers to make this decision soon.”
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