A new headquarters building for the Omaha Police Department might someday occupy the former site of the Civic Auditorium. A renovated and bustling Music Hall and Mancuso Convention Hall could stand next door, along with two blocks of newly developed property.
At least that's an option envisioned by Mayor Jim Suttle. Yet before any plans for the aging auditorium's future — or for funding such a project — are developed, the City Council must first decide whether to approve a fourth study devoted to the Civic in the past decade.
On Tuesday, Suttle's administration will ask the City Council to approve a three-month study to determine whether all of the buildings on the site should be torn down, or if the arena can be demolished without tearing down the Music Hall and convention hall.
The latest study, to be conducted by the DLR Group engineering and architectural firm, would cost the city up to $50,000 and would determine how much any demolition would cost.
“We've got to find a way to tear down the arena, save the Music Hall and save Mancuso,” Suttle said in an interview Thursday. “We're going to look at a specific proposal and get all the costs and other numbers in, so we can make a business decision about this facility.”
Council President Tom Mulligan said he was considering whether to support funding for the proposed study.
“How many more studies do we need to do?” Mulligan asked. “The real question is, do we need the Civic and do we need the Music Hall? I guess the question is, do we have enough information in front of us to make that decision?”
A 2011 study of the Civic found that the facility is facing a potential $29 million tab for basic upkeep.
Funded by the nonprofit fundraising group Heritage Services, that study also considered the possibility of razing the Civic's arena and convention hall while turning the Music Hall into a stand-alone building. It did not determine what that could cost.
The Music Hall is still relatively popular, especially for dance recitals, and it attracts occasional concerts and comedy acts. But the 2,315-seat building has nearly $2.3 million in electrical and structural needs. The 25,000-square-foot Mancuso Convention Hall can accommodate 1,500 people for events.
The arena, meanwhile, is losing anchor tenants.
A 2007 study found $7 million in outstanding structural issues at the Civic, including problems with the roof, plumbing and heating system. Before that, a 2003 study looked at management options for the Civic but concluded that it still had a functional role once the city's new convention center and arena opened.
Suttle said the Music Hall's superior acoustics and desirable layout heightened the need to renovate that building.
Without it, he said, the city's ability to draw popular dance competitions could be in jeopardy.
“They'll have no place to go. They'll go to Kansas City, they'll go to Des Moines, they'll go someplace else, and we won't get them back,” Suttle said.
The most recent study acknowledged it gave only a cursory review to the stand-alone Music Hall option. Still, it asserted that separating the buildings, while complicated, could happen “through careful planning and demolition.”
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.
At any rate, the Music Hall needs routine updates. All of the seats and carpeting need to be replaced, the study said. The roof needs immediate attention, it said, because large amounts of water are leaking in, causing further damage and requiring time for major cleanups.
Discussions about building a new police headquarters at the Civic site are in their earliest stages, a mayoral spokeswoman said. The city has developed plans to heavily renovate the existing headquarters at 505 S. 15th St., though no funding exists for that proposal.
Demolishing the Civic, Suttle said, would leave plenty of room for a state-of-the-art police facility and allow the city to explore selling the property where the existing headquarters is located. Those possibilities are all theoretical at this point, he said.
“Once we get done with this study, we'll have new questions,” Suttle said. “Does it work? Yes or no. If the answer's no, we've got to move on. If the answer's yes, then we ought to ask if this is the best use of dollars.”
As to the cost and how to pay for such plans: “That's going to be the big question for the city,” the mayor said.
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