Goodbye, Civic Auditorium. Hail and farewell to a once-grand structure now about to lock its doors for the last time, pushed out by more modern, more convenient, more flexible venues in the metropolitan Omaha area.
Millions upon millions of feet have entered its doors and walked down its aisles. An uncountable number of people have sat and watched as sports and symphonies and rock-'n'-roll were played, as speeches were given, as debates were argued, as seniors were graduated from one phase of their lives to another. Dancers danced, comedians joked, singers sang, politicians promised, trade shows displayed.
The Civic has been an integral part of Omaha life since its first public function on Nov. 11, 1954, with a Veterans Day program. Now it is shuttered, and it will be shut down sometime next year, according to its manager, the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority. The facility will likely be razed to make way for more downtown redevelopment.
It has been a long slide to the grave for the building, which cost $7 million when it was built. That's just over $60 million in 2012 dollars, compared with the $36 million price tag of the recently opened Ralston Arena. Then look at the Qwest Center, now the CenturyLink Center, which cost $173 million to build 12 years ago ($249 million now).
A major renovation of the auditorium and Music Hall took place in 1997 — $30 million in updates, including an ice rink — and kept the facility in the race for bookings for another decade-plus. But changing times have not only outdated the hall, they have provided the Omaha area with other, more attractive convention, arena and meeting halls with more convenient parking.
The Civic has had a distinguished history, hosting some of the most famous celebrities and events of its time. For example:
>> The Rolling Stones performed in June 1964 in front of 651 people. Midlanders who saw it probably still claim bragging rights, even though the band returned to the Civic in 1966 and played another concert in Omaha in 2006.
>> The Kansas City-Omaha Kings of the NBA called the Civic home in the early 1970s.
>> In May 1972, the Civic saw the Stander-Frazier heavyweight championship fight, when Ron Stander, a Council Bluffs native, lost by a technical knockout to Joe Frazier.
>> In March 1977, the first-round NCAA basketball tournament. Marquette started its championship run in Omaha that year.
>> June 1977, Elvis' last concert in Omaha and the second-to-last before his death.
>> October 1988, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen uttered those unforgettable words, “Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy,” to his vice presidential debate opponent, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle.
Given the decline of the Civic, its loss of anchor tenants and its shortage of other bookings, given the possible $29 million bill for ordinary upkeep, given the competition from other venues and its parking problems, it is sad but inevitable the building would close and be torn down to make way for other uses.
The Civic has had a good, long and colorful run. It has entertained, enlightened and delighted legions of Midlanders. For them, it won't be easily or quickly forgotten.