The Civic Auditorium is down, but the question of what’s going to replace it is still up in the air.
Mayor Jean Stothert confirmed that developer Tetrad Property Group already has made changes to its plan: Tetrad scrapped a proposal for an office tower, and now is looking at including more public space for nonprofit or government purposes.
While nothing has been decided, Stothert said there could be a park or other green space on the Civic land. And she acknowledged that there’s talk about moving the YMCA, the Children’s Museum or a city library to the four-block downtown site. When contacted by The World-Herald, none of those organizations said they have current plans to move, though both the YMCA and the downtown library are considering a move.
Through a spokeswoman, both Tetrad’s CEO and its board chairman declined to comment on the project.
The mayor and the City Council would ultimately need to approve any plan that Tetrad comes up with.
Stothert chose Tetrad over another company in 2014 to demolish and develop the Civic site, bounded by Capitol Avenue and 17th, 19th and Chicago Streets.
Tetrad’s initial proposal included four buildings: a 14-story office tower; two residential buildings with 200 units above retail and office space; and a four-story civic building, such as a digital library or a museum.
Since then, the area around the Civic site has changed. Construction has begun at the $205 million Capitol District project down the street. And HDR Inc. initially announced plans to build a new headquarters downtown, then reversed direction and said it would build a headquarters in Aksarben Village.
As part of the city’s agreement with Tetrad, the city agreed to hire a separate contractor to demolish the site. Now the building is down, said Parks Director Brook Bench, and the contractor is scheduled to finish moving dirt next spring.
Stothert said the general outline of the site’s proposal has changed, though she didn’t offer specifics because she said Tetrad wasn’t ready to announce plans.
“They need to seal the deal before they come out and say,” she said.
She said the site will still house a mixed-use development, but it will be more heavily focused on a civic component than previously planned. She said the site is a good spot for civic activities because of its close access to Interstate 480 and nearby parking.
The mayor has often said that she would like to see the Omaha Public Library’s downtown branch move to the Civic site.
“I think it’s a perfect place for a downtown library,” Stothert said.
Carol Wang, who heads the city’s library board, said she hadn’t heard of any recent movement on the possibility of moving the W. Dale Clark downtown library to the Civic site. The library board is trying to find private funding to pay for a study to determine what library users need from the system’s facilities.
Lindy Hoyer, executive director of the Children’s Museum, responded to an inquiry from The World-Herald with a statement: “The Children’s Museum will always be an important and significant part of Omaha. At this time we have no plans to move from our present location.”
Meanwhile, Chris Tointon, president and CEO of the Greater Omaha YMCA, acknowledged that his organization had spoken to officials from Tetrad about the possibility of moving to the Civic site, but emphasized that YMCA is in early planning stages and hasn’t made any decisions.
“They’ve filled us in on what they’ve done at the Civic site and some ideas that they’ve had but nothing concrete,” he said.
He also said YMCA officials have conversations with local developers “on a regular basis.”
The downtown YMCA opened in 1969, and Tointon said the group is evaluating what to do with the facility. Possibilities include moving the downtown YMCA or revamping the current building.
He said he wants to make sure the YMCA makes the best decision for the community and that the organization is committed to having a presence in downtown.
“It’s a really important key catalyst for downtown diversity,” Tointon said.