Sunday, May 24, 2009

Downtown Omaha's Master Plan Doesn't Include the Civic Auditorium

The City of Omaha is finishing up the process of updating the 1973 master plan for downtown Omaha. The original document provided the impetus for the Gene Leahy Mall and set in place the framework that led to the Qwest Center and other improvements in downtown. But the old plan is now over 35 years old and overdue for an update. The World-Herald published a sneak preview today of the plan which will be formally announced on Wednesday.

One of the focuses of the update is the potential of up to eight new skyscrapers to grow the Omaha skyline along the busy Dodge Street and Capitol Avenue corridor. Of course, when you are building downtown, every new project has to remove something that might exist, but isn't as valuable to the community as the new project.

Something such as Omaha's Civic Auditorium.

Today's printed edition of the World-Herald confirms my long-standing opinion: the Civic Auditorium site will eventually be replaced by an office tower at some point in the future.

That doesn't mean tomorrow, next year, or five years from now. But somewhere down the line, the bulldozers and wrecking ball will be arriving at 18th and Capitol Avenue to make room for growth in the Omaha economy.

Doesn't mean that the Civic didn't serve it's purpose during it's era, but times change. The Qwest Center is now the crown jewel for big events in Omaha. Could it be remodeled to make it a little nicer? Certainly, but at what cost? Investing money in the Civic also means reducing capacity (to add in suites and the like) and now also means reducing the options available to grow the city itself.

The old Qwest Center/Civic Auditorium debate fires up time and time again in UNO Hockey circles. But I really think this debate may finally be coming to an end, with the answer being "neither". Trev Alberts has talked about the need for UNO hockey to practice closer to where they play and go to class. That points away from downtown Omaha. Now, with the days for the Auditorium being numbered, investing money into the Civic for major renovations makes little sense. Why spend $20 million dollars to renovate, then spend even more money to tear it all down?

I don't know what UNO's future plans are. Frankly, it might still include the Civic for the short term. But long term, it's becoming clear that UNO is going to need their own arena at some point down the line.

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