Thursday, February 20, 2014

Sayonara, Omaha Civic Auditorium. It's time to move on.

The City of Omaha has officially started the process of replacing the outdated Civic Auditorium with something that will matter more in a 21st century downtown Omaha.  That's not to say that the Civic didn't serve it's purpose in it's day; numerous concerts, a 1988 vice-presidential debate, and countless sporting events. But now, it's not really needed anymore. The CenturyLink Center, when combined with the white elephant arenas in Council Bluffs and Ralston, made the Civic redundant, obsolete, and unneeded.

That doesn't mean unloved.  UNO hockey fans remember that "Tuesday Night" play-in game in March 2000.  Rock fans remember the days when the Civic was big enough to draw many of the big name names to town.  Not all of them, though. The biggest names stayed away, preferring to head to Lincoln's Devaney Center or Kansas City's Kemper Arena. (Of course, that was before the days of the massive stage show, which also made the Devaney Center obsolete since the wood floor couldn't accommodate most concert stages.)

And that's one of the big reasons why Omaha built the CenturyLink Center. We've gotten the big name shows that always passed Omaha by, like Springsteen and Jimmy Buffett. And even U2, which was the most amazing concert I've ever experienced. The "Clink" has drawn concerts to Omaha that previously passed Omaha by.  While the Civic was big enough for some acts, the biggest names always passed Omaha by, and it was because of the Civic.

Could the Civic have been used more over the last few years? Probably, but the lure of suites and club seating at the CenturyLink Center (not to mention the better acoustics) made that venue more inviting for most acts. Creighton decided to build their own small arena on campus for women's basketball and volleyball. MECA found a minor league hockey team to play there, but got saddled with the Calgary Flames organization.  The Flames' operation floundered as many expected until they hired Ren Smith to run the franchise. Then they promptly pulled the plug in Omaha, and moved the team to the Quad Cities (where they failed), then to Abbotsford, British Columbia (where they continue to struggle).

Some UNO fans wish the Mavs would have moved back to the Civic, though I'm not one of them. While the sightlines were great for a building that was never intended to house hockey, attendance was bad towards the end at the Civic.  Since moving out of the Civic, UNO games now average more fans than can ever fit in the old barn, which didn't have the now-basic amenities like a video screen.  (Of course, that doesn't explain why UNO is now building an arena even smaller than the Civic, but that's another debate for another time.)

With UNO's new arena as well as the failed Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs, and the seemingly failing Ralston Arena, the Civic Auditorium doesn't serve any purpose any longer. There are better maintained facilities available with better amenities in the area. There's certainly no reason to spend any money to keep the Civic functioning, and it needs it.

It served it's purpose back in the day.  That day is over.  It's time to find another use for 18th & Capitol.

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