For Sale: One Civic Auditorium, Slightly Used

I am perhaps singularly alone in my disdain for MECA and the City of Omaha for first mothballing the Civic Auditorium from hosting any large concerts and now “selling” it. My contempt over last week’s announcement is (admittedly) a product of personal nostalgia, as well as loathing for The CenturyLink Center (a.k.a. The CLink).

Yes, I saw a lot of concerts at the Civic during the heyday of “festival seating,” back when you showed up with your $10 general admission ticket and chanted, “Open the F***ing Doors! Open the F***ing Doors!” for 20 minutes while waiting to get in.

Concerts attended at the Civic Auditorium include the usual ’80s arena monsters — Styx, Kansas, The Cars, Journey, Van Halen and on and on. Beyond the music, the concert experience as a whole was much more fun back then. After someone did open those f***ing doors, you’d run in, “acquire” your seats and watch the madness going on down below.

Down on the Civic''s concrete slab of a floor, hippies sat in circles and smoked dope as a fleet of multi-colored Frisbees whizzed through the smokehaze over their heads. Everyone was loaded because everyone snuck booze in, whether it be a small bottle of Canadian Mist or the industrious drunks who figured out a way to hide a half dozen tallboys in their pants. That hour leading up to the concert was as much fun as the concert itself.

But then came the actual concert. Say what you will about the run-down condition of the Civic Auditorium and the fact that MECA and The City “let it go” after they built the great while elephant called The CLink, but I can’t remember ever having a bad seat at a concert there no matter how far up or how far back I sat. With a capacity of only around 9,000, the Civic simply wasn’t that big, though it seemed mammoth at the time. The facility’s sound quality, well, it was exactly what you expected from an arena — loud as hell.

Skip this if you’ve read this one before, but I’ve been to three concerts at The CLink — Fleetwood Mac, Bruce Springsteen and The Who — all were miserable experiences both in sight and sound quality. I did have the privilege of seeing Neil Young from one of the CLink’s corporate boxes, but even that was a detached experience. I’ve had seats on the floor, along the side, in the back, no matter where I sat the sight lines sucked. The facility’s layout is simply not designed for concert going.

Even sporting events are a drag at The CLink, at least compared to seeing them at the Civic, where every game or match felt like you were at an E*V*E*N*T rather than an event. UNO hockey was hands down a more exciting experience at The Civic than The CLink. My caveat here: I haven’t been to a Creighton basketball game at The CLink, which I’m told is rather exciting, and I never will since (as a proud graduate of UNO) I loathe Creighton and its rich-kid athletic programs.

As the Civic sat empty in the distance these past few years, I couldn’t help but wonder what we were missing. Surely there is a plethora of concerts not big enough to book at The CLinck but that are the right size for a 9,000-seat arena. When I read in the Omaha World-Herald that the Civic “has not kept pace in booking events” (as if the structure itself is to blame for its booking woes) and that it posted a loss of $197,000 last year, I wonder whose fault that was. Maybe if MECA had actually tried to book the facility it might have made some money. But they don’t want to pull attention away from their white elephant, which sits across the street from that other white elephant of a baseball park that only gets used three weeks a year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those people who shake their fist at the sky every time an old building gets sold and torn down. If a business is losing money and the building isn’t “historical,” then its owner has a right to sell it to someone who thinks they can do better in their space. Venice Inn is a good example — the online whining about its recently announced plans to close would make you think they were shutting down Boys Town. If you loved the place so much, you should have eaten there more often.  I ate at Venice Inn a couple times a year, and I’ll miss its staff and its salad bar, but I can’t blame the Caniglia family for getting out while the getting’s good, and neither should anyone else.

Ah well, maybe it’s time for the Civic to go, too. UNO is building a new right-sized arena for its hockey program, and there’s always the Ralston Arena if someone can figure out how to book it. And besides, the bands I listen to these days don’t play in arenas and probably never will.

When the wrecking ball finally comes for the Civic Auditorium, I’ll say 'Thanks for the memories' and reminisce as it joins Aksarben Coliseum and Racetrack, Peony Park, Rosenblatt Stadium and the Indian Hills Theater in that great old-fashioned Omaha up in the sky.

Over The Edge is a weekly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at tim.mcmahan@gmail.com.

posted at 03:23 pm
on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

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