The city came one step closer this week to answering a question that has plagued Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration for years: What should be done with the Mobile Civic Center?
The city held an open house Nov. 13 to share four proposed concepts for the repurposing of the half century-old facility and the 22-acre site it sits on.
During the open house, which attracted more than 350 participants, Stimpson recalled how tough it was initially to talk to citizens about the possibility of tearing the structure down and ridding the city of the millions of dollars in deferred maintenance costs.
“It was like pulling out a cattle prod and hitting everyone,” he said. “Everyone took that cattle prod and hit me. We’re in this together.”
While it appears completely tearing down the structure is no longer being considered, Stimpson did admit it would cost $20 million in maintenance to use the Civic Center as is and another $17.5 million over the next 10 years to further maintain it.
The administration has hired commercial real estate firm CBRE, with architecture firm Gensler, to help the city develop a plan to repurpose the site while allowing some of its previous uses to flourish. One of the goals of the possible redevelopment is also to help the Civic Center compete with venues in Pensacola and Biloxi.
The concepts range from leaving the center as is to developing a theater district. All the concepts presented include mixed-use development.
The “status quo” option, which would leave the structure as is, would mean the city would pay the deferred maintenance costs to bring the facility “up to snuff,” CBRE’s Bob Peck told the crowd. Under this plan, a portion of the parking lot would become part of a mixed-use development.
“It would be a better site and be better able to compete with venues to the east and west,” he said.
Another option would be to create an arts district with two possible phases. The plan would include extending Eslava Street. To the south there would be a mix of uses, including a smaller arts venue. To the west of Eslava Creek, the city would create a low-density residential district.
In a second phase for the arts district, the Civic Center would be renovated and the low-density residential district would be expanded.
A third option would be to create a new arena on the site. The plan would also include an expansion of Eslava Street with a new arena with seating for 5,000 to 10,000. The surrounding area could then be developed as a mixed-use facility and a theater district, or an office and retail development.
The fourth option would provide for a mixed-use development with retail onsite.
Following the presentation, those in attendance were able to chat with planners and provide their opinions on the concepts presented.
The next step would be to create an RFP request for developers, Stimpson said. Redevelopment or construction could start as early as 2019.