A vast majority of those surveyed would not like to see the Mobile Civic Center demolished, despite the fact that the city-owned facility is losing close to $2 million per year.
The future of the decades-old building has been hotly debated since Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced earlier this year a timeline for its demolition.
One group from the current Leadership Mobile class is asking for input from citizens on what to do with it.
The question is part of a larger series of surveys a Leadership Mobile group has called Mobile Opinion Blog, or MyMOB.
“The Civic Center question we thought would generate interest,” group member Jordan Gerheim said.
The initial MyMOB seven-question online survey generated close to 3,000 responses in a little less than a month.
The first question asked respondents if they’d ever been to the Civic Center. The overwhelming answer was “yes,” with about 98 percent of the vote.
Nearly 80 percent of the 2,819 respondents said they had attended a ball at the Civic Center. Nearly 74 percent said they have attended a concert there. About 60 percent said they have attended an opera, ballet, symphony or recital at the facility. Another 58 percent said they have attended a sporting event and 31 percent have attended a job-related event at the Civic Center.
Of the 2,875 respondents to the survey’s third question, 68 percent said the Civic Center should not be torn down. More than half of the 2,633 respondents to the next question believe the Civic Center should become a restructured event space and another 38 percent don’t think it needs to be changed at all.
“In the least, the theater should be saved because there is not a similar venue in Mobile,” one of the sample written responses said.
Almost 14 percent of respondents said the space should be used as an athletic complex.
“Use the space for a downtown minor league baseball park, instead of Hank Aaron Stadium,” another respondent wrote.
About half of the survey respondents were between the ages of 30 and 49. Those aged 50 to 69 made up about 20 percent and those aged 18 to 29 made up 15 percent.
The fifth question in the survey allowed respondents to make comments about what they’d like to see in the Civic Center space. Responses to this section included allowing two of the bigger Mardi Gras societies to bid on the building, or updating the facilities.
The current results are somewhat different than early results taken at the end of the first week of the survey, after only about 1,200 responses. Gerheim said in the first week, nearly 90 percent of respondents said they’d been to the Civic Center for a Mardi Gras ball, but nearly 55 percent wanted to tear it down. After the first week, 68 percent of respondents said the Civic Center should be a restructured event space and 23 percent said the space should be used for parking. Almost 19 percent said the space should be used for retail.
The administration has already said updating the facility would be cost prohibitive, given its lack of compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). It would cost around $20 million to make the building ADA compliant, the Stimpson administration has estimated. With annual losses of around $2 million per year, the city favors a redevelopment project funded through a public-private partnership.
“As Mayor, my responsibility to the citizens is to be a steward of their tax money while ensuring Mobile continues to grow as a vibrant city filled with opportunities for all of our citizens,” Stimpson wrote in a statement. “As a faithful steward, it is my opinion that the city cannot afford to continue to prolong the inevitable redevelopment of the Civic Center through a strong public-private partnership. Such a partnership will limit the cost burden to the city while realizing the benefit of the limitless possibilities that could emerge on the site. Everyone will have a seat at the table to discuss what that partnership is, and I thank everyone for their input in this process.”
While Stimpson has already set a timeline for demolition ending April 24, 2016, and warned Mardi Gras societies of the plans, he wrote in his most recent statement that the theater would remain, until another appropriate venue is secured.
“I am sensitive to the fact that the Civic Center complex is home to many important annual events and to organizations such as Mardi Gras Societies, the Mobile Opera and Mobile Ballet,” he wrote. “Because the Mobile Ballet and Opera do not have another venue to perform, the theater will not be torn down until another such venue is resurrected. The city is committed to working with these and other organizations to minimize the inconvenience of a pending transition, but also to realize through a thoughtful planning process how we can better serve our arts and culture community.”
The administration is looking for ideas on what to do with the building and have said it will be a public process.
Gerheim said this was just the first question of many his group plans to ask through MyMOB surveys. The surveys can be accessed through a MyMOB Facebook page, or through special quick-response codes, which are placed in the windows of downtown businesses.
“We’re planning on rolling out a new survey each month,” he said. “It’s a way to help people have their voices heard.”
To participate in the survey, visit surveymonkey.com/r/GQPQWDW.
Q: Ever been to the Civic Center? A: 98 percent yes
Q: Attended a ball? A: Nearly 80 percent
Q: Attended a concert? A: Nearly 74 percent
Q: Attended an opera, ballet, symphony or recital? A: About 60 percent
Q: Attended a sporting event? A: 58 percent
Q: Attended a job-related event? A: 31 percent
Q: Should it be torn down? A: No, 68 percent