The US Army Corps of Engineers is planning to build a six-to-eight story building on the Mobile Civic Center’s parking lot and a large adjacent parking garage, according to city officials.
The project will be considered by the Mobile Planning Commission on August 18, as part of a master plan for the 22-acre Civic Center property in downtown Mobile.
Included in that plan will be future concepts for the Civic Center Arena, Theater and Expo Hall. Kansas City-based Populous Architects is expecting to release its concepts for the sports and entertainment venue within the next week.
“We’re trying to get it ready to go for public input,” said James Barber, the chief of staff at Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson. “We’ve looked at what to do with the entire site, but previous concepts had to do with demolishing (portions of the complex). This is the first time that refurbishing the Arena (is being considered) and what that looks like in bringing entertainment to Mobile and would that net positive revenue.”
Repurposing Civic Center
Barber said that initial figures estimate the refurbishing of the venue costing $120 million.
The Corps of Engineers, as proposed, would lease a southeast 3-acre portion of the property near Claiborne and Canal streets.
The parking garage, Barber said, will accommodate 1,000-1,200 cars. He said it would be large enough to “replace all surfacing parking for the entire Civic Center area.”
He said the Corps’ project also allows the city to consider other uses for the property, including rezoning that would allow for light commercial operations like boutique hotels.
A final plan has not been established for the Civic Center, Barber noted. He said there has also been interest from a private investor that could involve replacing the Civic Center Arena with another entertainment venue.
“I don’t want to give the impression that whatever Populous comes up with is a done deal,” Barber said. “We’ve gotten private developer interest in the property as well. Everything is up in the air. We’ve not settled on anything yet.”
Some council members, including Councilman William Carroll – who represents downtown Mobile – have said they would not support a project that “takes away from the downtown entertainment district” that is mostly concentrated a few blocks north of the Civic Center along Dauphin Street.
Mobile had considered, several years ago, whether to transform the Civic Center site into a Live! entertainment district that would include restaurants and sports-themed bars.
Baltimore-based Cordish Co. had been under consideration, before the COVID-19 pandemic began, to pitch a project at the Civic Center site similar to venues its developed in Louisville, St. Louis and Atlanta.
Keeping the Civic Center in tact has been the latest pitch. Populous was hired in March for $161,500 to look at what kind of upgrades can be made at the Civic Center and what kind of potential the venue has at generating additional revenue.
The Civic Center has a current capacity of around 10,000 and includes a 1,940-seat theater and a 3,000-seat Expo Hall.
The Arena has not been renovated at all since the late 1980s, and city officials have fretted for years over its deteriorated state and its increasing maintenance cost.
The Arena also has limited usage outside of being a popular annual home for hosting Mardi Gras balls for about two weeks during the Carnival season.
At least one city councilman called the venue a “wart” in March, although officials have said that the “right team approach” could come up with a solution for renovated the facility into a positive attraction for Mobile.
The Corps project has been unknown until now. The agency, according to city officials, has an aggressive timetable for its project. According to a city spokesman, the Corps’ project is under a “tight timeline.”
A representative with the Corps’ Mobile office was not immediately available for comment on Friday afternoon.
“The Corps is scattered and is decentralized,” Barber said. “This will be an opportunity for them to bring their personnel into one centralized area.”
He said the Corps’ building will face Interstate 10, which is adjacent to the Civic Center property. The building could also face, someday in the future, the Mobile River Bridge that will lead motorists to a rebuild I-10 Bayway as part of a $2.7 billion project that was recently added back into the planning documents of the Metropolitan Planning Organizations in Mobile and Baldwin counties.