Demolition crews could soon be headed to the long-closed Benson Ice Arena.
The City of Omaha is taking bids from companies interested in tearing down the facility at 6920 Military Ave., in Benson Park. The arena has been closed for nearly four years, since snow and ice caused the roof to cave in.
If the price is right, the arena will go.
“It’s one of those things, like Rosenblatt: You don’t know how much it’s going to cost to tear down,” Parks Director Brook Bench said.
What city officials do know, however, is that the cost of reopening the 40-year-old arena as an ice rink would be more than the city can afford. So would overhauling it into a multiuse facility that could house basketball and volleyball courts and gym space.
In the years after the arena closed the city held public meetings and commissioned a study to figure out the best use for the building. In late 2010 the city’s former parks director said it would cost more than $5 million to fix the roof, heating and ventilation systems, make needed accessibility updates and upgrade the rink to regulation specifications.
Bench said the arena needs a new sprinkler system, too. Any major updates, he said, would likely fall into the “several-million-dollar” category.
“Certainly my preference — and, I think, the neighborhood’s preference — was to maintain it and repair it when the roof caved in,” said City Council President Pete Festersen, who represents the Benson area.
“But we went through an analysis with the Parks Department, and I think it’s understood it’s just cost prohibitive to bring it up to code.”
But Festersen said neighbors are excited about a long list of changes coming to the popular park, which now has its own master plan for development.
Already, the city has been putting in new sidewalks and picnic areas and improving the parking area.
Bench said plans are in place for a new playground that will be accessible for children with disabilities, along with a new splash park. Work on those upgrades could be underway by this summer, if the city finds enough money.
A campaign to raise money from private donors is aiming to match a $10,000 donation from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska.
Donors have so far given about $7,000, said Amber Miller, executive director of the Omaha Parks Foundation. She said her group will work with the neighborhood to launch larger fundraising events.
Once the arena is torn down, Bench said the space may be temporarily transformed into an open, grassy area. The city may build a multiuse facility in the future, but there’s currently no money set aside for such a project.
But if the demolition bids come in too high, the shuttered arena might continue to sit empty. Bench said he hopes that’s not the case.
“It’s starting to get mold inside,” he said. “It just needs to come down.”