Workers could start removing asbestos from the Civic Auditorium in about two weeks under a demolition contract the Omaha City Council approved Tuesday.

Exterior demolition should begin in the spring. The old arena and next-door Music Hall are to be completely razed by September 2017.

The council voted Tuesday to approve a $3.1 million contract with Illinois-based DeNovo Constructors Inc.

The action came a week after the council had expressed reservations about the bid from DeNovo Constructors.

The biggest issue was that the firm had not submitted a plan for using local small and emerging businesses in the project.

The city actually had failed to require that in the bid documents. But DeNovo officials told the council Tuesday that they will subcontract 24 percent of the work to a Lincoln business certified with Omaha’s Small and Emerging Business program.

The Lincoln company, New Horizons LLC, will do the asbestos abatement in the Civic project.

Under questioning from City Councilman Chris Jerram, DeNovo officials said they have an “Omaha crew” of six or seven people. They said about 20 people will work for as much as five months on the asbestos abatement.

Councilwoman Aimee Melton said the subcontract exceeds the City of Omaha’s goal that 14 percent of work in city contracts goes to small and emerging businesses.

The City Parks and Recreation Department and Law Department had worked on the contract. Melton said as a demolition contract, not construction, it’s different from a lot of city projects in terms of how pieces of the work can be parceled out to small subcontractors.

Jerram and councilmen Ben Gray and Pete Festersen said DeNovo had addressed their issues with this specific contract.

But they expressed concerns about city processes under which a large contract could be put out for bids without involving the city’s Small and Emerging Business program participants.

“We expect that to occur, and not just on traditional construction projects, but on all large city projects,” Festersen said.

The Civic Auditorium is being demolished to make way for a redevelopment project.

Mayor Jean Stothert chose Omaha-based Tetrad Property Group’s proposal in 2014 to redevelop the four-acre site, northwest of 17th Street and Capitol Avenue in downtown Omaha.

The plan at that time included four buildings: a 14-story office tower, two residential buildings with about 200 units above retail and office space, and a four-story “civic building,” such as a library or a museum.

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The Civic Auditorium

The building’s first public function was held Nov. 11, 1954, a Veterans Day program.

A major renovation of the auditorium and Music Hall in 1997 — including addition of an ice rink — kept it in the running for bookings.

The building was closed June 30, 2014.

The facility has hosted its share of trade shows, sporting events, graduations, circuses and concerts, including these notables:

» The Rolling Stones performed in June 1964 in front of 651 people.

» The Kansas City-Omaha Kings of the NBA called it home in the early 1970s.

» The Stander-Frazier heavyweight championship fight, in which Bluffs native Ron Stander lost by a technical knockout to Joe Frazier, was held in May 1972.

» Elvis Presley’s last concert in Omaha — and what would be the second-to-last before his death — sold out in June 1977.

» In October 1988, Texas Sen. Lloyd Bentsen uttered those unforgettable words, “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy,” to his vice presidential debate opponent, Indiana Sen. Dan Quayle.

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