City Commission Revisits Renovations to Peace Memorial Auditorium

The Manhattan City Commission and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board met Tuesday to further scrutinize potential renovations to Peace Memorial Auditorium, and the addition of new Parks and Rec offices to City Hall.

After beginning the process in the summer of 2012, and after long meetings and passionate public input, the Commission entered into a contract with Bruce McMillan Architects last fall to complete preliminary designs for the new offices and renovations to the Auditorium.

Everything sound good so far?  Well, here’s where the situation gets sticky. The Auditorium was originally built as a “living” War Memorial and currently houses both a basketball court and performance stage. The building has fallen in disrepair over the years and the stage is seldom used. To make matters more complicated, the City Commission and Manhattan Community disagree on how to renovate and or preserve the Auditorium. Some believe the stage should be restored and enhanced, while others believe the space should be re-purposed into a sports-only facility.

“That’s the real crux of this matter. Do we really want two basketball courts, or do we want a stage and a semi-functional basketball court?” said Wynn Butler, mayor pro-tem.

Parks and Rec Advisory Board Member, Marcia Rozell responded to Butler and said it comes down to how the public uses the Auditorium.

“Wynn, if you’re asking me, I would say the two courts would be used much more than the stage.”

Commissioner Karen McCulloh wants the City to hold-on to the arts.

“Not everybody in this world wants to play ball,” McCulloh said “there are a lot of people who want to have the ability to be in theater, to have music, to have productions, that kind of thing, and we do not have space for that in this community.”

Based on an estimation by Bruce McMillan Architects, the total cost to renovate Peace Memorial Auditorium, including preserving its performance stage, is $2.1 million.

Deputy City Manager, Jason Hilgers fears that the cost of preserving the Auditorium could prevent the addition of the Parks and Rec Offices, a project he believes is a higher priority.

“If you’re gonna go down the stage route and you’re gonna save it and you’re gonna put the money into it, you’re gonna require private fundraising, period. I can see that, there are three of you (Commissioners) that are absolutely in that camp,” Hilgers said “and if we’re gonna require that before we move forward with City Auditorium, those Park and Rec Offices are not gonna happen there, because that fundraising will take so much time.”

The cost estimate for adding Park and Rec Offices to City Hall is roughly $1.7 million. The total project cost estimate is $3.8 million.

The Commission remains divided on the issue, and at this point, a solution could still be a-ways off.