Alabama city explores warehouse for future Mardi Gras season balls

The Mobile Civic Center could be the next large sports venue in Mobile, Ala., that city officials consider to replace. Two competing redevelopment teams are finalizing their pitches to a city committee, which will then decide on which project will be best to move ahead. Renovating the existing building would be costly. One analysis pegs the replacement costs of the discolored dome at around $5.2 million. (file photo).

The Mobile Civic Center could be the next large sports venue in Mobile, Ala., that city officials consider to replace. Two competing redevelopment teams are finalizing their pitches to a city committee, which will then decide on which project will be best to move ahead. Renovating the existing building would be costly. One analysis pegs the replacement costs of the discolored dome at around $5.2 million. (file photo).

A pre-World War II warehouse called 23 East is being considered as a venue for Mobile, Alabama’s 2021 Mardi Gras season, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s spokesman says. The new venue will be needed once the Mobile Civic Center is torn down and replaced.

The Civic Center for decades has been one of Mobile’s most popular spots for some of the largest and most elaborate Carnival balls.

“The city is facing the inevitable situation of having to create an interim space to be used for Mardi Gras balls when the Civic Center is torn down,” George Talbot, spokesman for the mayor, said Tuesday (April 30). The warehouse location at the Mobile Aeroplex at Brookley would last for a “period of three to four years,” Talbot said.

“Mardi Gras societies most impacted by the loss of the Civic Center space are being solicited for input," Talbot said. “Challenges for making this move and the corresponding solutions are being identified and discussed.”

Stimpson, along with a group of Mardi Gras society leaders and City Council members Fred Richardson, John Williams and Gina Gregory were in New Orleans on Monday to “witness how a similar warehouse was converted for Mardi Gras activities.” Pictures from the trip showed the group meeting at the family-owned Kern Studios, premier float builders for Carnival parades.

Talbot confirmed that the group’s tour focused primarily on Mardi Gras World.

“New Orleans has made Mardi Gras an industry with over 400 scheduled events per year, hosting people from all over the world,” Richardson said. “There is a Mardi Gras parade staged in Mardi Gras World every evening. We have have an opportunity to bring all parading groups together for a discussion about exploring warehouses at Brookley for the possibility of exploring the creation of our own year round Mardi Gras venue.”

A decision is looming on which of two teams will be awarded a contract to redesign the 22-acre Mobile Civic Center site. A committee charged with deciding the winning proposal is asking both teams to provide additional details for their plans before final decisions are made.

The Civic Center, at 55 years old, continues to be costly for taxpayers. Each year, City Hall spends about $1.1 million from its general fund on maintenance and operation of the building.

Stimpson has long wanted to replace the building. The mayor has established a goal of 2020 to move forward with an alternative development to the current sports and entertainment venue.

CBRE, a company that manages the Civic Center, estimated last year that it would cost around $14 million in short-term maintenance costs to upgrade the venue. Of that, $5.3 million would be needed to refurbish the building’s discolored metal dome.

Talbot has said that the proposals for the Civic Center site will also address Mardi Gras activities, which rely heavily on the Civic Center. During Mobile’s two weeks of Mardi Gras season festivities, some of the largest night-long balls are held inside the building.

Carnival enthusiasts have pointed out that the building, which opened in 1964, was configured to accommodate the expansive and ornate balls.