Track 1: Decline vs. Revival: Tempering the Impulse to Tear Down and Start Over
2 - Phoenix Rising: The Rescue and Reconstruction of the Mercer Building in Omaha's Old Market Historic District
Tuesday, September 25
10:30 AM - 12:00 PM
Location: BNCC- 101AH
A three-alarm fire on January 9, 2016, left the 109-year-old Mercer Building in Omaha's Old Market National Register Historic District a hollow, smoldering shell. For over half a century this former fruit wholesaler's warehouse was the hub of the city's arts and entertainment district, housing M's Pub, one of Omaha's most iconic bar/restaurants, and six upper floor loft apartments. Firefighters sprayed over a million gallons of water on the fire in sub-zero temperatures, rescuing the building shell but leaving the four-story unsupported brick walls coated with tons of ice, and structurally compromised.
City officials issued a demolition order the following day. The building owner appealed the order and engaged BVH Architects, along with Chicago consultant Stephen Kelley, to analyze the structure to determine if it could be saved and rebuilt.
Built in 1910, the Mercer Building was designed as a banana wholesaler's warehouse, with 24" thick brick bearing walls and heavy timber floor joists and beams supported by cast iron columns. The fire destroyed the wood floor and roof leaving the four-story walls unsupported and in danger of collapse.
This presentation describes the analysis and subsequent stabilization process that led to the eventual lifting of the demolition order, and to the reconstruction of the historic building. Archaic building technologies that served to contain the fire and prevent the total collapse of the structure will be explored and highlighted in this case study of how our culture races to the conclusion to tear down rather that reconstruct even the most ravaged historic structures. Discussion will also include repair and conservation of fire damaged materials, integration of new systems, along with methodology used to integrate current building codes and regulations with the building restoration.
After a two-year process, the landmark building has regained the prominence it held as the hub of the Old Market Historic District. M's Pub has also risen from the ashes, again becoming one of the city's most revered dining establishments and gathering places.
After the devastating fire and the threat of eminent demolition, persistent efforts by the owner and preservation team saved the building and persevered through the bureaucratic obstacles to restore one of Omaha's landmarks, when to many, the expeditious solution was to bring on the wrecking ball.
- Assemble a project reconstruction team and develop a building disaster analysis strategy.
- Reconstruct/restore a fire damaged historic building using new materials, systems and methodologies.
- Navigate through regulatory agencies to achieve compliance with codes, yet maintaining the historic character of the building.
- use your restoration project to promote public awareness of the benefits of historic preservation.