Jim Wyrick of LPA, Inc. walked the council and a packed council chambers through the various stages of the $73 million plan that includes a new city hall, community center and parking structure, plus a revamped City Park and library. The presentation included financial and effort commitment levels at various points along the timeline between the present and the possible project completion date of March, 2011.
As of now, Wyrick said, the city has spent $840,000 and about 5 percent of the total effort the project will require doing preliminary planning. The next steps would include completing the design work currently underway, hiring a preconstruction manager (possibly in April) to coordinate the entire project, and securing environmental permits and design approval.
Also in April, an analysis of the project's bond financing would begin. About 50 percent of the project would be financed by redevelopment district and development assessment bonds. Consideration of how, and whether, the financing plan would work would continue through the end of the year. Finance Director Pam Ehler told the council that the conditions must be right - the city must be in a position to repay the bonds - for her staff to recommend issuing them and moving the project forward.
"If we look at the numbers and it isn't favorable, there will be no recommendation to do it," she said.
According to the current timeline, the project will go out to bid in September, which, coupled with the bonding analysis, would give the council solid information to replace the projections and estimates it would have worked with to that point.
"You'll have all the tools in front of you," said Wyrick. "You won't be guessing."
Wyrick also said he expects the economy, in which many contractors are in need of work, will be an advantage to the city when the bidding begins. "You'll be bouncing it off the bottom of the market," he said. "It'll be the perfect time to go out to bid."
Meanwhile, work that would begin this July to bring upgraded infrastructure to the civic center site will have helped bring the total money spent up to $4.3 million, and the commitment level to 55 percent.
By January, with the bond analysis and bids in hand, it will be time to decide whether to build the entire project at once or to slow down and build it in phases. If the current plan to build it all at once is followed, a steady timeline of events would see the library moved to the Brentwood Tech Center; demolition of the current library and community center; construction of city hall, the parking structure and the community center; renovation of City Park; occupation of the new city offices; remodeling of the new library and its move back to the civic center.
"At that point," Wyrick said, "everyone makes speeches and we celebrate."
Some members of the audience, however, weren't quite ready to start celebrating. Realtor Ron Enos congratulated the council on a "beautiful plan," but felt spending so much money on a public works project at this time would send the wrong message to residents. With many people struggling to stay afloat in the current economy, a massive expenditure such as this might be perceived as excessive.
"Whether you have the money or not, that perception is going to be hard for people to understand," he said.
Emil Geddes, a member of the Brentwood Union School District board, agreed that holding back for a time would be a good idea. He also said that the economic benefits the civic center is expected to bring to the downtown area might not be as strong as some anticipate. The owner of a music store in downtown Antioch for many years, Geddes said he's in the process of closing it.
"They built a brand new city hall there, too, and it was going to save the downtown," he said. "It didn't."
Developer Ron Nunn reminded the council that his family had been in the area since the 1880s, and he never felt the city needed an "icon," as the new civic center has been touted by some. The orchards and farms are the icons for Brentwood, he said, and they're something no other community has. Furthermore, he said, Lafayette, Danville and San Ramon all probably have city halls, but none are particularly noticeable.
"I wouldn't ask you to hold back," he said, "I'd ask you to change your plan … That's not what some of you want to hear, but that's what's in my heart."
Kathi Reed, president of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce, was among the speakers who took the opposite stand. Planning and saving has been going on for years, she said, and the time to act is now, while enthusiastic business owners are still alive in the downtown area.
Karen Rogge also urged the council to move forward. The recent layoffs at the city that other speakers had said were a sign to hold off were more about the lack of work the building slowdown had fostered than a need to halt plans that had been in the works for years. Also, she said, the working conditions for city staff were too crowded for visitors to even sit down, let alone for workers to be productive.
During council discussion on the matter, Councilman Erick Stonebarger voiced concern over the scale of the project and the dedication of so many redevelopment district dollars that might be better spent elsewhere in the downtown. He was also worried about public perception, and although he did not think stopping the project at this point was required, he wanted the economy to improve before going too far.
"I'm very leery of spending much money over the next 12 months," he said.
Councilman Chris Becnel said the long-term civic center project should not be derailed by a "short-run issue" such as the current economic conditions. The project will need to be scrutinized very carefully, he added, but there is every intention on the part of the council to do just that.
One suggestion that was taken under advisement for further study was the possibility of shuffling things in such a way as to prevent moving the library twice. Former mayor and councilwoman Barbara Guise brought up the matter at the behest of an elderly downtown resident and library user who would not be able to get to the interim location more than a mile away. Wyrick was instructed to examine the feasibility of altering the timeline accordingly.
The council directed staff to continue moving the project forward, providing frequent updates. The possibility of holding off on portions of the project will be reconsidered around the end of the year, when the financing details and construction bids are in hand.