The 3-2 vote, with Councilmen Erick Stonebarger and Brandon Richey dissenting, clears the way for the $64.2 million phase one – consisting of the new city hall, community center and re-vamped City Park – to move ahead. The current timeline calls for the project to go out to bid in June and construction to start in September.
The decision came after a number of factors that once fostered a sense of caution on the council aligned to create a favorable window of opportunity. Among them is the fact that interest rates are at historic lows, making it an attractive time to finance the $39.7 million that will be borrowed. (The city has already salted away $24.5 million in developer fees dedicated to the project.)
Thanks to the recession, construction costs are also low. Antioch’s Prewett Park Community Center, which was put out to bid this month, was expected to cost $17.6 million, but bids came in nearly 30 percent lower, at $12.4 million. Also, construction of Brentwood’s Senior Center, completed last month, cost $5.3 million, 12 percent less than the $6 million budgeted.
“If we were to save 20 percent ... that’s more than $10 million,” Councilman Chris Becnel said. “I understand being cautious about the economy, but East County, and Brentwood in particular, has always marched to its own drum. Brentwood should decide we’re not going to participate in the recession any more. It’s a good opportunity; I don’t know what else we could do to make it better.”
Other factors in the decision include the already-underway downtown streetscape project. City streets will be torn up for that project, and delaying the Civic Center would mean disrupting downtown businesses twice just as the economic recovery could be underway.
“Do it now, while there’s the most benefit to the bottom line and the least impact on our downtown business owners,” said storeowner and former city councilwoman Annette Beckstrand.
Mayor Bob Taylor, pointing out that the Civic Center site will employ an average of 100 workers on site every day for two years, said the current need for local jobs is another reason to pull the trigger on the project.
“I see this totally as a stimulus package for Brentwood,” he said. “It will do good for our city; it will bring income and jobs. That’s the trigger word: jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Harry York, CEO of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce, also urged the council to move the project ahead, if only to protect the millions in cash already saved.
“If the state goes a little bit more upside down next year, they’re going to come around, dipping money,” he said. Funding is “at its lowest ever,” he added, and the federal stimulus package is likely to spur construction soon and thus raise costs. “Things are never going to come together like this again … Go, go, go.”
Richey said he voted “no” because he hadn’t gotten enough assurance that local workers would get the first crack at jobs. Earlier in the meeting, the council had approved $20,000 for a study on a project labor agreement (PLA) that would encourage contractors to look for locals to hire first. “I haven’t seen any evidence that the PLA is going to achieve our goal of local hiring,” Richey said after the meeting. He also thinks the city will be unable to pursue other opportunities that might arise while the focus is exclusively on the Civic Center, and that spreading the money out to other parts of the downtown and the city would provide a better stimulus.
Stonebarger cast his “no” vote after explaining that he thought it was too risky to proceed now, both from an economic and weather perspective. “For the last year or so I’ve made my opinion known that we’re about a year early, and we should start it in March (not September),” he said.
The entire Civic Center project totals $75 million, but the council split it into two phases last year as a precaution against taking too big a financial bite at once. Phase two, which could be years away, consists of a parking structure to be built adjacent to the city hall and community center.
Other portions of the project are either completed (the Senior Center on Balfour Road, which was needed to house senior programs that would have been disrupted by the removal of the current Community Center) or are well underway (the moving of the library to a portion of its ultimate 18,000-square-foot home on Oak Street should take place in June.)