Public examines municipal building site options

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By Carol A. Clark

Questions ranging from why the new municipal building can’t look like the old one to which option will cost taxpayers more were asked by residents attending the second presentation on plan options in Council Chambers Thursday.

Community Development Director Rick Bohn discussed the present Municipal Building site first. He had copies of an ad hoc report and a draft municipal site document planfrom last year, which he said directly resulted in what was being presented.

The recommendations suggested the Municipal Building be re-used and if it couldn’t be re-used then it should be rebuilt on the same site. Recommendations also suggested the new building be reminiscent of the former building, Bohn said, and also that the county explore the possibility of having the private sector build the new Municipal Building on a private site with other commercial development.

Bohn briefed the audience on two building options for the Ashley Pond site and one for a public-private partnership with revenue-generating potential for the 15th and Trinity Drive site.

Option or Scheme 1 for the Ashley Pond site was not recommended by the review committe. Scheme 2 is a 47,000 square foot two-story building with a full basement. It would replace the former 22,000-square-foot building, he said. The county will put courtroom facilities on the east end of the police department and a jail on the west end.

The plan shows a parking structure but Bohn said that wouldn’t have to be built initially because there is enough adjacent parking available for county employees. As the downtown develops a parking structure will have to be built, he said.

Bohn reviewed the pros and cons for both sites.

“Many people have a fondness for the old Municipal Building and see it sited on Ashley Pond on a little bit of a hill as an icon,” he said. “They’ve grown up here and feel this is a very traditional look...”

Scheme 2 follows one of the recommendations by the ad hoc committee that the building be rebuilt on the same site and resemble the former building.

Other people would like to see a civic/cultural facility next to Ashley Pond and still others say green space is precious and should be preserved and prefer nothing be built on the site.

The 15th and Trinity Drive option would measure 47,000 square feet. It would stimulate economic development as developers would construct the Municipal Building and an additional office / retail/restaurant building on the site where Hill Diner, Magistrate Court, Elks and Shriner’s are located. The American Legion would remain on the site.

The advantage to the 15th and Trinity location, Bohn said, it that it brings employees closer to downtown, stimulates private investment and redevelops an unattractive site. The project includes a canyon walk and the restaurant and plaza will also be situated to capture the canyon view.

“For many years council has advocated taking advantage of the canyon views,” Bohn said. “Basically the whole downtown turns its back on the canyon. We’re using it for storage and metal buildings.”

Almost all the parking at that site is underground, he said, adding that from an urban parking point of view surface parking or a parking structure are not a desirable thing to do whereas underground parking is desirable.

The negatives about the 15th and Trinity site are that it won’t have that familiar city hall seating on that nice mound, Bohn said.

It’s a very attractively designed building but it seats on a street...and may not represent that city icon, he said. There may also be extra expense over the existing site in that the county doesn’t own the site and would have to purchase the land and do some improvements. There also will be expense associated with relocating existing property owners.

Assistant County Administrator Tony Mortillaro explained the estimated costs associated with each option. Ashley Pond without the parking structure would run about $20 million. The 15th and Trinity site would run about $24.8 million including underground parking.

“There’s about a $5 million difference but that’s not the whole story,” Mortillaro said. “The 15th and Trinity site will generate economic benefits including a one time GRT for construction...and it generates ongoing GRT from retailers in there and that’s estimated to be $1 million a year.”

Current annual property taxes at the 15th and Trinity location are $7,600, Mortillaro said, and new property taxes from the public side of the project would bring in $71,000 annually. “It also generates new property taxes for the schools of over $46,000 a year...,” he said.

“The cumulative revenue over 25 years is estimated at $50 million in new revenue coming into the county and the schools...even UNM-LA would benefit from property taxes.”

If county council opts for the 15th and Trinity site, Mortillaro said it will initially create 200 construction jobs, followed by 150 permanent jobs.

County finance director Steve Lynne said the money for the municipal building project will come from the current Capital Improvement Program (CIP), which has two projects. The first is some $15 million available for a municipal building and the second is $5 million for a downtown parking structure. The money could be used for either site, Lynne said.

Emotions escalated as the 90 minute meeting drew to a close. One man spoke sternly saying just because the county has money doesn’t mean it has to spend it all.

He told county officials to build what they need and stop talking about partnering with private concerns on things that might result in revenue sometime down the line. “I think this is very troubling and I think a vote of the townsite is needed,” he said.

Another audience member spoke in favor of the 15th and Trinity option.

Four more public meetings are scheduled on the project including an information booth Saturday at the county fair. Council could decide which site to approve at its Aug. 26 meeting.

An audience member asked why the project was “on such a fast tract.” Public Information Officer Julie Habiger explained that the county had actually been talking about the project for nearly a year.

Mortillaro described the economic pressures driving the need for a timely decision. “Construction costs are increasing at the rate of 1 percent per month,” he said. “So every month we delay costs $200,000 to the project whether it’s at Ashley Pond or the developer’s project and at some point the developer’s proforma is obsolete...and the developer backs out.”