City moves forward with design for Downtown West development

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Downtown West designGeorgetown city staff is moving forward with detailed design work for Downtown West, a project that would consolidate city offices into a civic center just west of the Square, after receiving direction from City Council to proceed with a $13 million overall budget at its Aug. 23 workshop session.

The project had been budgeted at about $6.5 million; however, escalated construction costs and expanded scope through the city’s schematic design phase have led to the higher price tag, Capital Improvement Project Manager Eric Johnson said.

“It’s not unusual to see escalation through [the planning]process,” Johnson said. “We’ve had some construction costs escalation [and]unforeseen repairs such as the [former library building]roof replacement.”

Johnson presented an update on the project at the council’s July 26 workshop that showed a $13.7 million cost for the entire project with several options, ranging from reducing audio/visual and furniture costs to omitting portions of the design, window treatments and equipment to lower the price.

“Part of the problem here is that some original figure produced by somebody has become crystallized,” Council Member Keith Brainard said. “We ought to strike that [$6.5 million] from our memory because that figure seems to have no basis in reality. So here we are talking about having a building with no walls and a hole in the roof, and that is silly. Why don’t we wipe the slate clean and talk about what we want and how much that is going to cost.”

The project, which was outlined in the city’s 2003 and 2014 downtown master plans, will repurpose the former library at 808 Martin Luther King Jr. St. to serve as City Hall, and the Georgetown Communications and Technology building at 510 W. Ninth St. would become the municipal court and City Council chambers. A green space would also be added. A future phase would include renovating the Historic Light and Waterworks building at 809 Martin Luther King Jr. St.

“We believe Downtown West will help add to the beauty of the downtown area,” Johnson said.

At the July 26 meeting, Council Member Steve Fought requested city staff also look at the costs for demolishing the existing buildings and new construction on the site.

At the Aug. 23 workshop, Johnson said new construction would significantly increase the price of the project, particularly the cost to demolish and rebuild on the site of the GCAT building, which includes the city’s data center.

“We’re experiencing some sticker shock,” Council Member Tommy
Gonzalez said at the Aug. 23 meeting. “I think that has clouded the vision of what it costs to build. … I don’t want to see us spending more time thinking about what we are doing as prices continue to rise.”

City Manager David Morgan said the next step in the process is to begin detailed design work, which will help determine the final budget and look of the project.

Funding for the project will come from the sale of the existing City Hall, former Albertsons building and Convention and Visitors Bureau buildings, Johnson said. Additional funding could come from other downtown sources and bond funds, he said.

Once the detailed design is complete, Johnson said city staff would go back to council with the guaranteed maximum price this fall.

If approved, construction on the project could begin in early 2017 and be completed in early 2018.

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