Grand jury: City needs to re-examine city hall project costs

By James R. Riffel

City News Service

The city of San Diego should take a fresh look at comparative costs before deciding whether to fix up the aging City Administration Building or build a new one, the county grand jury recommended Monday.

The jurors investigated the City Hall issue after receiving a citizen's complaint about financing for a possible future project.

They determined that the depressed commercial real estate market means it will be cheaper to maintain the current arrangement — staying in the current 15-story building at 202 C St. and leasing office space elsewhere — than constructing a new building.

A 2008 consultant's study on financing repairs or new construction is out-of-date, according to the grand jury.

"The figures used were not in line with the rapidly changing economic reality and do not reflect the commercial space lease environment in 2011,'' its report states. "For example, downtown lease rates noted in the consultant's study ranged from $2.50-$2.75 per square foot in 2008; in 2011, the grand jury learned that lease rates ranged from $1.70-$1.90 per square foot.''

The grand jury also found that city officials cited the highest possible repair costs for the current City Hall, exaggerating the potential savings of constructing a new building.

The 47-year-old City Administration Building has a variety of maintenance issues that officials have estimated will cost $20 million over the next 10 years, from a lack of fire sprinklers on two-thirds of its floors to faulty plumbing and asbestos.

Municipal operations outgrew the building long ago, forcing the city to lease space in other locations.

City leaders planned to take a Civic Center construction project to voters last year, but decided instead to put all their energies behind an eventually unsuccessful half-cent sales tax increase.

A couple of alternate construction plans have since been floated, but in February, a top city official said Mayor Jerry Sanders no longer planned to take a leadership role on the issue, leaving it up to the City Council. The

future of City Hall has not been addressed before the full council or any of its committees since.

The grand jury issued six recommendations, including finding out how much it will cost now to extend leases; determining whether recent budget cuts will impact the amount of space that is leased; re-evaluating the costs of maintaining the current building; and putting together new numbers to compare the costs of fixing City Hall and building a new one.

The city has 90 days to respond.

   
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