The city does not intend it to sound like a riddle, but it is: How do you build a $2.5 million addition to Palm Coast’s City Hall several years ahead of schedule, raising the building’s total cost to $9 million, and come out saving $1 million?
The city administration had an answer for the City Council Tuesday morning even as two council members warned that the public will have a difficult time digesting the idea just weeks after being told that City Hall would be a $6.2 million project. Based on the administration’s calculations and permutations, however, the math appears to work out to the city’s advantage, yielding the additional building and meeting room space at City Hall at a substantial saving. The extra wing was to be built in 2009. Instead, it’ll be built concurrently with City Hall itself, so both will be finished by the end of 2015.
Understanding the riddle is a bit like watching a juggler. Instead of balls in the air, think of capital projects. It works like this. The city’s capital improvement plan projects three large projects in coming years: the $4.6 million make-over of Holland Park; the $6.7 make-over of the Palm Coast Community Center on Palm Coast Parkway; and the phased building of City Hall, with its first phase pegged at $6.5 million.
The first phase of City Hall is the main office building on which the city ceremoniously broke ground on Oct. 29. The 2019 addition was to accommodate city meetings, advisory council meetings and community uses. But the financing of the $2.5 million addition was contingent on money flowing from the Town Center enterprise zone’s tax revenue, which has been relatively low: $1.5 million a year, with $900,000 committed to debt financing.
Until 2019, city council meetings, including workshops, would have been held at the community center. But with community center renovation planned to start 2016, that posed a dilemma: where would community center events and meetings be held? The answer: push community center construction out one year, and move up City Hall addition’s construction to 2015. With the addition completed by the end of that year, many community center meetings and events could be moved there while the community center itself undergoes its reconstruction.
The other option would have been to phase in construction at the community center so as to minimize disruptions to ongoing events. But by scrapping that need, entirely closing the building to public use and carrying out the reconstruction as a “single-phase” construction, the city projects a saving of $560,000.
The same principle applies to City Hall construction. Were the city to wait until 2019 to build the 8,000 square-foot addition rather than carry it our concurrently with City Hall construction, the net cost would be higher. Instead, the city projects saving $425,000 by moving up the project.
Combined savings: Almost $1 million.
Holland Park comes in as a sort of subsidy: instead of delaying the construction of the City Hall addition, additional phases of Holland Park construction will be delayed to an undetermined time. It’s nothing new for Holland Park, which was supposed to have been renovated just as the Great Recession hit. But first-phase construction—with $4.7 million budgeted, including contingency dollars—will still go ahead. That park will be closed to the public as construction proceeds, with the Historical Society building there still left accessible.
“By doing that, and bringing in the funding from the CRA that would pay for the community wing over that time period,” Chris Quinn, the city’s finance director, said, referring to the Town Center Community Redevelopment Agency (a separate segment of Palm Coast government that keeps tax revenue from Town Center in Town Center), “we’re able to actually stay in positive territory within the capital fund and get these three projects done in their entirety over a five-year period.”
Council members liked what they heard today. Naturally, it was the City Hall component that worried some of them, given City Hall’s contentious history
“The wound of City Hall is not healed yet upon those that oppose it,” Council member Steven Nobile said. “To me City Hall is a done deal. I’m not going to argue that point. But this is going to raise—” Nobile left it up to the imagination as to what it was going to raise, and continued: “I just want to make sure, I don’t want anybody coming to me and say no, we could have done this, and lay something out for me, and it’s reasonable. Because this is reasonable, you see? What we’re looking at now is reasonable. We’re saving money, we’re not causing dysfunction in the community by shutting down the community center. But it’s going to be a conspiracy.
“You have no idea,” Council member Bill McGuire said. “My only concern is having too many projects going on at the same time that would disrupt the citizens’ ability to do what they’re doing. In other words, what we’re contemplating doing down at the community center to me is a really big deal.” The center is used almost constantly. “I’d like to see a well thought-out contingency plan from this team that says, while this is happening, here’s what we can do.”
“That’s the advantage of delaying the community center,” Mayor Jon Netts said.
“So the net result is some cash savings,” the mayor said, “put it all together about $1 million, and perhaps a more workable sequencing.” That would work both regarding the coordinating of meetings and events and the sequencing of the city’s capital improvement projects, requiring no tax increases.
The council is expected to approve that new approach at its next business meeting on Dec. 16, at the Palm Coast Community Center.