Town Hall site could be pricey proposition | SierraSun.com

Town Hall site could be pricey proposition

It’s simple, really. When looking to buy something, check the price first, and then ask how you’re going to pay for it.

That’s the philosophy that one member of Town Hall Site Selection Committee would like to see town officials embrace more as their search for a permanent home for town hall continues.

“What would it cost and how do you pay for it? Those questions have never been asked,” says Hugh Williams, a real estate broker and a member of the site selection committee. Williams is referring to the costs of acquiring a parcel of land in the downtown area and building a home suitable for town government and up to five other public agencies.

The site selection committee was formed last December, the same time the town awarded a $40,000 contract to BSA Architects of San Francisco for consulting services in the search for a permanent site for Town Hall.

The committee includes two councilmembers and a number of community representatives, including local real estate agents, contractors, downtown merchants and representatives from several public agencies that the town would consider partnering with in a new hall.

Town officials estimate that the timeframe for finding a site and designing and constructing a new town hall is five to 10 years from now.

Until then the town will continue to operate out of the building it purchased on Airport Road in June 2000 from Bank of the West for approximately $5.2 million. Town Council and staff moved into the building November 2000.

But because of its location, tucked up against the southeastern border of the town, elected officials and staff said it was not a permanent move, but was necessitated by the need for more office space, both by the town and the Truckee Donner Public Utility District.

Prior to moving into their Airport Road location, the town used to operate in the upstairs of the TDPUD offices on Donner Pass Road.

Over $1 million in renovations have since been made to the building on Airport Road, the bulk of the money going into the remodel for the new police station.

Since being hired in December, BSA has held three public workshops with steering committee in order to identify and rank potential sites for Town Hall.

“If we are going to move, and if a site becomes available, we need to be in a position to act. But we are not making the decision to move,” said Councilman Don McCormack, who sits on the site selection committee with Councilwoman Maia Schneider.

And that committee has asked the “what will it cost and how do we pay” financial questions, Schneider says, but has yet to explore them because the list of potential sites was, until recently, too long.

“Those questions have been asked, but there wasn’t any point getting into the dollars and sense when we were still looking at 20 sites,” Schneider said.

With the list now down to five sites, BSA will do a cost analysis of each site under the current contract.

That analysis should start after the next meeting of the selection committee, expected later this month or early June.

Williams is, however, quick to point out that throughout the whole process, staying in the current home of town government was not an option that committee members got to explore.

Define civic presence

But others say the search for a permanent town hall isn’t just about finding the cheapest place to house town government. If it were, no one would be looking downtown.

“If this is only about dollars and sense then we should pack up our bags and go home,” Schneider said. “There isn’t any site that is going to be cheaper than where we are at now.”

What it’s about, says Schneider, is the feedback that the town has received from a community that wants a more centralized town hall.

In addition to the work done by BSA, the town held a series of public workshops over the last two years to gauge public sentiment.

“The direction from the public workshops has always been to find a site for a permanent town hall,” Schneider said.

Both Scheider and McCormack said that feedback, coupled with policies in Truckee’s General Plan and Downtown Specific Plan, is the driving force in the town’s search.

A guiding policy in the Downtown Specific Plan encourages a civic presence downtown and specifically mentions a town hall, along with other possible public facilities.

“Such buildings could include a library, Town Hall, theater recreation center or community college,” the plan says.

Williams thinks the town should indeed have a presence downtown, but in the form of a fountain, theater, or community center, and not a town hall.

Weather it’s established policy or the desires of the public, or both, creating a downtown Town Hall would likely bring with it a jaw-to-the-floor price tag.

The list

After three public workshops and several months of research, BSA and the selection committee have narrowed the list of possible sites down to five.

They include: the old Louisiana Pacific mill site east of downtown, the Donner Creek and Arnold site just east of the Donner Creek Mobile Home Park on West River Street, sites in the Hilltop area, US Forest Service lands north of Glenshire Drive near the Highway 267 Bypass and the Caltrans Corp Yard between Interstate 80 and Jibboom Street.

For several years town officials have looked for ways to acquire, develop and utilize the old mill site, which seems to the pick of the litter. The 36-acre parcel is owned by Union Pacific and possible redevelopment funds may add to the parcel’s attraction as the future home of Town Hall.

But the mill site may prove problematic for several reasons. Union Pacific has told the town, in writing, it is not interested in selling the land and wants to keep the balloon train track on the parcel operational. Union Pacific uses the balloon track to turn around snowplows.

In addition, the extent of the ground pollution from previous mill operations is unknown. Access to the parcel would likely be another issue.

Depending on the extent of the pollution, estimates on the cost of the parcel range from $3 to 4 million. Williams said he thinks it could be more than twice that amount.

Besides locations, the town has also been exploring possibilities for partnering with other districts and agencies, including the U.S. Forest Service, Truckee Fire Protection District and the school district.

If all the agencies identified did eventually move into a building with the town, the size of that building would have to be 130,000-150,000 square feet.

Williams told the council at a recent meeting that at costs of $200 a square foot for new commercial space downtown (a figure other realtors and appraisers said was accurate) the building alone would cost nearly $30 million.

That figure doesn’t include land acquisition.

While acknowledging that a new town hall will undoubtedly bring a large chunk of the tax pie, Schneider thinks that figure will be more palatable once officials are closer to cementing a deal with other agencies.

“First of all, not all of the agencies are going to partner with us, so the building won’t need to be that big,” she said.

But the agencies that do partner will bring the price tag, for the town, down considerably.

“That price tag may not change, but the pools that [the funding] comes from will,” Schneider added.