08/17/10 — Council OKs first steps downtown

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Council OKs first steps downtown

By Steve Herring
Published in News on August 17, 2010 1:46 PM

City Council members by consensus Monday night agreed to allow design work to continue on the proposed revamping of Center Street -- but not without some trepidation on the part of several members.

Those misgivings appeared to center on the use of street bond monies to help pay for the project instead of for street resurfacing. News that bond money was already being used appeared to come as a surprise to council members Jackie Warrick, Bob Waller and to a lesser degree, Michael Headen, during a Monday night work session recap of the project.

Mayor Pro-Tem Chuck Allen said the board had discussed and agreed to use $160,000 in bond monies for the design phase. Allen said he wanted to ensure that was clear so that there would be no questions about the issue in the months ahead.

Headen asked City Manager Joe Huffman to provide a copy of minutes of the meeting at which the board discussed and voted on using the bond monies.

"It has been a while since we talked about (bond money use)," Huffman said following the board meeting. "We will provide the information they want, but yeah, bond money is being utilized. But it isn't all of the bond money, it is just a very small part of bond money being used for this part, the design phase. It isn't like we are going out there right now and begin construction."

Warrick wanted to know if the request to proceed with the design plans also included a request for more money. Huffman assured him that it did not.

During the work session Waller asked Huffman when the board would discuss funding.

Huffman said that would come following a work session on the project design.

Warrick asked again where the money would come from.

"This (City Hall) block from bond money," Huffman said.

Warrick said then his vote on the project would be "no."

Waller also questioned whether there was a need to look at doing everything at once if the money wasn't there to start with.

He said he would hate to start "tearing up" the streets and sidewalks without being able to finish "the rest of it."

Allen said shovel-ready plans would be needed if the city hopes to receive any grant funding for the project.

"If you do stop at the first block, it will still be a nice welcome (to downtown)," he said. "If you have to wait two years that is no problem."

Allen said he sees the project's lifespace as four to six years.

Huffman said he is unsure when the work session will be held. He said he would ask council members over the next few days when they could meet and then schedule the work session.

"There were a couple of questions about some of the (project) features," he said. "I think there is some thinking that maybe the roads (need to be) a little wider and there may be some other issues. I think the next step is for council to have a work session and get all of that aired out as we move forward."

April is the deadline to commit the bond monies.

Construction plans will take about three months to prepare and could be completed by the end of the year, with construction possibly starting in the spring.

"Council has three decisions," Huffman said. "One decision is what they want to change, what do they like during the work session. The second decision is are they going to allow us to go forward and bid it? The third, once it's bid are they going to award it?"

The cost is expected to range between $800,000 to $1 million per block depending on the final plan.

Since the first phase will involve only the City Hall block, the project is expected to come in on the lower end since less work would be required on the sidewalk, Planning Director Randy Guthrie said.

"Right now I think we are recommending and all that I am hearing, they are interested in doing is that one block and see how that goes," Huffman said. "They (Council) will have to come back with a decision to go to bid then and when bids come out they will make a decision whether or not they are going to authorize it."

Urban designer Allison Platt of Allison Platt and Associates provided council with a brief recap of the project that features 18-foot sidewalks, a "walkable median" and parking changes.

Waller questioned why the parallel parking spaces were in front of the storefronts and angled parking along the median. He also appeared concerned that the arrangement would result in a net loss of parking spaces.

Ms. Platt said the arrangement would allow for smoother traffic flow and that only a few parking spaces would be lost. Guthrie added it is customary to have parallel parking on the right side of the vehicle.