10/04/11 — City puts Center Street project on hold

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City puts Center Street project on hold

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on October 4, 2011 1:46 PM

After nearly a month of staff level discussions about the bids for the Center Street Streetscape project, the supporters of the renovations are left with one final shot to get City Council approval for the first phase of the project that aims to one day transform the entire downtown area.

At its meeting Monday, council decided to pull the streetscape item from the consent agenda and will discuss options for it in greater detail at a meeting Oct. 10 at 5 p.m., when the council will resume its discussions.

Planning Director Randy Guthrie presented the staff's recommendation to reject the bids, alter the project to bring the cost down and put the project out for bid once more, but City Manager Scott Stevens cautioned the council that the price was not expected to tumble too far after a new round of bids.

"We will likely be borrowing," he said of the city's plan to pay for a portion of the project, which he said would range between $500,000 and $900,000. "I don't want to mislead you to thinking the cost will drop $800,000."

Following that, District 6 Councilman Jackie Warrick asked that the item be pulled from the consent agenda.

The bids, which city officials thought would come in closer to $1.3 million, brought in a lowest price of $1.7 million for the project, a bid submitted by J.W. Grand of Clayton.

The council discussion continued, as District 2 Councilman Bob Waller voiced his concern at using money from the utility fund for the project.

"This is the first I've heard of using the utility fund," Waller said. "I think we should use street money to pave the streets so people can get to downtown. I don't think it's the time."

Mayor Pro tem Chuck Allen reminded Waller that the utility fund had been identified already as a possible funding source, although Waller said he still wasn't sure.

During a presentation on the project at the February retreat, Guthrie listed five ways to reduce the cost of the overall project, identifying $95,000 worth of work that could be performed by Public Works and using $115,000 from the utility fund.

Allen went on to say that the council needed to figure out if there was money enough to do the project before putting it out for bid again. All of the council members agreed they didn't want to waste the time of contractors if the city wasn't going to go through with the project.

"Look, it's going to cost between $1.5 and $2 million," Allen said, adding that he didn't want to start the project without fixing it. "If you do it good, they'll want to finish the project. I don't want us to think one block and stop."

But Allen didn't completely endorse the project, pointing out, as he has before, that it's about priorities.

"We need to figure out is this the No. 1 thing we want to do," he said.

Stevens identified the Oct. 10 meeting date later in the meeting and the item was tabled until then, although it would come up again when Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. Director Julie Thompson announced a grant the city could apply for that could impact the project.

The Transportation In-vestment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER, Discretionary Grant Program already received a preapplication for its third round of grants from DGDC, but final applications would be due Oct. 31. Ms. Thompson said two separate applications would be filed, with one for the streetscape project and another for Union Station.

The rehabilitation of Union Station would also provide for a transfer station and has been identified as a step toward bringing commuter rail to Goldsboro. The project, as presented for the grant, would also involve a streetscape renovation to the 200 block of West Walnut Street.

The grant, Ms. Thompson said, is similar to another grant applied for earlier this summer. Both projects were submitted for the Transportation, Community and Systems Preservation grant, as well, but both were rejected in mid-August.

The grant she presented requires a 20 percent match, so the $17.8 million Union Station grant would mean the city would owe $3.56 million, while the $11 million streetscape application would put the city on the hook for $2.2 million. The streetscape grant would provide the funding to do all four blocks of the street all at once to reduce construction time and traffic issues.

The grant application will be discussed along with the streetscape project bid process at the Oct. 10 meeting.

In other business, the council heard an update from Public Works Director Neil Bartlett on storm debris cleanup during the work session. Bartlett said his crews had finished up their first sweep of the city last week, and anticipated finishing their second sweep this week. More than 700 tons of debris had been delivered to the landfill by his crews, he said, not counting the amounts the city had composted. He said there were two crews still working on debris cleanup and that other workers were identifying signs that need to be fixed.