Private Developers Unveil Proposals to Revamp Long Beach Civic Center

At a special study session of the Long Beach City Council on Tuesday, October 14, two developer teams finally unveiled their proposals for the redevelopment of the City’s 37-year-old Civic Center, which currently includes City Hall, a library, the 4.8-acre Lincoln Park, a shuttered state courthouse, and parking. It’s been a long time coming.

In 2005, seismic studies conducted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina revealed that City Hall was in danger of collapsing in the event of an earthquake with a similar magnitude as the 1994 Northridge quake. Naturally, this finding immediately prompted discussions among City officials regarding upgrading or replacing the Civic Center. About eight years later, in April 2013, the City issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) to solicit developers interested in constructing the new Civic Center. In October 2013, the City announced the three short-listed proposers and, in June 2014, received Request for Proposals (RFP) responses from two of the three, Long Beach CiviCore Alliance (LBCCA) and Plenary-Edgemoor Civic Partners (PECP).

Prior to beginning the RFP process, the City estimated that retrofitting the existing City Hall to address the seismic deficiencies would cost about $194 million. Rather than paying that hefty price to upgrade an inefficiently designed and somewhat functionally obsolescent 40-year old building, the City devised another alternative: identify a private developer who would design, build, and finance a brand-new Civic Center in exchange for 1) a maximum of $12.6 million in annual payments for 40 years from the City, which would rent the new public facilities and 2) the right to develop on the City’s unused portion of the 16-acre land. In its RFP, the City also expressed interest in the inclusion of a headquarters building for the Port of Long Beach in the new Civic Center and stipulated that Lincoln Park must be not only retained, but upgraded.

If successfully completed as described, the two developments proposed by LBCCA and PECP on October 14 would certainly transform the look and feel of the Civic Center area. Both proposals include an aesthetically and functionally modern City Hall, library, park, and port headquarters building, as well as a significant private mixed-use project comprising a hotel, residential units, and retail. LBCCA’s design also includes an “innovation village,” which is described as a hybrid between a technology incubator and an adult education facility that would be a collaborative effort with Long Beach City College and California State University Long Beach. Unlike the alternative of simply retrofitting City Hall for the purposes of withstanding a terrible natural disaster, the proposed developments could result in myriad benefits, including new jobs, new City revenue, new residential units, public facilities that better meet community needs, and potentially a more vibrant downtown. And the City would gain all this for no more than $12.6 million per year, which is the City’s estimated cost of operating and paying debt for the current Civic Center. However, the City would inherently take on some of the construction risk and also would forgo ownership of the public buildings and land until the end of the 40-year lease agreement.

What do you think about Long Beach’s proposed plan? What are your thoughts on public-private partnerships in general?

Written by Dominique Clark who is an Analyst at RSG.