Santa Clara officials consider phased approach for big ‘Civic Center’ revamp
Santa Clara City Hall is pictured in this file photo.

Santa Clara officials will likely take a phased approach to implement a $373 million to $437 million revamp of the Civic Center campus, where City Hall is located, at 1500 Warburton Ave.

Most of the municipal buildings on the 19-acre campus were built in the 1960s and today sit filled to the brim with employees.

“We do have some employees that are officed in closets and things of that sort,” Deanna Santana, Santa Clara’s city manager, recently told councilmembers.

Santa Clara officials are working on the plan, which could bring 243,000 square feet in development to the Civic Center site, including a new 80,200-square-foot building for Silicon Valley Power, water and sewer services and a new 163,100-square-foot City Hall building.

For context, the existing City Hall building spans 126,000 square feet, and that would be demolished through the project. The expansions would make room for a projected 20 percent growth in city staff and services by 2040.

But building both new structures on the site at once would be a massive — and expensive — undertaking. So, councilmembers last month advised city officials to approach the expansion plans as a phased development, starting with the Silicon Valley Power building.

“We have an amazing power company that keeps our lights on, we want to make certain that we’ve taken care of their needs from an operational point of view down the road,” Councilmember Karen Hardy said during a study session on the plan.

The new building would include shared amenities such as meeting and lunch rooms to free more space in City Hall, said Manuel Pineda, assistant city manager, though he stressed the plans for the project are still conceptual.

City planners and consultants are working on a larger master plan for the entire site, and so far have had one public input meeting, on Dec. 5, to gather resident feedback.

Next steps will include another check-in with councilmembers early this year, and the unveiling of a master plan for the entire site in the coming months. If all goes well, Pineda said, the environmental review process for the project would start this year and the new building for the utility services could be ready within about five years.

The initiative to revamp and expand the municipal buildings at Santa Clara’s Civic Center started in 2016, when councilmembers approved funding for a new Silicon Valley Power building that would have space for the water and sewer departments.

Still, not all of the funding for the building has been locked in, even after accounting for savings from ending existing leases off-site, where many Silicon Valley Power employees work today. In all, the new utilities building is expected to cost about $137 million.

City officials looked at several scenarios to drum up funding for the project, including leasing part of the Civic Center property to a private developer who could build housing or office space, or building city offices on a different site altogether.

But leasing city-owned space for private development didn’t offer the benefits to convince councilmembers it was a good idea.

“We have nearly 20 acres here and I’d like to keep it in the public ownership,” Mayor Lisa Gillmor said. “It gives us a tremendous amount of flexibility here for now and for the future.”

Instead, officials will look at a variety of funding sources, including a potential rate increase for Silicon Valley Power that could help fund the gap, fees or bond measures in the future.

“For cities that are largely built out, like yours, it took some kind of additional bond measure or tax measure to finance their civic centers,” said Bill Lee, senior partner with San Francisco-based Land Econ Group, a consultant who analyzed options for the site.

Eventually, city officials will also have to make critical decisions about parking for the property. Councilmembers looked at several scenarios that included primarily above-ground parking and mostly underground parking.

Building out both new buildings with above-ground parking would cost about $373 million, Pineda said. Developing the project with primarily underground parking would spike the costs of the project to $437 million.

“We like the flexibility to be able to surface-park as needed,” he said, noting that a single level of underground parking can cost between $26 million and $30 million. “You can see the value of the underground parking and surface parking.”

As city staff members prepare more plans for the site, councilmembers stressed the importance of balancing updates to the existing City Hall without investing too much in the aging building.

“It’s evident that this particular building is going to need to be replaced, so I would not like to see us put a lot of money … into this building,” Gillmor said. “Even if we build the utility building and it frees up some free space here, we can … use the Band-Aid approach to be able to keep it until we are able to replace it.”

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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