Course through Civic Center City


By Zamná Ávila, Assistant Editor

These days, driving along Ocean Boulevard in downtown Long Beach is quite a distracting adventure.

Head west toward San Pedro and your eyes will unavoidably wander toward a wall of blue-covered fences surrounding City Hall and the Main Library. Turn right on Magnolia, heading north and you might catch a glimpse of a gigantic hole where the Superior Court once stood. Park and walk to either of the government buildings and you might experience a bit of claustrophobia as you pedal through the maze of fences.

This traffic trek — in the middle of the rush hour — is an expected facelift to the center of Long Beach civic engagement buildings and recreation areas. The Civic Center will be transformed into a state-of-the-art work, live, and play facility in the coming years. It will house a new city hall, Port of Long Beach headquarters, a new Main Library, a reconfigured Lincoln Park and retail and residential units.

Breaking Ground

Since July 2016, the city has been demolishing the old to make way for the new—the new Long Beach Civic Center, that is.

The $525 million project, scheduled to be completed by 2019, encompasses the area where Broadway, Chestnut and Pacific avenues broadside Ocean Avenue. City Hall and the POLB headquarters are planned to be 11 stories high, with a plaza in between them for public events. The Main Library will be on Broadway and will include an underground level for its archives.

With construction ahead of schedule, occupancy is expected by June 2019 with the Lincoln Park build out to be complete by the summer of 2020. A residential-commercial tower expected to rise about 432 feet may be in the works and completed by spring of 2020. The tower may have a 200-room hotel as part of the project, but that is not guaranteed.

Performance spaces, a dog park and children’s play area are expected to be part of the new Lincoln Park.

 Out with the Old

Discussions about a new Long Beach Civic Center began as early as 2008, when then-Mayor Bob Foster was told that the Main Library roof was in danger of collapse. Around that time, a public-private partnership had been initiated to construct the George Deukmejian Court on Magnolia Avenue, near Broadway. A 2013 study, following a federal investigation that surfaced from Hurricane Katrina, found that Long Beach City Hall’s stairs could break and the structure could collapse during a large earthquake. The construction of a new city hall is said to withstand a 7.5 earthquake with a low probability of injuries and zero deaths.

But not everyone believes the project was necessary.

“I have lots of reservation as the city has obligated taxpayers to a … project that was not needed and is being done to help other developers in the area,” former Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske said. “If the building were so unsafe, why are employees still there and will be there until late 2019?”

 Deal or No Deal

In late 2015, the Long Beach City Council approved a deal to enter a public-private partnership with the Plenary-Edgemoor Civic Partners. The partnership works by having the company pay for the construction of the Civic Center, with the city being its tenant for the first 40 years. This comes out to about $14.5 million annually. Repairing the civic center might cost about $19 million.

Long Beach Civic Center rendering. Photo courtesy of the City of Long Beach Public Works Department.

The property will then be returned to the city after the 40-year lease is over. The first payment of about $16.7 million would be due by fiscal year 2020. That cost will gradually increase partially at a fixed 2.18 percent with a 2.4 percent cost of living increase.

Schipske said this price is not as fixed as it seems. The cost may end up being higher when considering the underground infrastructure of oil pipes that may be found in the process.

“There will be massive overruns and the cost to the city will escalate,” she said.

But Jennifer Carey, an executive assistant with the Public Works Department, said the construction risk is primarily on the developer.

“The city has an agreement that makes the developer contractually obligated to deliver the building for the price agreed upon,” Carey said.

Plenary-Edgemoor will get two parcels out of the deal, one on Ocean Boulevard and the other at Pacific Avenue and 3rd Street. Those parcels will be used for private development after the Civic Center is complete.

And, that’s the crux of the project, Schipske said.

“This project wasn’t done because we need a civic center, it was done to connect with a larger development that starts at Magnolia and goes to Pacific,” she said. “Few people realize the city gave [the] Lincoln parking [garage] to developers. That, was a source of revenue for the city that defrayed the costs of city hall.

“Sadly, once the costs hit, people will complain, but not before.”

However, Carey said the deal is optimal.

“This project is unique and groundbreaking, both parties are satisfied with the parameters.” she said.

The project is expected to generate about 3,700 jobs within its three years of construction. Whether issues arise in the future remains to be seen.