The City Council balked last night at a proposed $4.8 million increase in the budget for the redevelopment of West Hollywood Park, an increase that would bring the total cost of the eight-acre project to $94.85 million, or $11.85 million per acre).
The Council asked city staffers to return at its March 7 meeting with an assessment of various options, including seeking contributions from private donors and selling advertising space atop one of the buildings to generate revenue to offset the cost of the project.
In January 2014, the Council approved an initial budget of $80 million for the project. By July the estimated cost of the project, on which construction has yet to begin, was $85.8 million. That included an additional $5.8 million to cover the cost of a $3 million “grand stair,” a freestanding public bathroom, adult fitness equipment and an entrance at El Tovar Place and Robertson Boulevard. In November 2015, the Council added $4.25 million to the budget to cover additional parking ($3.5 million) and construction of a dog park ($750,000). Estimated construction costs alone have increased 9.5% according to a calculation by a city consultant.
A memo from City Hall staff offers several reasons for projected cost increases. A major one is increases in the cost of construction across the market since the last estimate. The staff memo projects that cost will increase further as construction time is extended for additions of the grand stair, the dog park, and the AIDS Monument that weren’t in the original plan. The project initially was scheduled for completion in April 2019. Increases in the complexity of the project also are responsible for some cost increases. And the cost of the design of the project is $1.6 million over what was budgeted.
The city staff memo recommends $2.65 million in savings that would come from aesthetic and other minor design changes. Another expense would be using a “project labor agreement” (PLA) strategy under which the city would negotiate with the relevant unions on wages for workers on the project and require contractors to pay those wages to non-union workers they use. That PLA strategy, which city staffers did not recommend, would add an estimated $7.2 million to the project to cover legal support, monitoring of the contractors and costs of additional paperwork and because it likely would reduce the pool of willing bidders.
The staff memo proposes several options for reducing the project’s cost. They include eliminating the recreational swimming pool (but not the sports pool) for a savings of $750,000, eliminating a large community room and the green roof above it for $750,000 and removing the “grand staircase” and associated cafe for a savings of $1.75 million. Another option is to construct the project in one phase, which would save $500,000 but leave the entire park closed to the public during construction. The staff memo, however, proposes that construction take place in four phases to ensure that at least part of the park is open at all times. The last phase will involve the central area of the park.
The project would be funded with $60 million from bonds sold by the city and $31.1 million in money from the city’s General Fund capital reserves, which now have $57 million. Another $2.85 million would come from WeHo’s park and parking improvement funds and $900,000 would come from fees paid by developers of child care facilities at the park. The city projects the annual costs of paying off the bonds at $3.4 to $3.5 million a year.
Several WeHo residents and Council members expressed concern about the growing cost of the project. Cynthia Blatt, a Kings Road resident, said the park was becoming “one of the most expensive parks in the urban United States.” “It’s already cost us $88 million,” Blatt said, referring to money spent on the West Hollywood Library and the building housing the City Council Chambers at the park. “Now we plan to add almost $95 million, bringing the total cost of this urban park to over $200 million.”
Councilmember Lauren Meister, who wasn’t on the Council when the park redevelopment was first approved, said some elements of the plan, such as a “state of the art” gym, weren’t needed. “I don’t know that we have to have a SoHo House park,” Meister said, referring to the expensive private club on Sunset Boulevard. Councilmember John D’Amico suggested take another look at the automated parking equipment it was proposing for parking in the plinth and Aquatic and recreation center parking structures, which will cost $3.5 million.
Councilmembers John Heilman and John Duran argued that capital improvements such as the park are long term projects and their cost should be evaluated that way. “The project is one that will benefit all of our residents,” Heilman said. “If we do this right it should last many years and serve many residents to come.”
Warned that every one-month delay in the Council’s approval of the project budget costs the city $300,000 in fees to designers and likely increases in construction costs, the Council agreed to reconsider the matter next month after staff members return with reviews of suggested savings and fund raising efforts.
— Keeping the 11 public parking spaces on the north end of the park behind the Millions of Milkshakes shop on Santa Monica Boulevard.
— Considering different alternatives for phasing in the construction to reduce costs while keeping the park accessible to residents.
— Eliminating the proposed automatic car stacking equipment in the parking structure.
— Launching an effort to raise money for the project from private donors.
— Selling advertising on a space above the building on El Tovar Place.
Councilmember Meister said she didn’t support the private fundraising concept, noting that the West Hollywood Library had not met its fundraising goals.