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Bothell city members approve construction of new city hall

The current Bothell City Hall was built in 1939. - Reporter file photo
The current Bothell City Hall was built in 1939.
— image credit: Reporter file photo

After almost a decade of meeting and discussion, Bothell will receive a new City Hall building soon.

Bothell City Council members approved construction of a new City Hall building, replacing the current City Hall which was built in 1938. Construction is scheduled to start in late July 2014 and is expected to take 15 months.

“This is an exciting moment for the City of Bothell, and I thank the citizens of Bothell for their input and support of this important public facility,” Mayor Joshua Freed said. “In the last 10 years, no project has undergone more public evaluation and discussion than the City Hall project. Over the last eight years alone, there have been 27 public discussions related to the development of a new City Hall. Now is the right time to build the city hall given Bothell’s positive economic environment along with historically low interest rates and material and labor costs.”

The vote was 5-2. The majority of the council felt the new building was necessary, but many people, including Councilwoman Tris Samberg, took issue with the cost. The total bond issuance is estimated at $53 million, which includes total project costs plus applicable financing and transaction costs.

"The total price tag is significantly higher than the $42 million we were talking about back in 2011 and I am disappointed in that," Samberg said. "The first time the council and the public saw that $53 million price tag was at our June 3 meeting and it was shocking."

City Manager Bob Stowe said the increase in the final cost of the building is simply a result of an increase in cost and labor over time.

"We worked very hard with the members on our development team to make the price tag as low as possible," Stowe said. "We aren't here to build the Taj Mahal, our goal is to build a basic office building that will be an asset to our community and last us 75 years."

Samberg said the $53 million of borrowed money puts the city close to their maximum debt limit.

"This puts us at 90 percent of our debt capacity, which means if we needed to borrow money to deal with an unforeseen problem or take advantage of a great opportunity, we wouldn't be able to do it," Samberg said. "I think we should have prioritized our choices and brought the cost down."

Stowe believes the city is financially equipped to take on the project and that it will not negatively affect residents' pocketbooks.

"The city has performed extra due diligence on this project and we have continuously demonstrated prudent decision practices," Stowe said. "The recent decision to move forward with City Hall was made with the same fiscal philosophy that has enabled the city to fund millions of dollars of public investments."

Stowe used the Crossroads project, the Wayne Curve Project and the open channeling of Horse Creek as examples of great expenditures made by the city in the past few years.

"These public investments were made without additional taxes and have been supported predominately by one-time development revenues, capitol funding and grants," he said.

Samberg pointed out that every financial decision is linked. Since the city decided to build a new City Hall, they had to ask the public to assist in repairing parks and streets through a $43 million bond levy, she said.

"These are not separate issues, they are linked," Samberg said. "When we use money to build a building, we must use money from others to help take care of our other necessary expenses."

Freed said the old City Hall building is falling apart and the cost to repair it was too expensive.

"When the first City Hall was built, there were only 500 residents and we now have more than 41,500 residents in Bothell, so it just makes sense we would need a new space to fulfill new needs that result from this population increase," Freed said. "Also, repairs needed for this building were starting to become more frequent and outrageous."

Freed also said that the repairs needed to fix the front of the building that is deteriorating would be very expensive.

“The current City Hall and Dawson buildings are old, tired, and inadequate and have become increasingly costly to maintain," Stowe said."City Hall is an essential public facility. The construction of a new City Hall is an important decision for Bothell."

Bothell City Hall will be built alongside a private sector development that is planned for the City Hall block, known as the ‘City Center.’

"Our goal is for the community to use this building, to take ownership of it and feel like it is a part of Bothell," Freed said.

The new City Hall will provide office space for staff members who are currently housed in City Hall, the Dawson Building, and multiple portables and leased spaces, combining nearly all city services and functions most visited by the public into one building. The facility will be an energy-efficient office building along with public and civic components that fit the character and function of Bothell, while providing a public place that Bothell residents and businesses can use.

Active public discussions, evaluation and planning for a new City Hall have been ongoing since the first discussion of it. In 2011, following a competitive process, the city selected a development team led by Vulcan Real Estate to complete the City Hall project. The project was suspended in late 2011 due to timing of completion of Bothell’s other major downtown revitalization projects.

“The timing and location of City Hall construction is expected to help ignite the fuse of redevelopment, as well as unlock the flow of private sector capital investment in Bothell’s downtown, ” Stowe said. "The City Hall's office presence, with nearly 200 employees at build-out, will positively impact the health of downtown businesses during the day while the additional parking the City Hall provides will support both existing and new businesses.”

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