Plans for a new Conyers City Hall are moving ahead at a fast clip, with architect bids expected within the next week, city officials said at their Jan. 24 annual Winter Retreat. But the exact site and the funding mechanism for the $7.5 million project are still up in the air, leaving the timing a bit uncertain as well.
"We put a lot of effort into this one," city Chief Operating Officer David Spann said of the request for quotations from architecture firms. A similar request for construction management firms will go out shortly after the architect bids come in, he said.
The current multi-building City Hall complex on Scott Street is aging, crowded and inefficient, officials have said. Last summer, the city had a consulting firm create the interior plans for a new City Hall to be located elsewhere, with the Scott Street complex remaining as a public safety headquarters.
City officials previously identified a stretch of Oakland Avenue as the site for the new City Hall, but have since backed off to speak more generally of finding a location somewhere between I-20 and Green Street, where the city owns much land. However, it will need to be a big area, as the City Hall is expected to cover about 5 acres. Spann noted that the land situation is changing in that area, with a couple of vacant properties undergoing city condemnation.
The funding mechanism is the other big factor yet to be determined. City Attorney Michael Waldrop outlined several options at the Winter Retreat. His recommendation was to use the city's existing but largely dormant Urban Redevelopment Authority to issue bonds.
The authority consists of the mayor and City Council and was formed several years ago to give the city eminent-domain powers in that same I-20/Green Street area. It has the ability to issue bonds, Waldrop said.
"This [City Hall complex] is something that could fall under that plan," Waldrop said. He noted that if the city ever moved to rebuild the Scott Street complex with a better public safety facility, that also could fall under the Urban Redevelopment Authority and its bonding power.
The city would need to hold a public hearing to discuss such a change to the authority's purview, Waldrop said. City Chief Financial Officer Isabel Rogers said she would need to determine whether the authority could issue tax-exempt municipal bonds or regular bonds.
Other funding options are problematic or less attractive, Waldrop said. One is issuing a general bond, which would offer the lowest financing rates but would require a referendum vote. Another is to establish a new public facilities authority and issue bonds through it, but whether it is legal for such authorities to issue bonds is a "gray area," Waldrop said.
Yet another option is a lease-purchase deal where some private entity would acquire the City Hall land and essentially put the city on a rent-to-own payment plan. The Georgia Municipal Association is one option, Waldrop said, but that move would require a public bidding process. City Manager Tony Lucas said a private investment group headed by former Florida Department of Transportation chief Lowell Clary has met with city official to offer a similar deal with a low interest rate but a rapid pay-back period.