The Beverly Hills City Council is making an "urgent appeal" for a benefactor to step forward and bail out the city's civic center project.
The council issued its appeal Tuesday night after learning that the estimated cost of completing the project could increase the total price tag to almost $91 million--about a third higher than estimated two years ago. Earlier this year, the tab was estimated at between $80 million and $85 million.
Critics of the civic center have labeled it the "Beverly Hills Taj Mahal." City Councilwoman Charlotte Spadaro said that the city has received no assurances that the final cost will not exceed $100 million, not even from the civic committee appointed by the city to review the project. "I think that is too much for a city of 35,000 people to pay for a project, especially when it was never put to a public vote," she said.
The city's staff last week recommended that Hensel Phelps Construction Co. of Greeley, Colo., the low bidder at $55.9 million, complete the final phase of the project, which includes a police headquarters, library expansion, a community theater and arts center and a plaza.
The city spent more than $17 million on the first phase, which includes a parking lot north of City Hall and a 563-space garage that is expected to be finished soon. A temporary Fire Department facility also was installed pending completion of a 450,000-square-foot headquarters next year.
"What we have here is a Cadillac with all the options," Mayor Edward I. Brown said. "We have to weigh the project and be financially responsible. I think it is possible to redesign and not compromise."
City Manager Ed Kreins said the city had three options: to go ahead with the project, redesign it or drop it all together. He recommended that the city continue. "The answer to the question of whether we can afford it is, 'Yes, we can afford it,' " he told the council Tuesday night.
The council, however, decided to delay a vote on the Hensel Phelps bid for two weeks to give the city time to find a benefactor or to redesign the project.
The council made its appeal after the civic center committee asked it to find someone willing to shoulder the fund-raising responsibility. Committee Chairman George Konheim, a developer, said it might be possible to name the theater after such a benefactor. He compared the project to Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Los Angeles Music Center. Konheim also said that an endowment should be set up to assure maintenance of the auditorium.
Council members Tuesday used the city's cable station to seek out a benefactor. Councilwoman Donna Ellman asked if there were any "angels" in the viewing audience. "I urge you, if you are out there, now is the time to come forward," she said.
If not, she said she was "certain that in any set of plans there are ways of making major cuts without destroying the integrity of the project or delaying construction."
Some council members said they were willing to cut corners on the 550-seat auditorium that has a $13.7-million price tag.
But Councilman Benjamin Stansbury said the project should not be tampered with. "This community likes quality," he said. "The people are committed to quality and want to pay for it. If you want to see a burden on the community you build a cost-cut 550-seat auditorium." Stansbury, a former mayor, is widely credited with getting the present project approved.
Kreins said that the civic center design makes minor modifications impractical because of start-up costs and fees already committed. "It would take a $20-million (change) to reduce the (overall cost of the) project by $10 million," Kreins said, warning that changes of that magnitude would devastate the final phase of the project.
Kreins said that the city has enough money to finish the project without major modifications. He said that Beverly Hills has an investment portfolio of more than $153 million, $30 million of which is uncommitted. He also said that the city was building a project in five years that most cities would take more than 40 years to complete.
But several council members remained unconvinced. "Sound management dictates scaling back a project when costs get out of line," Annabelle Heiferman said. She said the city should remain within its projected budget of about $79 million.
Several city officials appeared before the council to stress the importance of going ahead with the project as designed.
Police Chief Marvin Iannone told the council that the city's police facility was "absolutely deplorable. I have been to Fort Apache in the South Bronx and the facility out of which we work is not much better."
He said that the police headquarters has three restrooms for 224 people. "I think that is scandalous," he said. The new police headquarters would encompass 92,000 square feet.
The project is being funded by a $60-million lease-purchase agreement under which bonds were sold to the public in the form of certificates of participation. The bonds will be paid off in 20 years.