Over on Salem Breakfast on Bikes, a must-read blog for anyone who cares about transportation and land use issues in our city, there's an interesting comment conversation.
It is on this post about the City of Salem's proposal to spend $70 million plus on a new police facility on Civic Center property and seismic retrofitting of some or all of the Civic Center.
The Breakfast on Bikes blog administrator chimed in with some comments and questions of his own.
Geoff James, an architect involved with Salem Community Vision (recently formed group that seeks more and better community input into decisions that affect our city's livability and prosperity), responded to those questions.
Here's James' response, mildly edited to correct typos and formatted to improve readability. This is a good overview of the issues that Salem's citizens need to be involved in considering as discussion of the City's bond proposal moves forward.
As one of the Salem Community Vision team, I actually agree with many of your points. Salem Community Vision is for a new police facility, just not for a palace forced onto the Civic Center lake [Mirror Pond].
It's very expensive, because of the underground parking garage, the displacement of the council chambers, and we lose all our trees and open space.
We are not in a fight with the City: we just wish they would change their expensive plan so that a bond measure will pass. Their $70 million plan will go down to defeat, and we want a new police facility and the seismic [retrofitting] to happen.
Yes, there are lots of improvements needed at the Civic Center, like the access to the council chambers, via maybe a glass elevator, and better restrooms. But let's not take out all the open space.
We criticize the city cost estimates, not for their accuracy, but for their content.
They have 235 parking spaces for staff, all underground, for a stated cost of $13 million. So that's more than $50,000 a parking space. A parking garage should be $20,000 a space, and a parking lot should be $2,000 a space. We just favor the $2,000 number.
You ask these questions:
1) Why is Peace Plaza so great and effective that it shouldn't be altered or even relocated?
I agree. It needs a lot of improvement, and Salem Community Vision has an architect and a design-build specialist who have ideas and cost estimates for improvements.
2) How is Mirror Pond so wonderful that it shouldn't be modernized?
I do not like the term modernized. The aeration and maintenance of the lake has been neglected, like most city owned facilities. They have over 100 buildings, and I understand deferred maintenance totals over $100 million. I happen to think Mirror Pond should be enhanced: so we agree.
3) Why shouldn't we want to reconfigure the Civic Center in ways to make it more walkable and lively?
Yes, we should, and Salem Community Vision designers have been hard at work on that too. But we are working people, running businesses, so we do the volunteer work in our spare time, like you.
4) What specifically about the four City estimates is not credible? (Not just the repeated claim, "but Eugene did it cheaper!").
The City estimates are all different. At one point it had a $19 million parking garage proposed for under the Peace Plaza for 100 staff cars. Just do the math on that, to see how much a parking space. Plus it gets the bond closer to $100 million. So they took that out.
5) What do we give up in redevelopment and property tax opportunities when we don't use land the City already owns for a new Police Station? Why is the City's claim about operational inefficiencies from a remote site not credible?
We favor the city owned site across the street, and that is the recommendation of the city funded Urban Land Institute Report, that the addition be at "Civic Center West" where the SWAT vehicles are parked. The City claims operational efficiencies of $500,000 a year by locating police at Civic Center. But that means it would take 60 years to realize those savings because Salem Community Vision has shown that an off site location saves $33 million.
6) Apart from the question of cost, how exactly does the Eugene model promote neighborhoods and livability? Apart from cost, what kinds of Salem solutions would best promote neighborhoods and livability?
The Eugene model is half the cost, so the neighbors pay half the tax increase. The first responders will be able to help us after the Big One instead of being trapped in their $13 million basement. The adaptive reuse of an existing 70,000 building with 200+ parking spaces (for $10 million) is a more sustainable solution, and just needs alterations to suit the police department accommodations.
I do think we should stop squabbling. I agree with all your points. We are on the same side. Let's discuss how we all might work to pass an improved plan and bond to achieve all these things.
l'll add some of my own thoughts about question 6). I've heard some talk about the benefits of having Salem's police headquarters out in the community, rather than at the Civic Center.
Makes sense to me.
We need to do some "out of the box" thinking here. Why should the police staff who protect and serve Salem's citizens be housed in a new three story building at the already cramped Civic Center property, complete with bunker-style expensive underground parking?
Why not have a more open and accessible police headquarters much nearer to where most Salemians live and work? Would it be possible to have this headquarters include aspects of a community center? How would it change the image of the police department to have an outdoor basketball court where officers play pick-up games with Salem residents, or a coffee shop (dare I suggest a donut shop) where officers and citizens can mingle and socialize?
Maybe these are crazy unworkable ideas.
But, hey, these and other ideas are worth considering before Salem taxpayers are asked to pay $70 million or more for a City bond levy that, so far, has involved very little community input/discussion.