Paul says City Hall redevelopment could be advantageous

To the Editor:

I read with interest your editorial posing the question “Has city hall future been predetermined by council?” In the interest of journalistic fair play, I hope you will give equal time to a different perspective.

Since its inception, the city has been visited by developers offering to build a city hall on a lease-purchase basis. The current city hall lease gives us approximately four years to develop and execute plans for our long-term facility needs.

Several months ago, we commissioned a team of real estate professionals to determine the city’s space needs and the cost of building a stand-alone city hall.

After meeting with council, city staff, including fire and police leadership, the team developed a space plan and concluded that building a standalone city hall would cost $28-32 million, probably financed with public debt.

Next, a council majority voted to investigate other options, including partnering with the private sector in building city hall. To explore these possibilities, the city issued an RFI – Request for Information – to gather information from private entities about building city hall within a larger business district redevelopment effort. The privatization of city services has worked wonderfully well, so Mayor and an overwhelming Council majority decided to investigate private sector options relating to city facilities.

Exploring whether city hall should be part of a larger business district redevelopment effort offers the city several advantages such as:

1) answering the question whether the city can use its facilities to accelerate Roswell Road or core business district revitalization;

2) allow us to contrast the costs of a standalone facility with other options;

3) giving the city more control over development around city hall and in the core business district;

4) telling us whether we can reduce or eliminate taxpayer debt by having the private partner bear the borrowing costs;

5) determining whether we can save taxpayer dollars by placing city hall within a larger project;

6) since it shows serious interest by the city, potential partners will bring serious proposals to the table;

7) generating the widest range of options for the city and its citizens to consider;

8) requiring less investment by the vendor to respond, meaning more entities will respond;

9) an RFI is not binding on the city, so we are not required to select an immediate winner;

10) given today’s construction/development economy, we expect better price proposals now than later; and 11) the RFI’s minimal specifications encourage potential partners to think and respond with maximum creativity.

Further, RFI responses will outline how a lease-purchase arrangement would work and when the city would own the facility debt-free. Finally, the RFI process ensures that everyone is treated equally and ensures that no one entity or approach has an undue advantage.

Throughout, the Mayor and Council have made clear that the process would be fair, open, competitive and subject to extensive public input. Rather than shielding this process from public input, the process chosen ensures full public participation. It means all submissions related to the RFI are available for inspection under the State’s Open Records Act once the documents have been received, processed and evaluated. It also ensures full, open public hearings and citizen input at every phase.

However, we cannot obtain public input and comment on options until we know what all options are. The city ultimately may choose a private developer to build a city hall – not because they are favored, but because they present the best solution. Regardless, we chose a process that ensures that no solution is predetermined, no vendor is pre-selected and that all information is completely available to the public.

Rusty Paul
Sandy Springs City Council

MacGinnitie content to wait on city hall

To the Editor:

Your column regarding a potential new city hall raised a number of good questions, particularly whether a decision on the timing and location of a new city hall has somehow already been made. As you noted, Sandy Springs resident Charles Maddrey sent each of the Council members a letter outlining his concerns about the Request for Information. I thought would it be worth sending you a copy of the response I sent to Mr. Maddrey a couple of weeks ago:

“Charles: I apologize for the delay in responding, but wanted to thank you for your thoughts. Like you, I do not think we need to be in a hurry to do anything – I view the RFI as exactly that – a request for information. If that information, along with an earlier study on the costs of a stand alone City Hall, make the case for building a City Hall sooner because it is a good financial decision, then I think we have a duty to carefully consider building now. If not, I personally will be content to wait – I think there are a number of priorities that are as or more important than a City Hall.

Also, I think community involvement is very important. My hope is that we will be very open about the information we receive back from the RFI.

I obviously cannot speak for any other Council member, but wanted to give you some of my thoughts.

Regards, Doug MacGinnitie”

While Mr. Maddrey is the only one to contact me so far regarding this issue, I hope that your editorial provokes further discussion and debate on this and other important issues facing our City. It has always been my belief that this type of public discourse results in better decisions and better government.

Doug MacGinnitie
Sandy Springs City Council, District 1