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April 11, 2017 > Downtown: shimmering in the distance

Downtown: shimmering in the distance

As elusive as a mirage of a cool lake in the distance of a desert landscape, the dream of a new civic center in Fremont appears and disappears depending on the timing of council workshops. In the latest iteration, plans and funds for Phase 1, a community center and outdoor plaza, were revealed as short by $15 million estimated construction costs. Under a thinly veiled reference to citizen and council attitudes toward more development, money from two developments that could provide additional funds were waived under a caution flag. The council was asked to approve a search for refinement of the original plans that would save money and move things along. Although Phase 1 will be reevaluated and is expected to take shape in 2019, the fate of Phase 2, the Administration Building, even its location, is in limbo. So too with the rest of the grand plan for a parking structure, relocation of the Fremont Resource Center and use of the southeast quadrant of the plan.

While laudable that the City wants to stick to a no debt model, without additional funds from development, it appears shortfalls will be the rule rather than an exception. At present, Phase 2 of an administration building is estimated at $195 million. Where is that money coming from? As proposed, it may be past time to reevaluate this grand scheme and determine whether it is a mirage. If so, creative thinking about how to use land designated for the civic center is in order. The concept of a performing arts center surfaced and whether citizens would support a bond measure for its construction adjacent to the civic center. Public/private partnerships for a parking structure or other amenities were voiced. It almost felt like the project had regressed to initial planning again.

The workshop presentation explored steps to Òmove forward.Ó It appears that although the Stage 1 design and construction have the councilÕs blessing, anything after that is up for grabs. Recommended direction for Stage 2 (Administrative Building) is to revisit the project when timing and building costs prove to be favorable; reduce square footage; consider relocation of the building site; seek alternative funding and design. Does this sound like a move forward?

It may be time for the council to demand tighter control of this process. For each step forward, it seems that there is one or more in another direction. A Downtown Community Plan was approved in 2012, consultants selected and priorities set. Since then, the Civic Center Master Plan was approved in 2014-2015 and design work initiated. The next year the Master Plan was revised with public outreach efforts. After all this, we are now back to reevaluating the whole process. Who is running this show and, unless there is an economic downturn, when are building costs going to be more favorable? If there is confusion about what is to be done with the new Civic Center, a clear vision and commitment to its construction is required. The city council needs to take leadership in this case and confirm its role as the guiding body of Fremont. Without a firm hand on the tiller of the City, equivocation will only result in more setbacks and costly vacillation. Pretty pictures of a new civic center are enticing, but are they real or just a shimmering mirage in the distance?

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