Santa Rosa hopes to replace asbestos-riddled City Hall
‘Riddled with asbestos” is not how anyone hopes to describe their city’s headquarters, but that blunt description of the crescent-shaped concrete complex on First Street comes from Santa Rosa itself as the city seeks private-sector expertise to help it build new space for its workers and replace City Hall with much-desired downtown housing.
City officials are courting consultants to advise Santa Rosa’s transition out of its current City Hall, a set of drab, disjointed buildings dating to the late 1960s. The city considers the current campus inefficient and in need of significant ongoing investment for maintenance — or total replacement.
Santa Rosa’s early vision calls for a new, taller apartment building or retail property on the site to put the land to better use, adding tax revenue and homes to a city desperately working to bolster its housing stock and improve its financial situation.
The current City Hall complex, part of which previously was used as a police station, houses about 250 employees in several gray, grooved concrete buildings set around a courtyard and on top of Santa Rosa Creek. Former Mayor Chris Coursey, for one, thought the city could do a lot better than its current downtown office hub.
“I’ve always thought it was one of the ugliest buildings in town,” he said, adding that he thought it was “a complete waste of space” and that there was a leak in the mayor’s office.
The city estimates it would cost roughly $3 million annually for maintenance the city is currently putting off.
Building a new City Hall — or sharing a government campus with Sonoma County, an idea that remains on the table — also would allow many city workers to go about their days without close proximity to asbestos, a known carcinogen.
City officials say they take precautions to avoid disturbing dormant asbestos, the presence of which has been known for decades, said Jason Nutt, director of transportation and public works.
“It’s pretty prevalent,” Nutt said.
The city has never analyzed how much asbestos mitigation would cost, but the bill would likely be significant, Nutt said.
Besides its asbestos problem, City Hall needs more than $20 million in capital projects and presents mobility challenges for people with disabilities, according to an advertisement for consultant applications the city posted late last week.
That cost, plus the annual $3 million for annual improvements, would push the city away from its goals of building new housing and bolstering budget reserves.
The city has set aside $350,000 to hire a consulting firm to study how to realize this vision, where it could be located, and how much redevelopment would cost.
Several representatives of consulting firms traveled to Santa Rosa or called in to a conference Tuesday morning where city officials showed off drone footage of the downtown area, identified the sites they had considered making available to developers, and took questions about process, scope and cost. City officials have emphasized their interest in a public-private partnership, or “P3,” in which a private developer building a new City Hall could take over the old site for new housing as part of the deal.
David Guhin, the assistant city manager, told potential consultants Tuesday morning that Santa Rosa wanted to gather a wealth of information before asking the City Council to make significant, specific decisions about redeveloping City Hall and other Santa Rosa-owned sites, such as a parking lot on Third Street and the downtown library building.