Santa Fe to Build New $50M Civic Center

The city of Santa Fe received only one bid to build the downtown civic center Thursday, but that bid came in about $6 million less than one submitted earlier this year to construct the 72,000 square-foot building.

The Public Works Department will present the $49.8 million bid submitted by Santa Fe-based Cameron Swinerton LLC to the City Council on Wednesday for a possible vote.

If the council approves the bid, construction could begin as early as mid-November, with completion expected 19 months later, said Frank Archuleta, community facilities manager for the city.

"Saving money is a good thing, especially on a project as large as the civic center," said Councilor Matthew Ortiz.

The Cameron Swinerton bid includes 512 underground parking spaces. The council in August rejected a bid from Hensel Phelps Construction of Santa Fe to either build the center with 512 spaces for $55.9 million or with half the parking for $49.2 million.

"That's what chafed everyone before -- getting so much less (parking) for so much more (money)," Councilor Patti Bushee said.

After rejecting the Hensel Phelps contract, the council put the project out to bid even though city staff told councilors they might not get a better price.

"The council took a chance and we won," Councilor Karen Heldmeyer said.

Last year, the council adopted a $55 million budget for the project that would be paid through city lodgers taxes. Of that, $42 million was earmarked for construction costs, while the balance would pay for design work, furnishings, engineering, office space for dislocated workers and myriad of other associated expenses.

The council will have to decide where the additional $7.8 million to pay the Cameron Swinerton bid will come from, if the contract is approved. The council will likely consider issuing capital-improvement bonds to cover the gap between the construction budget and the Cameron Swinerton bid, said Kathryn Raveling, the city finance director. The bonds would be secured by city gross-receipts-tax revenue but paid back with lodgers taxes.

"Bonds people like gross-receipts tax because they're safe and secure," Raveling said. "That's why we secure a lot of things with gross-receipts tax even though we don't ever intend to use them to pay the bond back."

Elected officials have long said they would use lodgers taxes -- paid by tourists and visitors -- instead of the gross-receipts tax, which funds most vital municipal services.

"It's like using your father's security to get yourself a loan because he has better credit than you do," Raveling said. "You intend to pay it back, but you're using your dad's security."

Despite receiving only one bid for a second time, at least three firms were interested in bidding on the project until "the 11th hour," said Archuleta, who is managing the project for the city. That competition, Archuleta believes, led to a lower bid.

More than 100 firms nationwide were contacted about the project when it was offered a second time, Archuleta said.

Cameron Swinerton LLC has worked with the city on other projects, Archuleta said, including the south-side library and the senior center on Alto Street.