May 3, 2007 – Ryan Gierach
West Hollywood’s City Hall. Photo by Ryan Gierach.
He has been talking about it, hinting at its imminent arrival without bandying about figures and costs and scope, but Paul Arevalo has not been ready to announce his plans for his Make Over of the City of West Hollywood - until now.
West Hollywood’s City Manager plans no less than $125 million in expenditures over the next ten years to create over 650 parking spaces in three strategically located structures, a world-class library/community center, scores of thousands of sq ft of greenspace in our parks and a state of the art creative arts center featuring 200-seat retractable auditorium seating and a 99-seat black box theater.
Worried taxpayers take heart. “We can do this, all $125 million, without raising a single dime in new taxes,” Mr. Arevalo assured with justifiable pride in his fiscal stewardship of the town’s coffers.
Paul Arevalo told WeHoNews in an exclusive interview that the city had grown up and should act like it. “The city is maturing as an institution. In our adolescence we fought all forms of bureaucracy just to fight it. For example, we went to a paperless office at one point; we learned that going paperless meant going unaccountable, so we went back,” he said.
It can only be said that the city’s parks are barely adequate. Photo by Ryan Gierach.
“West Hollywood, for all the attention it gets from around the world, for all its importance to people around the world, has no world-class civic facility to boast of,” he said. “For our 25th anniversary as a city we’ll celebrate by breaking ground on a series of public facilities improvements that will give us those world-class community facilities.”
His pride is justified by the results of his and his financial team’s deft touch on budget issues. According to the City’s web site, Moody’s Investors Service gives the City a credit rating of Aaa for the debt issued, and the City has never defaulted on any payments.
In addition, the City’s financial team racks up award after award, including, most recently, its 13th-straight National Distinguished Budget Presentation Award.
Mr. Arevalo says, “We are fortunate to live in an affluent community where people are willing to step up to the plate and pay for services the residents need. That means we can do all of these projects just from the revenue we expect to come in from our current tax structure and capital fundraising campaigns.”
The big news, which merchants, restaurants and residents alike will greet with huzzahs and halleluiahs, is parking, lots of it. The plans, taken together, call for the addition of over 650 new hard parking spaces (that number expand several times when valets “stack” cars at night, according to Oscar Delgado, the City’s head of Parking) in three locations – at West Hollywood Park abutting the new library, topped off by tennis courts (333 new spots), at the City Hall expansion lot (132 net spots) and at Plummer Park, where ingenious placement of the parking underground expands that lot from approximately 80 to 180 parking spots.
A shot of the very successful Kings Road Parking lot in Mid Town WeHo. Photo by Ryan Gierach.
Because each of the lots will be accessible to the public, and at least one of the lots will be leased to valets at night, “the parking will begin to pay for itself almost immediately,” said Mr. Arevalo.
Oscar Delgado explained the approach being taken at the City Hall expansion lot. “At City Hall we’ll net 132 spaces by going up another floor of parking,” he said. “We’ll make it available to people in the neighborhood for overnight parking. It’ll be open to the public during the daytime; we’ll charge a nominal fee like we do at Kings Road.”
He also said that visitors to City Hall would be given validations for city hall business, making their parking there both easier and free. He also sung the praises of the design and its affects, or lack of them, on the immediate neighborhood. “The nice thing about it is the structure will be enclosed on three sides with the new one-stop community service center’s offices on the top floor, so it’ll be quiet,” he said.
As for how to develop a revenue stream from the extra 130 spaces, he said, “We toyed with the idea of putting valet parking there at night, but our meeting schedule goes into the night, it kind of precludes that. We might still do it, though,” he acceded.
Saying that “Planning events at Plummer Park has always been problematic because of a lack of parking,” Mr. Delgado segued the conversation over to Sam Baxter, head of facilities and maintenance for the city, who gave the presentation on Plummer Park, which included the most innovative solution to the city’s parking crunch – build it underneath the park.
Plummer Park’s entrance. Photo by Ryan Gierach.
“We’re going subterranean, moving it underground,” he said showing the preliminary drawings. “We’re planning on building about 180 spaces [to replace the 80 there are now] in one level underground. It will extend underneath the park some ways, up to where Fiesta Hall stands.”
He explained that the park designers could “pick up about 30,000 sq ft of green space that way,” he said, “and although this plan will be expensive, we can’t buy 30,ooo sq ft of green space anywhere in the city for any price.”
According to the team, this parking will serve the surrounding neighborhood, commercial, entertainment facilities and the offices that are there now or are being built soon. To do this, he said, “We’re keeping the entrance on Santa Monica Boulevard [at the mouth of Martel].
As the plans exist now, the parking will extend to underneath Fiesta Hall, where there will be an elevator and car drop off; there will also be an elevator placed at the Community Center/Tiny Tots Building and Play area behind the Center.
The most excitement, though, seemed reserved for what the team is calling a “creative arts center” at a renovated Fiesta Hall that will include a state of the art flat floor room for public meeting use, a retractable seat auditorium for 200 and a 99-seat black box theater.
West Hollywood Park. Photo by Ryan Gierach.
City Manager Arevalo said, “We’ve heard the need for a performance facility from the community, and we’ve developed a way to do it inside Fiesta Hall. We’ll have a multi-use, state-of-the-art black box stage and a performance stage for over 200 when we’re done with it all.”
Sam Baxter chimed in with details. “At Fiesta Hall we’re creating a multi-purpose creative art center to give maximum flexibility of the open space inside the hall. We’ll take it down to the shell, leaving the outside intact.”
Inside, he promised, things will look much different than they do now. “We’ll build a space that serves as a flat floor public meeting space for assemblies where we can set up tables and chairs,” he said. “We’ll also build a 150-200 retractable fixed seat theater. Those seats will be auditorium-style seating like they use in theaters now, just that they will retract and can be stored away.
That opens the possibility of creating yet another valuable performing space – a black box theater. “Since they are retractable,” he said, “they give us the ability to add a 99-seat black box theater to it. Of course, there will be all new lighting, acoustics, sound, etc. for that. It’ll be up to the minute.”
The overall plan for Plummer Park, he went on to describe, “is to move the hardscape, all the buildings and the play areas, from the center of the park,” he said, “to its outskirts. That gains us greenspace. Just demolishing the halls in the center of the park will create 14,000 sq ft of greenspace.”
The current West Hollywood Public Library. Photo by Ryan Gierach.
A valuable community resource, the Russian Language Library, will be moved out of its location there by the renovation, but Mr. Arevalo said, “We’ve been working with the Russian language library to find a place to relocate them; eventually, they’ll be in the library in the Russian Collection room.”
He stressed that the library was not a library alone, but that the structure would enhance facets of community life that cannot be easily discounted. He said, “The library will serve three main functions, as enhanced community meeting space and a respectable place to hold City Council meetings, of course as a library, but also as a holding for our West Hollywood History, Russian Language and LGBT collections. And the Friends of The Library will have office and retail space right at the front door,” he hastily added.
Turning attention to the City Hall project, Sam Baxter explained that there would be an 18,000 sq ft added to the parking rooftop in the form of a full community service center. “Call it a one stop shop for all your city needs,” he said. “Right now permits are on the second floor, so when you’re done up there you have to come downstairs to pay the cashier at the City Clerk. It takes a lot of ups and downs in our elevator to get anything done now.
“We’ll be placing all the ‘connected’ service counters in the front of the house so they will be in one place. You can get your parking needs, your permit needs, planning needs, everything you’ll need from the city, taken care of all in one place,” he said. “The support staff for those things will be in the ‘back of the house’ to come out and handle things.”
He said that expansion would relieve pressure inside the city hall offices now. “This will solve the space problems we have now in City Hall,” Mr. Baxter said. “With the community service center support staff leaving our current offices for the service center, we’ll be able to add essential conference rooms that we don’t have now and add some elbow room for the staff who are now in cubicles.”
An artist’s conception of the planned library for West Hollywood. Photo by Ryan Gierach.
Paul Arevalo added, “It’ll be open on Friday lights [the every other Fri. that City Hall closes except for a few services], too, so for departments like planning and special events, film permits and the like, it will expand hours and access by the public.”
The question hanging over the revelations of these multiple municipal masterpieces, despite the assurances it will cost the residents or businesses nothing more than they already pay in taxes, remains ‘How to pay for it all?’
Paul Arevalo said, “We have set up a portfolio to do this that includes a Capital Fundraising campaign for the library. We’ll be aggressively seeking grants for the various projects like historic preservation money for the renovation and transformation of Fiesta Hall. State funding for the library is still a possibility down the road.”
But those funds only scratch the surface of a $150 million note. Still, he and his crack finance team have a solid enough sounding plan. “I’m going to council with a proposal to carve off all the Transient and Occupancy Tax (TOT) from the three new hotels [two in the Sunset Millenium development and the James Hotel] coming online on the Sunset Strip in the next couple years to pledge toward this.”
In case anyone might wonder if that would be enough, he offered, “We project nearly $6 million a year in TOT from the three new hotels being built on the Strip. That can be leveraged into $25-30 million in debt capacity.” That makes a healthy start.
Another view of the proposed West Hollywood Library. Photo by Ryan Gierach.
He pointed out that the library fundraising had not yet started, and could be expected to do well. The Capital Campaign for the library will net $10 million easily,” he said. Add to that the fact that the city is in prime financial condition, “West Hollywood has built itself a $50 million reserve, up from $4 million 17 years ago when I came aboard,” he said.
“We’ve got a unique economic formula incomparable to any jurisdiction in the country,” Mr. Arevalo said, “and it’s fun to make the most of it and be able to use it to build a better quality of life for the residents, especially without having to ask them to pay for it.
“Look at the constituencies that will be served by these improvements,” he said. “Our main focus is to create as much green space as we can. By transforming an acre and a half into five acres
at West Hollywood Park and increasing green space in Plummer Park we benefit the entire city. And businesses will benefit from all the parking capacity we’re adding; it’ll mean more economic activity all around.”
The plan will be formally unveiled at its first commission hearing on May 9th at the Public Facilities Commission meeting taking place at 7:30 p.m. at the City Hall Community Conference Room, 8300 Santa Monica Boulevard.
Mr. Arevalo said, “Our first step is to set the plan before council for their approval and get the funding put into place. After that, groundbreaking could begin in 2009.”
He promised that the construction of the projects would not last long. “We’ll do it all at once; I’d rather have six months of pain than six years of agony,”
he said. “And with construction costs going up daily we need to act fast and quickly to keep a lid on things.”