Virginia Beach City Council to consider moving City Hall to Town Center

Virginia Beach Town Center (Judah Taylor/Southside Daily)
Virginia Beach Town Center (Judah Taylor/Southside Daily)

City management is exploring the idea of building a new City Hall at Town Center, potentially through a public-private partnership, as it researches what to do with Virginia Beach’s aging municipal headquarters.

The move, if it were to happen, would come years from now and allow the city to transition from its current building — said by city management to have “significant deficiencies” — into a modern facility without using a temporary space.

An inter-office memorandum prepared Friday by Public Works Director  Phil Davenport at City Manager Dave Hansen’s request produced a rough estimate of $48.6 million to design and construct a 140,000-square-foot City Hall at Town Center. Alternatively, the city could have a private firm design, construct and own the building, and lease it back to the city at a cost of about $3.99 million annually, according to the memo.

A public-private project featuring the city as the anchor tenant of a new building at Town Center would likely require the city to buy a $14 million parking garage for it, Davenport wrote.

Two other options under review would keep City Hall at the municipal center at Nimmo Parkway and Princess Anne Road, near Virginia Beach’s more rural southern half. Those involve moving staff to temporary offices while the old structure is renovated, or building a new City Hall nearby.

“We are a ways from entering a final decision stage,” Hansen wrote in an email to Southside Daily when asked about the memo.  “My intent is to inform our leadership that our current building is entering a functionally failed state, that the solution will require significant resourcing and planning, and that it will disrupt the regimen of the Council.”

Mayor Will Sessoms said Monday he did not know of the current building’s issues until reading the staff memo. He said he is glad staff presented the problems and potential solutions to the council simultaneously.

“We need to start thinking about what we’re going to do,” Sessoms said. “And this is going to give us a chance to have some real good discussion about it.”

The current City Hall is 47 years old. It lacks adequate space for staff, is tainted with asbestos on every floor and has electrical and air systems that are outdated and undersized, according to Davenport’s memo.

Virginia Beach City Hall (Courtesy of vbgov.com.)
Virginia Beach City Hall (Courtesy of vbgov.com.)

Fixing those issues will require the entire building to be vacated, Davenport wrote, because it is not possible to isolate floors for renovation because of the design of the heating, ventilating and air conditioning system.

Renovation would require city staff to move to a temporary space for years, which would be “inefficient and inconvenient” and “very disruptive,” Davenport wrote.

The money used to erect, furnish, maintain, occupy and then demolish such a temporary space would be “essentially wasted” and add significant cost to a City Hall renovation project, Davenport wrote. He did not give an estimate for that course of action in the report.

Building a new 140,000 square-foot City Hall at the municipal center would cost roughly $44 million, slightly less than the $48.6 million required to build one at Town Center, according to Davenport’s memo. In either case, it would cost another $4 million to furnish the building and another $2 million in moving expenses, according to the estimates.

Either move would more than double space available at City Hall and allow a reshuffling of other scattered city departments.

The memo said the Town Center move would grant the public greater access to city leadership and services.

“The center of commerce would become the center of government,” Davenport wrote of that idea, noting that residents could visit Town Center instead of the municipal center for reasons such as paying water bills, registering to vote, paying taxes and making other transactions.

“A Town Center location would also provide greater access to public transportation for City employees and the public. A City Hall located in close proximity to a light rail station could enhance ridership and would provide another public transportation alternative to City employees and citizens doing business at City Hall. Light rail would connect the city halls of the two largest cities in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” Davenport wrote.

There would also be advantages to leasing that space, he wrote. Allowing a private company to design, construct and own the building would mean the city could avoid the estimated $48.6 million construction cost, although its estimated lease payments would exceed the city’s estimated annual debt payments if it were to build the structure itself.

Annual lease payments to a company that owned the City Hall building would be $250,000 more than what the city would pay to lenders if it took out that debt to build and own the structure itself, Davenport wrote. The company would likely lease out other areas of such a structure.

“A full service lease would also eliminate any requirement for separately funding building operations, maintenance and custodial services,” Davenport wrote, adding a move under that avenue would “not count against the city’s debt indicators.”

The City Council is expected to weigh in on the proposal later this week during its annual retreat, after which staff will “conduct a detailed planning study” for whichever plan is selected. Hansen will request funds to perform that study in next year’s budget.

Have a story idea or news tip? Contact City Hall reporter Judah Taylor at Judah@SouthsideDaily.com or 757-490-2750.

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