WARNER ROBINS -- A Warner Robins development board officially gave a new police headquarters project the go-ahead Monday, though at least three obstacles remain.
After a special presentation in City Council chambers, the Redevelopment Agency board unanimously passed a resolution that stated work on the Law Enforcement Center would begin immediately, the project would be completed within 12 months and it would cost a maximum of nearly $7 million.
Meanwhile, the board must still relocate a business at the development site, come up with $3 million for the project and receive a judge’s order for the final needed parcel.
“We’re just the piece that put the additional pieces together, but the funding -- that has to be done by council,” said Gary Lee, the director of the Redevelopment Agency.
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Project moves forward
The Law Enforcement Center has been discussed for at least six years. The proposed location was moved three times before City Council decided last year to buy land along Watson Boulevard between North First and North Third streets.
The project gained traction since the RDA board changed hands in April, despite concerns it would stall. The new board has redesigned the building, approved a survey of the land’s current conditions, selected building materials and cut a check for the final parcel needed. City Council has closed Second Street, which will be paved over during construction.
“They did a good job. They’re moving forward,” Councilman Paul Shealy said of the new board. “I can’t say that the old RDA board (made up of mayor and council) wouldn’t have moved forward in just as much time, but it just got to the point where the mayor and council were bumping heads about certain things.”
The new design features a square-shaped building with one curved notch in the corner where the front entrance will face the corner of Watson Boulevard and North First Street. The 40,500 square-foot building includes space for all divisions of the Warner Robins Police Department and other police operations.
Public parking would be accessed from North First Street, and police would access a secured parking lot from Marshall Avenue.
The entire project would utilize about half of the five acres purchased for it.
“There’s two and a half acres left for any infrastructure that the city may envision for development in the future,” said Jim Mehserle of JMA Architecture, the project’s architect.
Lee said no projects are currently planned for the remaining land.
“It sends a message,” Mayor Chuck Shaheen said of the project design in a phone interview. “It’s going to help economic development on Front Street on the base side of town.”
Front Street is an old nickname for North First Street, which is in an area many consider the gateway to the city.
Shaheen and four councilmen attended Monday’s Redevelopment Agency board meeting, but the entire City Council is expected to receive an official presentation at Thursday’s pre-council meeting.
“We’ve already gone to them individually before (Monday’s meeting), and they had 100 percent approval,” Lee said.
More funding needed
City Council is not required to approve the plans for the police headquarters. However, it is responsible for funding the project.
The RDA board set the project’s budget at a maximum of $6.98 million. It also ordered construction company International City Builders to begin bidding for materials and labor.
“One of the next hurdles that we have to get over is to find the funding for the project,” said Bill Douglass, the RDA board chairman.
There is about $3.9 million left in a $5 million fund earmarked from a 2006 special purpose local option sales tax. The current and previous boards spent $1.1 million on land acquisition and at least two drafted designs from JMA Architecture.
Shaheen said City Council has not reviewed funding options yet, though he would not be opposed to bonds.
“I’ll let the RDA present that to council, and then council will decide what they want to do,” Shaheen said.
Councilmen have known they eventually would have to locate more funds, Councilman Bob Wilbanks said. Shealy said City Council has “been taking it one step at a time with that project” and is now at the funding step.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” Shealy said. But “I don’t foresee any problem with moving forward with (the project.)”
Lee said the current funds will “take us to the end of the year,” but he did not know how far along the project will get before funds are depleted.
“We’ve got enough to start. It’ll take us to when we get the additional funding for it,” Lee said.
In addition to funding, the RDA must hash out details on finalizing the acquisition of two of the 12 parcels.
The city is awaiting an official court order to acquire the last piece of land, the last step in a legal battle to forcibly remove the property owner. A Houston County Superior Court-appointed representative recommended two weeks ago that the city pay $79,000 for the land, which currently houses an abandoned building. City Attorney Jim Elliott said the city has tendered a check.
The board also must relocate Thrifty Car Rental, which currently operates from a parcel acquired for the police headquarters. Per a city agreement during the land acquisition, the city has to relocate the business or buy out the current lease.
Lee said Elliott is working on the legal logistics on the relocation. The board selected a final location last month on the east side of North First Street. But it hasn’t been determined where the building would go temporarily.
Douglass said the board hopes actual construction will begin in late October, and Thrifty must be moved from the spot now planned for the entrance of the new “gateway into the city.”
“Our work is not over, but we know where we’re going,” he said.
To contact writer Christina M. Wright, call 256-9685.