City Council authorizes $4.9M budget increase for Horton Plaza park project

SAN DIEGO - The San Diego City Council Tuesday unanimously authorized a $4.9 million budget increase for a stalled project to turn a section of Horton Plaza into a public park.

When the project began nearly two years ago with the demolition of the old Robinsons-May/Planet Hollywood building, city officials touted the park as a 37,000-square-foot public gathering place.

However, the boarded-up site on Broadway at Fourth Avenue has been inactive for many months because of haggling with state officials over whether money left over from the old redevelopment system could be used to pay for construction.

Problems with the property title and a substandard underground electrical box also caused delays.

"We had this amazing project that this council supported, but a funny thing happened on the way to the park -- redevelopment got ended," City Council President Todd Gloria said. "That occurred and the economy came back, so costs were higher."

Eric Thies, who owns a building in the Gaslamp Quarter, "Everybody wants to see this done."
 
Gary Smith with the San Diego Downtown Residents Group said, "The railroad quiet zone took 12 years. The county administration park took 10 years. It's life in San Diego."

Officials with the City Attorney's Office believe San Diego has a strong case to use redevelopment funds for the project.

The state Department of Finance has twice said the park project is an enforceable obligation for former redevelopment funding, but that was at a lower cost, Deputy City Attorney Kevin Reisch told the council members.

The Department of Finance will have 45 days to consider the issue. If state officials say no, then there could be a free-for-all of litigation, according to Reisch.

A representative of Westfield, which owns and operates Horton Plaza, said the company has already spent a significant amount of money on the project and expects to have a park next year in accordance with its agreement with the city.

The City Council in February authorized design work to restart. Tuesday's action approved a $14.5 million bid from a new contractor, Echo Pacific, which includes a 10 percent contingency and other price hikes that would bring the total construction cost to $16.9 million.

Another $750,000 was authorized on top of that figure to handle future maintenance issues.

If the state gives the go-ahead, construction could begin in November and take about one year, according to Daniel Kay, a senior project manager with Civic San Diego, the city's development arm.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer said, "My commitment is that this park will be completed. It's just too important. We're going to get it done."

If that does not happen, the city may sue or be forced to find additional money elsewhere, including donations or downsizing the project.

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