Denton City Council members agreed Monday that slow-walking their decisions about historic City Hall West could cost more in the long run and that it was time to step up the pace.
Last year, a 24-member citizens committee recommended a $6.6 million restoration and renovation plan for the building. Assistant City Manager Sara Hensley said construction prices are rising 9.6% annually, and the plan could cost $8.5 million by the time the work is done.
Council member Keely Briggs said the building deserves to be restored and that council members shouldn’t delay any longer.
“It’s not doing any good sitting empty and withering away,” Briggs said.
Council member John Ryan, who sat on the committee, said there’s broad agreement that the building’s significant spaces — the auditorium and grand staircase, for example — should be restored to their original condition.
But during the committee’s meetings and following, some individuals and groups have skirmished over who would ultimately occupy any restored or repurposed parts of the building. Several council members restated those interests, from arts to community service to veterans groups, but all agreed that settling that policy question didn’t need to hold up restoration any longer.
Council member Paul Meltzer relayed three questions he was hearing from constituents that he wanted better answers for.
Some residents wanted to know why the renovation was not part of the upcoming $221.5 million bond package. Denton voters will decide on road, public safety, arts and parkland projects on Nov. 5.
Mayor Chris Watts said that although there had been extensive community discussions about City Hall West renovations, city leaders didn’t have a complete construction plan to bring to the voters.
Denton has run into trouble before with past bond projects that cost far more than what was on the ballot for a bond election.
Some residents also wanted to know why the City Council just agreed to spend about $10 million to buy and renovate the property at 401 N. Elm St. for city offices, Meltzer said.
City Manager Todd Hileman said Development Services and other departments outgrew the space in City Hall West. Those departments were moved to leased office space downtown and will move into the Elm Street building once renovations are complete.
Meltzer said he also wanted to learn more about whether the city can make use of state and federal tax credits for the renovation. Hensley said the project will be large enough, but she would have to do more research to get specific answers on how the project might qualify.
City Hall West, a 1927 Spanish Colonial Revival-style building, is both a local and state historic landmark.
Hensley suggested that the City Council could issue a request for information to see whether a community group or business could help develop that plan, like something the city of Tacoma, Washington, did for its historic city hall.
Council member Deb Armintor said that would likely take more time to seek those proposals, a sentiment that several other council members echoed.
“I’m not against a public-private partnership, but why are we starting there?” Armintor said. “I would like to explore what it would take to fund it publicly.
“And I’m not saying we need to fund it all,” Armintor added. “But I’m really committed to the work that the committee put in. Once it’s [the renovation] done, I want it to be recognizable to the committee that it was what we decided on.”
Watts directed the city staff to schedule another work session soon that takes up the committee’s recommendations and the council’s funding options.