RALEIGH — After several false starts, Raleigh officials are moving forward with plans to build a 15-story public safety center next to City Hall.
This week officials began soliciting bids from architects and design firms for the Clarence E. Lightner Public Safety Center at the northwest corner of Hargett and McDowell streets. The building, which is being named in honor of the city's first and only African-American mayor, will overlook Nash Square.
"It's a major project that really will allow our police and fire to work more closely," Mayor Charles Meeker said Friday.
The center will be the administrative headquarters for both the police and fire departments, as well as the home of the city's Emergency Communications Center.
The 260,000-square-foot center is the latest in a string of major public infrastructure projects planned for the area just west of Fayetteville Street.
In a joint venture with a private developer, Wake County plans to build a nine-level parking deck nearby at McDowell and Davie streets. The parking deck is designed to service a new Justice Center, to be built by 2012, at the corner of Salisbury and Martin streets.
The City Council approved the location of the Lightner Center in May. The council has yet to determine how it will pay for the project, which will require the existing downtown police headquarters to be razed.
In recent years Raleigh has used certificates of participation -- a method of borrowing that circumvents public referendums -- to pay for most major infrastructure projects. City Manager Russell Allen declined to speculate on how much the building might cost. The city hopes to have estimates in hand by next spring.
The city plans to make the center a green building.
Costs a concern
Based on current office construction costs, the cost of the tower could easily exceed $100 million, especially considering it will need to satisfy the high-tech needs of police and fire officials.
The city will also have to deal with rising construction costs. In the past five years, Triangle steel prices have jumped at least 66 percent, construction labor has risen at least 16 percent, and gasoline prices have more than doubled.
City officials settled on the McDowell site after spending at least two years unsuccessfully trying to get the state to build a joint facility and parking deck along Blount Street near the governor's mansion.
The Lightner Center would be the largest expansion of city office space since the $8 million purchase of One Exchange Plaza along Fayetteville Street in 2003.
Fire department administrators are now located in the Station 1 Firehouse on South Dawson Street and in a city-owned building on Martin Street. The Emergency Communications Center is located in the basement of City Hall.
Allen said the city has yet to determine where police staff will be temporarily relocated while the building is being constructed. The number of employees at police headquarters dropped dramatically after the department divided the city into six districts in 2002 and placed officers and commanders in each.
Allen said it's too early to say whether the city would lease any space in the new building.
The project does not call for any additional parking to be built, which Allen admitted could eventually be an issue.
"We'll still just have to live with inadequate parking," he said.
Staff writer David Bracken can be reached at 829-4548 or firstname.lastname@example.org.