First published in the Sept. 17 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
The Civic District of downtown Burbank could see a $116.7 million overhaul over the next five years including the development of a new central library, affordable housing and other amenities.
On Tuesday, city planners presented reports to the City Council, illustrating plans for the Civic Center area. The council voted unanimously to create a reserve account for the project and transfer $10 million from existing infrastructure funding to the account.
The project encompasses three blocks of the city’s existing Civic Center space and could include a 65,000 square feet replacement of the Central Library, office spaces, three new housing developments totaling 475 units, 20% of which are proposed to be low-income households, in addition to 15,000 square feet of commercial space, parking and other infrastructure improvements.
“This will support Burbank’s ability to receive grant funding from the state of California for the project and potentially other sources,” said Library Services Director Elizabeth Goldman.
Moving funds into the reserve account does not mean that the council has authorized staff to spend additional funds — this move simply proves to the state that Burbank possesses the funds, making it easier to receive matching state grants for the project.
“The Civic Center project will enhance the quality of life for the whole community and create new live-work-play opportunities for the downtown area,” Goldman said.
The estimated cost of the project is $116.7 million.
The city first identified the need to renovate the Central Library in plans dating back to the 1980s. The library’s only significant remodels were done in 1992, with new carpet and paint.
In 2003, Measure L was approved by more than two-thirds of Burbank voters to fund library renovations contingent on securing state matching funds, which were never successfully obtained. However, in 2018, Burbank voters revived hopes for a new library when they approved Measure P. This measure establishes an ongoing tax-based revenue stream and sets aside 50% of funds for infrastructure improvement programs into Burbank’s infrastructure fund, Fund 534.
The $10 million that the council recently approved to reserve for the Civic Center will come from Fund 534’s approximately $15 million balance.
“It’s important to note that nothing has been designed yet,” Goldman said. “This is a conceptual plan that was developed to help staff assess how to make the project viable. We’re not asking the council to approve the project tonight.”
Councilman Nick Schultz encouraged planning staff to look into increasing the 20% of affordable housing units to a larger allocation.
“I think we are sitting on a gold mine here. We have high-value land and a rare opportunity to have more affordable units than we could otherwise in approving a project. I’d like to see how many affordable units we can extract out of that,” Schultz said.
“That should be housing earmarked for our teachers, our firefighters and our police officers. [Allocating] 20% respectfully just isn’t very much. I think we can do better,” he said.
Recently, the City Council directed staff to pursue financing options for the construction of the replacement library.
The city is considering the use of a private-public partnership financing model, or P3 model, to shoulder the costs of development. The P3 is a long-term agreement between Burbank and a selected private developer that will finance the Civic Center project up-front, and will help to operate the center into the future. The private partner is paid back by the taxpayers and by any revenue streams created by the project over the course of the P3 contract.
“Financing and constructing a $116 million project on our own would present challenges, but it opens up the possibility of using the P3 delivery model which is generally applied to projects of $100 million or more,” Goldman said.
“The [P3] model increases the likelihood that these buildings and spaces are maintained in order to support needs for generations,” she said.
City planning staff will conduct further public outreach and technical studies regarding the Civic Center concept throughout the design process and will report back to the City Council in spring 2023 for approval to begin the proposal processes with private developers. Construction of the Civic Center is expected to be completed by 2027.