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May 11, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Developer proposes to build police headquarters Developer proposes to build police headquarters (May 11, 2005)

City agrees to study idea of new facility on Gilman Street

by Bill D'Agostino

The City of Palo Alto could let local real estate developer Chop Keenan build its long-desired, updated police headquarters through a possible partnership lauded by City Council members but one that could force the popular farmers' market to move.

On Monday night, the council voted to have its staff study the new proposal's pros and cons during the next few months.

The new building would be located on Gilman Street, one block from City Hall. The property in question is a combination of parcels owned by the city and by Keenan; they are currently mostly parking lots.

The developer would construct the new headquarters and then sell it and the land to the city.

"I hear some people talking about Mr. Keenan's motivation," Councilman Vic Ojakian said. "I'll be one of those people who just thanks him. Because he happens to be a native son of Palo Alto, and I'll assume that his motivations are honorable."

Under the plan, additional parking might be constructed on a city-owned piece of land across the street. That parcel is currently a parking lot that serves as the home of the city's farmer's market, so the proposal could force the weekend bazaar to relocate.

By agreeing to study the developer's proposal, the council halted an earlier plan to redesign the police headquarters on the site of the existing one, which is attached to the back of City Hall. The city had already begun creating conceptual designs for that proposal, Police Chief Lynne Johnson said.

Council members and the police chief praised the potential benefits of the new proposal.

Building the headquarters at the proposed property on Gilman Street would expand the building to 60,000 square feet. Because of the limitations of the City Hall property, the earlier proposal could only have been 50,000 square feet. That would have required the city to lease another building to store evidence and would have cost the city $1 million a year, according to a memo from three council members.

Having Keenan build the headquarters would also be cheaper. He can build it for $30 to $40 million, rather than $40 to $50 million, since he would not have to follow strict guidelines on securing contracts like the city does, according to the police chief.

According to the memo, moving the police headquarters from its current location would have another benefit -- the city would not have to find a temporary home for the police department and the communications center that takes 911 calls during the construction.

"I think it's very exciting," Johnson said. "I really applaud Chop Keenan for stepping forward with the idea."

Councilman Bern Beecham also pointed out that by moving the police department to a new building, other city facilities could be moved to the current headquarters, saving the city money on rent.

The council agreed 8-1 to have the city staff study the proposal. Councilwoman Hillary Freeman dissented, wanting the city to open the process up to other developers that might be interested in partnering with the city. City Manager Frank Benest said "you can bet your life" that other developers know the city's interest in building a new police headquarters.

In the next few months, city staff will analyze the proposal and come up with a recommendation. City Auditor Sharon Erickson will also study the proposal, including a look at the potential benefit for the developer.

There is no money in the city's budget to build the new headquarters. For the project to move forward, the city would need to find a new source of funding. That will also be studied during the next few months.

The council will review the analysis before it takes its summer vacation in August.

The city has been looking for a plan and a location for a new police headquarters for a number of years. The current facility, which is more than 30 years old, has many serious inadequacies -- it's too small, it's not seismically sound and it lacks proper ventilation.

"It's truly pathetic," Vice Mayor Judy Kleinberg said.

The developer's new proposal came forward as the city was studying a plan to move the headquarters to city-owned land near California Avenue. Local merchants opposed that idea, forcing the council to scrap it.

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at bdagostino@paweekly.com.


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