ALPHARETTA, Ga. – City leaders are backing off any perception they plan to kill development of a community arts center.
Three days after directing its architect to develop less costly options for the Alpharetta Arts Center, city officials issued a statement Thursday clarifying their position on the project.
“A recent workshop item by the Alpharetta City Council regarding the budget for development of the new Alpharetta Arts Center may have caused some to question the city’s commitment to the project,” the statement read.
“To be clear, we remain committed to delivering to the public a new arts center that provides the quality and amenities that are outlined in the Alpharetta Arts Center Master Plan as presented to City Council on June 21, 2016.”
At the same time, city leaders note they are charged with ensuring tax dollars are used wisely making every effort to contain costs “while remaining as true as possible to the proposed scope of services and budget estimates.”
Cost overruns and a tight fiscal budget have spurred city officials to rethink plans for the center, whose price tag has more than doubled to $3.1 million at last estimate.
At a workshop July 24, the City Council directed architects to draw up new estimates for the center and provide scaled-down versions for the building.
The facility was first proposed nearly three years ago when the city acquired the old library on Mayfield Road from Fulton County in a land swap.
Local voters approved a $1.5 million bond last year to convert the old library into an arts center. But the project has accumulated more expenses over the past eight months, bringing the total now to $3.1 million.
Architect Hank Houser told the council at the July 24 workshop that construction bids showed earlier estimates were off target, sometimes by tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Concrete work, for example, was estimated at $60,000, but bids for the work came in at $200,000.
Some of the discrepancies were attributed to climbing costs in materials and labor, he said. Also, closer examination of the old library building revealed flaws that would require more work than originally anticipated.
Mayor David Belle Isle questioned the cost overruns more than a month ago after the City Council had previously voted to fund $500,000 of the shortfall with funds from the hotel/motel tax.
The mayor has since guided the council to examine all the amenities more closely to see what residents will get for $1.5 million, $2.5 million or $3.1 million.
The arts center is one of a list of projects the city has been forced to re-examine.
Earlier this year, the City Council had voted to approve funding for construction of two parking decks west of Main Street for an estimated $6.6 million.
But once contractors began bidding the projects, cost estimates soared to around $9 million, forcing city officials to shelve one of the decks and expand the other by adding another level.
Moreover, Fulton County’s retrenchment of property assessments in June forced Alpharetta to revise downward its expected revenues for 2017 property taxes.
Councilman Donald Mitchell says he doesn’t want any backtracking on the arts center.
“If there’s one group of citizens in the city of Alpharetta that is marginalized, it’s the arts and its citizens who want a better arts program,” Mitchell said.
The arts center project was approved after public meetings attended by more than 300 residents, he said, and the City Council approved that plan, even after it became aware of cost overruns from earlier estimates.
“Six of us voted – the mayor was gone – and six of us voted to move forward with it,” Mitchell said. “We were fully aware of what the cost overruns were. We knew it would only get worse if we didn’t go ahead and build it and fit it for an arts center.”
Mitchell said the City Council never hesitates to fill in shortfalls for other projects, the pool at Wills Park, for example.
“If you’re a parent in our city, and your child wants to play baseball, or soccer, no problem, there’s plenty of programming for them,” he said.
“But if they want to participate in a wide range of arts programming, it’s very limited. And the location that we currently have is under the bottom of the court system in a basement at the farthest reaches of our city.”