In a very complicated financial set of maneuvers, the Newport City Council has come up with a way to build the new Newport Aquatic Center by leaning more on the city’s tourism room tax dollars than on the city’s general fund to get it built. The council Monday night awarded the bid to build the over $9 million dollar facility to Pavilion Construction.
City Manager Spencer Nebel easily convinced the council to push the ball across the goal line based on the fact if the city backed away from the project, due to it costing more than imagined, the city would still have to pay out over a million and a half dollars in financial give backs to investors who bought the bonds and who would therefore not receive any interest to show for their investment.
After a lot of back and forth, and slimming the project down slightly, it was also mentioned that by closely monitoring of the project and using lots of value engineering some of those deductions could conceivably still be included. But it’s too early to tell at this point.
The big breakthrough was City Councilor David Allen’s game-changing suggestion that since the new pool will bring many more statewide swim teams to the Newport as well as other youth swim meets, it’s no stretch at all to tap into the city’s tourism room tax fund to fill the gaps while easing pressure on the city’s general fund. Tourism funds have been coming in at levels in excess of official predictions so the tourism advertising and marketing funds will still be quite adequate despite some being diverted to the pool project. The council reasoned that swim meets are new tourists – and when they come many of them stay at least one night – often more – and so for that reason alone the project qualifies to benefit from those funds.
City Public Works Director Tim Gross reminded the council that such a big project still has potential for cost savings and that they shouldn’t be surprised if the costs come in under budget which gives the chances for “add ons” to materialize. But again, that will become clearer farther down the construction time line. Features like an enclosed spectators’ entrance, a hydro spa and current channel have all been dubbed as expendable to keep the project costs manageable. The spectator entrance and the spa can be added later but not the current channel.
But the bottom line is the the pool is being built but it will cost more money. However the city can handle it by some city funds around in a strategic, time sensitive way. And it’ll take roughly a year and a half to build.
Sprucing up the downtown, the Highway 20 corridor and giving a face lift to Agate Beach
The city council gave the green light to establish two new urban renewal districts in the downtown, Highway 20 corridor and Agate Beach area to fix roads, reclaim the downtown by improving traffic circulation, store fronts, general cityscape improvements, water and sewer lines. The downtown district will reach out and include the Port of Newport’s International Terminal and the Hall property that abutts the big LNG tank on McLean Point. Lots of stormwater work to be done on that part of the Bay Road.
One thing that several members of the public complained about was the plan lacking a firm commitment to pledge full city support to help provide more affordable housing for lower income families. One housing advocate said that urban renewal is increasingly being used to create more affordable housing for those priced out of the housing market.
Final adoption of the plan is expected at the council’s October 5th meeting.
City Council moves ahead on replacing the town’s upper dam on Big Creek
The Newport City Council went along with staff’s recommendation that the town’s drinking water supply dams on Big Creek Road be replaced. But finding the money for the over $50 million upgrade of a roller compacted concrete dam will be quite a chore. Newport is going to have rely somewhat on big grants to get the lower dam removed and the upper dam removed as well while installing its concrete replacement just downstream from the upper dam.
Right now nobody’s going to be turning any dirt up there. First they have to get the final plans in hand along with the money to get it built. And that may take some time, but hopefully not too much time because Newport’s problem dams are rated as 2nd and 3rd most dangerous water reservoirs in the state.
What’s in the crystal ball for Newport’s future?
And the council gave a big thumbs up to a group of citizens who helped put together a set of visions for Newport’s future. Headed by local author Carla Perry, the group charted the way forward on what should rightly be in Newport’s future to make it more livable, welcoming to those of all incomes, staying serious about economic development, while preserving the rock-steady charm of the region. The council thanked the visioning group and said the work has just begun to achieve the goals. The term “Labor of Love” comes to mind.