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Sun, Feb. 16

City scuttles garage, will pay M3 almost $800K<BR>

PRESCOTT –  Not only did the Prescott City Council sever its ties with its parking garage partner this week, but it also came up with the money to ensure that the relationship is truly over.

By a unanimous vote Tuesday, the council members agreed to pay M3 Companies about $795,000 for expenses the company has incurred in the development of the parking garage plans.

The total includes about $418,000 for the architectural design of the Prescott City Centre, $143,000 for the archaeological work that was necessary at the Granite Street site, and $70,000 for mechanical engineering costs.

Along with the $278,000 that the city has already spent on its own plans for the garage, that brings the total city expenses for the parking garage so far to more than $1 million.

The $795,000 will come out of the $5 million that the city currently has in its budget for the garage, reducing that number to about $4.2 million.

City officials have been adamant that the termination of the relationship with M3 will not end the city's pursuit of a downtown parking garage. They say the city will now look into a range of alternatives for getting the garage built.

And City Manager Steve Norwood maintained that the city would get some value out of the $795,000 in expenses.

"What we're doing with this arrangement is we're essentially buying (the plans and engineering work from M3)," Norwood told the council during his recommendation.

He said many of the expenses are for costs the city would incur regardless of the type of garage it ultimately builds. The archaeological work, for instance, was a requirement for any type of building at the Granite Street site.

After the meeting, Norwood maintained that the city should be able to use from 85 to 90 percent of the work that M3 did on the garage project. Ultimately, Norwood said, the purchase of the plans from M3 should bring down the cost of the parking garage that the city builds.

Much of the council discussion about the termination had obviously taken place during the several closed-door executive sessions that have occurred recently on the garage. As at previous public discussions about the possible termination of the garage plans, approval of the $795,000 expenditure generated little or no public debate from the council members.

Mayor Rowle Simmons simply pointed out that Tuesday's pact ended 39 months of work, and Councilman Steve Blair reiterated Norwood's point that the city would be buying the plans from M3.

Just prior to Tuesday's voting session, the council conducted another executive session to discuss the matter, capping off a number of earlier private discussions on the issue.

Since 2000, the city had been solidly behind the plans to partner with M3 on the Prescott City Centre, a project that would have combined a public parking garage with a privately owned residential component. M3 initially planned luxury apartments over the garage, but later changed to a condominium/hotel arrangement.

But in mid-August, Norwood recommended that the city sever its ties with M3 and move on to a different garage plan. He based his recommendation on new estimates that set the city's cost for the garage at more than $6 million.

In response, M3 pointed to the rising costs of concrete, steel and gasoline, and maintained that an "apples-to-apples" analysis of the two estimates showed that the new cost was not significantly higher than the old number.

Although there had been speculation in the community that the termination would ultimately end up in a lawsuit between the city and M3, both sides spoke Tuesday of wanting to resolve the matter quickly and move on.

M3 partner Bill Brownlee said after the meeting that the company had agreed to the pact that the council approved on Tuesday.

Although the $795,000 was "obviously less than the amount of costs the company has into the project," Brownlee said, "in light of the circumstances … this is as good a settlement as we could hope for."

Even so, Brownlee added: "I think it's unfortunate for the city, the downtown, and our company that this didn't come together. It was a great project."

In an earlier letter to the city, M3 had maintained that the company's expenses for the project had topped $1.1 million.

Norwood said after the council meeting that he plans to put together several options for getting a parking garage built in downtown Prescott, and take them to the council during the first week in October.

Although Norwood said one of the options likely would be the Prescott City Centre plans under a different developer, he expressed some doubt that the city would opt to retain the residential component. Another of the options likely would involve a return to the garage plans that the Architects Guild started for the city in 1999. The city abandoned those plans after the design was 30 percent complete, because the estimated cost exceeded its budget.

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