November 30, 1995 - From the November, 1995 issue

Just the Facts, Ma’am: City Hall Renovation Gets the Third Degree

These comments reflect the personal opinions of Dan Rosenfeld, a Downtown office worker. Rosenfeld is also assets manager for the City of Los Angeles.


“FRIDAY: What if we sell City Hall? CITY HALL: Not easy. As an historic building I’m worth a negative $200 million.”

My name is Friday. I carry a badge. On that badge is a picture of a building. For more than 30 years, that badge and that building have inspired millions of television viewers to help us apprehend the bad and the ugly who prowl the streets of the City of Angels. 

When we heard the building had received a death threat, my partner, Gannon, and I decided to investigate. This is our story.

FRIDAY: Please state your full name and address. 

CITY HALL: Los Angeles City Hall, 200 North Spring Street, Los Angeles, California 

FRIDAY: Age? 

CITY HALL: 67 years. 

FRIDAY: Excuse the personal question, Ma'am, but there has been some confusion about your measurements. 

CITY HALL: No problem. The fact is, I have 970,000 gross square feet, but only about 450,000 net usable. 

GANNON: Ouch, that's 46 percent efficiency. 

FRIDAY: What's a modern building? 

GANNON: 85 percent or more. 

CITY HALL: Yes, but don't forget, I have all kinds of large, ceremonial meeting spaces and some very inefficient small floors upstairs. Look at it this way, I’ve got 246,000 usable square feet on fine floors in the low rise, 103,000 on six floors in the mid-rise, 73,000 on 17 floors in the tower and 28,000 in the basement. 

FRIDAY: So tell me why are you showing up in every political sniper's crosshairs?

CITY HALL Well, I need a $270 million face lift. And some reconstructive surgery. 

GANNON: Yeah, but this is confusing. What happened to the old $90 million and $150 million budgets? 

CITY HALL: The cost of doing the job completely, including seismic restoration, sprinkler installation, mechanical and electrical upgrades, interim relocation, tenant improvements, landscaping, signage and architectural finishes, has always been in the range of $270 million. The numbers that were published earlier were for certain portions of the work, usually seismic alone. 

FRIDAY: And then what happened? 

CITY HALL: Well, the Northridge Earthquake. It caused some changes in the seismic design, but most of the so-called "increases" have been attempts to decide what work should be included in the current scope and what should be done later.

FRIDAY: Such as? 

CITY HALL: Such as concluding that, if you are going to tear up a wall and a floor to install new structural supports, then maybe you ought to repaint and carpet afterwards. You know, the four most expensive words in the English language: "while we're at it ... " 

GANNON: I thought the most recent budget was $242 million? 

CITY HALL: That's true. That's the number proposed by the Board of Public Works. However, it doesn't include landscaping, graphics, architectural finishes and a few other costs. 

FRIDAY: So are you telling us that the cost to do you up completely is $300 per gross square foot and almost $600 per usable foot? 

CITY HALL: Yup, I'm afraid so. 

GANNON: Holy guacamole, that's outrageous! 

FRIDAY: Isn't it cheaper just to tear you down? 

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CITY HALL: I beg your pardon. 

FRIDAY: I said, isn't it cheaper just to tear you down? Tell the truth. 

CITY HALL: Yes, it would be cheaper. You could tear me down and replace me with a new building of 600,000 rentable square feet (450,000 usable with 75 percent efficiency). That would cost $200 to $250 per square foot, for a total of$ l 20 to $150 million, plus $50 million of interim relocation costs (which are about the same for every option) to produce a total cost of $170 to $200 million. Or you could buy an existing building for $100 to $150 per square foot  for a total of $110 to $140 million. Of course, you wouldn't have City Hall, you'd have some old office building with a Mayor and a City Council inside. Now compare that with our current budget of $270 million. Less the $35 million already spent, we have $235 million to go. Yes, we could replace City Hall for less than the cost of repairing it. 

FRIDAY: Wouldn't it be cheaper to lease? 

CITY HALL: That's a financing decision. It depends on interest rates. You should compare total capital costs—first figure out what you want and what it costs, then figure out how to pay for it. You can own or lease under any option. 

FRIDAY: What if we sell City Hall? 

CITY HALL: Not easy. As an historic building I'm worth a negative $200 million. That's my value after restoration as an office building less the cost of fixing me. As a "tear down," the costs of demolition would probably exceed my land value. Therefore, I have a negative net worth any way you look at it. So much for the glories of ownership in a falling market. 

FRIDAY: In other words, we'd have to pay someone to "buy" you? 

CITY HALL: Afraid so. 

GANNON: I've got an idea. Let's sell City Hall to a movie company and let them blow it up. It'll be a heck of a film and maybe we could get points! Then go buy some old warehouse and save a hundred million clams. That's a lotta cops or a lotta schools. Eighty-six 'er, Joe. 

FRIDAY: Whoa! Isn't there some way to reduce the cost? 

CITY HALL: Of course. You could change the specs, or you don't have to do all the work at once. Or you could eliminate a portion: let's say you close down the tower…  

GANNON: Or chop it off! Option Decapitation! Yahoo! 

FRIDAY: Shhh! So tell us, Ma'am, how do we decide what to do? 

CITY HALL: Well, how much have you got to spend? 

GANNON: Careful, Joe ... 

CITY HALL: We have $153million in voter-approved Proposition G Seismic Bonds, $22 million in other bonds, and $11 million in earned interest, a total of $186million available for the job. That leaves a gap of $84 million to do the entire project. We've applied to FEMA for $140 

million and expect to get most of that. If FEMA comes through, we can complete the project. If we receive less than the full amount from FEMA, we could drop or defer certain portions of work until funds are available. 

FRIDAY: But, tell me, why should we plunk down these kinds of pesos for an old lady like you? 

CITY HALL: I have a value that cannot be expressed in simple dollar terms. Democracy, like religion, is an idea and not a thing. It can't be seen or touched. Therefore, we need symbols, like flags and uniforms and Los Angeles City Hall, to convey to people, especially young people, the meaning and value of government.

FRIDAY: Heck of a speech. 

CITY HALL: I'm not finished. Our society requires us to make sacrifices for the good of the community, things like paying taxes, obeying laws, voting and registering for the draft. Every year, third graders from all over Los Angeles come here and form an impression about our government. Each one of them will soon decide whether to join or reject society. You want these kids to believe. That's where I come in. I am the cathedral of democracy and you need me today more than ever. 

FRIDAY: Thank you Ma'am. 

GANNON: Be careful. It's a jungle out there.

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