Long Beach: City (Finally) Releases Public-Private RFQ for New Civic Center

City of Long Beach RFQ Civic Center Project by Damien Newton

Following years of discussions and revisionist meetings amongst architects and historians, Long Beach released a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) soliciting project teams to renovate the city’s dilapidated civic center complex.

Photo: City of Long Beach

The public-private project–spanning almost 16 acres–seems to have a larger scope than what had been previously discussed in 2007 after studies concluded that the current brutalist-style City Hall structure held significant seismic deficiencies. Many, including a host of architects last year, wanted to approach the project with finances in mind; in other words, retrofit the building for instead of throwing down a large chunk of change for a full renovation.

It appears the latter is the preferred choice now, with the Don Gibb’s structure not only exorbitantly more expensive to retrofit in current dollars–$170 million compared to the projected $82 million back in 2007–but functionally obsolete since it lacks the proper space to hold the city’s employees. The city pays $2.13 million every year alone for off-site leases to house additional employees.

2nd District Councilmember Suja Lowenthal–a longtime advocate for reinventing what she called “the public living room”–was forward with her assertion about the center following the release of the RFQ: “Quite frankly, our Civic Center design lacks human scale, is difficult to access and does little to assert the importance and value of the public realm. This project is worth considering because a new Civic Center would emphasize a mixed-use, walkable environment that is more compatible with the existing urban fabric and small block development of the Downtown core.”

The project will be a warm welcome for downtown residents who find the space plagued by a large homeless presence and a seemingly absent civic engagement with people.

previously discussed the two major failings of Gibbs’s Civic Center: its design and its lack of activity. And the city’s bold move to put forth this RFQ is recognition of this.

After all, we’re talking about the possibilities of a space which is supposed to engage citizens–and engagement cannot be enacted through cold, monotonous spaces. Brutalist architecture specifically does anything but engage: it is deeply uninviting, with a singular, 15-story monument dedicated to power standing 248 feet tall directly in the center.

The main library, hidden partly underground and roofed with gardens that not only caused massive leaks but are now nonexistent since Gibbs failed to design a drainage system, lacks visibility on all levels. Many residents don’t even know of its existence and, from the street, looks like dirt berms that are always in a state of pardon-our-dust.

And the last most important chunk of this project, the 5-acre Lincoln Park, is nothing short of a nuisance. Given its detachment from the Civic Center–concrete berms and vehicular ramps make it seem like it was thrown into the design mix last second: Oh, look, some park space!–the space does little more than invite crime, trash, and a massive amount of loiterers.

If done correctly, these issues could all be a thing of the past and Long Beach might have a civic center that actually engages civic activity on top of reflecting the larger parts of what makes Long Beach Long Beach.