Long Beach: City Approves RFQ to Redesign ‘Functionally Obsolete’ Civic Center

"Civic Center, 1978. Photo courtesy of Wayne Thom."

Following an odd—albeit eventually retracted—closed meeting on February 4 discussing the Civic Center’s property, the City Council has moved forward in its quest to begin examining an entirely new civic center.

In the conclave, City Council was originally planning on whether to begin the process through a Request for Proposals to potentially construct an entirely new Civic Center in the area bounded by Broadway and Ocean, Pacific and Magnolia. Due to the fact that real estate could be involved, the city felt it necessary to make the meeting closed.

However, the following week, council approved 7-2 a Request for Qualifications that involves not just presenting new designs for the Civic Center, but also reexamine the seismic qualities of the original 1978 structures.

The Civic Center is essentially plagued by two major obstacles: its design and its lack of activity. The American Institute of Architects held two meetings last year–one historicalone revisionist–to discuss the issues of Don Gibb’s brutalist monument, including Gibbs himself. Gibbs was defiantly supportive of his work, ultimately waving a hand at the mention of a 2006 seismic study that called the entirety of his 15-story City Hall inefficient as well as the idea that his cold, austere design is unwelcoming.

That seismic study was, according to the City Manager’s office, the main reason they were bringing up the RFQ. Following Hurricane Katrina, municipal agencies examined their various structures to see if they met the FEMA 310 Tier 1 guidelines; Long Beach’s City Hall did not. In 2006, a Tier 2 study was conducted and determined that the core structure was sound but the concrete trusses were not.

To retrofit and upgrade the existing building would cost some $170 million, the City Manager’s office estimates—a far cry from Councilmember Dr. Suja Lowenthal’s previous $78 million estimate she provided at the initial AIA meeting. This, of course, follows design issues: more unusable square-footage than usable, large spaces that are inefficient sustainability-wise, its inability to house all employees and forcing the city to pay for off-site property leases…

“We can’t just let this meeting go unattended,” Assistant City Manager Suzanne Frick. “It’s basically functionally obsolete… This is a monolithic structure that is anti-pedestrian friendly in every way, shape, and form.”

While Gibbs can attempt to defend his design, facts speak for themselves: the space is absolutely desolate minus the handful of homeless men and women who gather at Lincoln Park. The library is continually faced with flood and leaking issues since Gibbs created a now-defunct rooftop garden on a flat space with no drainage system. Concrete pillars create vicious wind tunnels. Sunlight—metaphorically and often literally—rarely reaches the space.

The RFQ is an open invitation to local, national, and international development teams that entirely revise the center’s space.

“After reviewing RFQ responses and vetting questions and concerns related to the civic center, City Council will have an opportunity to request an RFP,” Lowenthal said. “However, before then I plan to co-host at least one community meeting with Vice Mayor Garcia and seek additional input from our local architects and engineers.”

That meeting has not been formally scheduled as of yet.


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