In a late addition to an expected bond proposal Tuesday, Tacoma’s City Council authorized city staff members to pursue $9.4 million in federal stimulus bonds that could help the city build a new modular parking garage next to the Tacoma Dome.
But some council members made it clear they’ll need answers to a host of questions before they ultimately decide whether to support the project. The city also must first beat out other local governments competing for the special bonds.
“This is just the authorization to apply” for the bonds, Councilman David Boe said. “So we’ll have time to look at this (project) further.”
The city’s pursuit of the right to sell the stimulus bonds for Dome parking was a late addition to a previously arranged proposal seeking authorization for up to $72 million in bond sales to cover needed city equipment and vehicle purchases. Council members were set to authorize that bond issue Tuesday as a way to help City Manager Eric Anderson draft a balanced 2011-12 budget proposal by month’s end.
The addition of $9 million in bond-selling capacity for the Dome parking project emerged during the council’s study session Tuesday – just a few hours before the council was to vote on the measure.
“I feel like I’m making a $9 million decision on the fly,” Councilman Jake Fey complained.
Anderson and his staff said they had no choice but to move quickly to take advantage of a rare opportunity. “The state notified us very recently that these funds were available,” Anderson said.
Still, the concerns of Fey and others led to a hastily prepared staff presentation to some council members before Tuesday night’s meeting.
State commerce officials only recently announced that $8 million to $20 million of federally subsidized Build America bonds previously awarded to local governments had not been used, and so would become available through a first-come, first-serve competitive application process, said Elly Walkowiak, a city economic development project manager. The state requested proposals Sept. 1, forcing the city to act quickly, she said.
“Our goal was to be the first community in the state to get an application in,” Walkowiak said.
Among eligibility criteria, projects had to be ready to begin work, with bonds issued by year’s end. City staffers considered other projects, she said, but chose the Dome parking garage because of need, readiness and its dedicated funding source – Dome event parking fees – would be readily available to pay bond debt.
While the council unanimously authorized the city’s application to move forward, several members expressed concerns. Among them were the garage’s aesthetics, the lack of consultation with neighborhood groups and LeMay officials, and the few jobs – an estimated 20 to 30 – to be created by the project.
Boe noted the city should be pursuing a comprehensive study of Dome District parking needs over direct decision-making.
Bond winners will be announced next month.