'This is a proud day'

After a years-long public debate, a battle at the ballot box and several lawsuits, Newport Beach city officials broke ground Tuesday on a new civic center on Avocado Avenue with an estimated cost of $128 million.

“Special places like this do not happen without vision and this project reflects the vision of our entire community as expressed at the ballot box and the thoughtful implementation of many people,” Mayor Keith Curry said at a small morning ceremony overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

Workers will spend the next six months moving 280,000 cubic yards of dirt onto the 16-acre site, City Manager Dave Kiff said.

Construction on a parking structure there is scheduled to begin in December. Work on the library addition, park and city hall is slated to begin in early 2011.

City officials anticipate that the project will be completed in late 2012.

Plans for the site include building a 99,800-square-foot city hall building, a 14.3-acre park and a 17,000-square-foot addition to the central library.

“This is a proud day for the city,” said Councilman Steve Rosansky, a longtime supporter of the civic center project and a member of the building committee.

The city, however, is embarking on the building project during a bad budget cycle.

Newport Beach faces a projected $1.5-million budget gap this fiscal year and an $8-million deficit next year.

Slumping tax revenues shouldn’t affect the project’s progress, Curry said Tuesday.

Some elements of the project, like a pedestrian bridge over San Miguel Drive, could be phased in to ease the strain on the city’s finances, he said.

“We will continue to monitor the situation and adjust plans accordingly,” Curry said.

An upside of building the city hall while the economy is still sluggish is that construction bids are coming in low, Rosansky said.

In February 2008, Newport Beach voters passed Measure B, which requires the city to build its next City Hall on the piece of city-owned land next to the library. Opponents of Measure B argued that city officials had promised to build a park on the land.

The contentious measure prompted Newport Beach conservationists Allan Beek to file several legal challenges, all of which failed.

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