Del Mar city officials, community members kick off civic center construction with demolition event


City officials and community members celebrated the destruction of Del Mar’s old city hall and the coming construction of a new civic center with a demolition kick-off event on June 11 at the dated facilities.

“Together today we are here to commemorate the end of one chapter in the city’s history and the beginning of a new chapter,” Mayor Sherryl Parks said. “We are gathering to acknowledge the decades of history that the old city hall has served our community, to celebrate moving forward and to acknowledge all those individuals in the past and present who have helped us make this day possible.”

After three years of working closely with the community on plans for a new civic center, every member of the Del Mar City Council took a turn at swinging a sledgehammer at the old city hall causing some of the bricks to fall with cheers from the crowd.

Demolition of the existing city hall is scheduled to take place in June and July, making way for new city facilities at 1050 Camino del Mar.

“This is tremendous,” Councilman Don Mosier said. “We’ve been working so long on the plans and building community support for this to get it started. This is the first physical action that starts the project. Hopefully, it’s going to be all downhill from here.”

The $17.8 million project includes an 8,722-square-foot city hall and a 3,172-square-foot town hall that will be connected by a 956-square-foot breezeway. The town hall will be able to accommodate as many as 250 people using the breezeway as overflow space. The project also includes a 15,000-square-foot public plaza and 140 parking spaces in a one-story garage and surface lot, as well as grading, landscaping and other site improvements.

The council unanimously approved permits for the construction of the new civic center complex in January and finalized plans for the project during the June 6 council meeting.

Mosier and Councilman Al Corti have served on the design process subcommittee for the project. They met weekly with architects from the Miller Hull Partnership for about a year as plans changed.

“Miller Hull has listened to the community well,” Corti said. “They’ve come to the meetings, they’ve responded to design changes and I think they’ve come up with a great design.”

Mosier added, “This replaces the city hall function for our employees with a modern building that’s only slightly larger than this existing city hall, but provides modern, clean working space for our employees — something they’ve deserved for many years.”

Del Mar has considered replacing its city hall for decades.

Del Mar was incorporated in 1959 and established city offices with three employees in the Del Mar Hotel. Since the 1970s, city offices have been located on the current site along Camino del Mar, but it was never the city’s plan to permanently remain in the former schoolhouse. In fact, city officials began planning for a new city hall shortly after purchasing the old St. James Academy property in 1973.

“It has been temporary ever since,” Deputy Mayor Terry Sinnott said. “That’s 40 years where we’ve been making do and making things work, hopefully effectively, for our citizens.”

Originally built in the 1920s, remodeled in 1973 to serve as interim offices for city operations and expanded in 1984 to include the Del Mar TV Studio, the two school buildings have largely remained in the same condition, with much of the space limited to storage due to safety concerns.

In addition to space for city staff, the site has also once served as the temporary home of the Del Mar Library, when the local branch was located in the City Hall Annex. Countless public meetings have also taken place at Del Mar TV Studio, which has served as City Council Chambers on the site.

“In this site itself, we’ve been living with water leaks, environmental hazards, no indoor bathrooms, limited space for our public to come and do business and definitely some cramped spaces for our employees,” Sinnott said. “It’s time to move on.”

An ad hoc committee was created in 1986 to work on a master plan and architectural design for a new civic center. In 1992, however, the public voted against a $4.5 million bond issue to build the project. The city revisited the idea from 2003 through 2007, conducting feasibility studies and hosting a public workshop to assess mixed-use options.

“City hall has been a long-term effort, but you have to save up your money and figure out how you can afford it,” said former Del Mar Mayor Crystal Crawford, who served on the council from 1998 to 2010. She was among several former council members who attended the occasion. “I’m just very excited that it’s finally starting. It’s sorely needed. The building’s been falling down for a long time.”

“It’s a long time coming,” agreed former Del Mar Mayor Richard Earnest, who was first elected to the council in 1996 and ended his career at the dais in 2010. “It’s high time that we remove this and put something that we can be proud of in its place.”

With prodding from some community members, the council re-initiated the planning process in June 2013. Since then, the council has discussed the project during 52 council meetings, held four community workshops, hosted two open houses, conducted a citywide survey and conducted an online poll, among other outreach activities.

“We cannot be accused of rushing this project,” Councilman Dwight Worden said as members of the crowd chuckled. “This is done in the ‘Del Mar Way.’ It’s been tons and tons of community participation.”

Many members of the community shared concerns and provided input on the plans during the process.

“It’s time,” said Del Mar native Tensia Moriel Trejo, who was born in the city in 1927. Her brothers attended St. James Academy when it was at the city hall site. “It’s time we have something beautiful.”

Del Mar resident and developer Jim Watkins, along with his daughter, Kit Leeger, submitted plans for the project at no cost to the city early in the process. The father-daughter duo championed a multi-use village concept.

“For the last two years, we have been focusing on trying to create more than just a civic center for the government, but a civic center for the entire community with the plaza, with the parking, with all the facilities so it becomes a wonderful spot for the entire community to enjoy and not just a place for government,” said Watkins, a 49-year resident of Del Mar who was among a number of people who took a brick from the old city hall home.

“The community wanted a complete community center with all kinds of interactive community events.”

In fact, Mosier noted that about three-quarters of the site will be developed and devoted to public access and public use.

“It’s your project and you’re going to benefit from it,” he proudly told event attendees.

During the event Earnest and resident Charles “Cap” Pinney took down the American flag at the city hall property. The flag will be raised again when the new civic center site opens.

Following the demolition kick-off event, the city auctioned off office furniture, equipment and other items in the City Hall Annex and Del Mar TV Studio.

City hall is temporarily located at Southfair while the new civic complex is under construction. City staff transitioned to the temporary space on June 6.

The June 6 council meeting was the final meeting held at the old location in the Del Mar TV Studio at 240 10th Street. All City Council, Design Review Board and Planning Commission meetings will now be held at 2010 Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Suite 100. The city anticipates that most committee meetings will be held in Suite 100 as well.

“We heard loud and clear that this facility should be not only designed for what we need now, but it should be something that carries us well into the future,” Councilman Dwight Worden said. “I think if you studied the designs, you will agree this will carry us well into the future.

“Fifty years from now, they’ll be saying, ‘Thank you’ that we built this and that it wasn’t built as a temporary interim facility for something better that is to come. This is the something better to come.”

Construction drawings should be complete in July with a contract awarded in September. Construction of the new civic center is anticipated to begin in fall 2016 with completion in spring 2018.