This is one Long Beach harbor commissioner’s idea for a civic center that would include city hall, the main library and the Port of Long Beach
This is one Long Beach harbor commissioner's idea for a civic center that would include city hall, the main library and the Port of Long Beach headquarters. (Courtesy of commissioner Rich Dines)

LONG BEACH -- For years, two agencies have been looking for a place to call home.

The Brutalist architecture of the city's fortress-like Civic Center has not weathered the decades well. City officials have weighed overhauling or replacing the almost 40-year-old edifice that includes City Hall and the Main Library.

Meanwhile, costly earthquake retrofitting requirements and asbestos and lead-based paint issues have prompted harbor officials to move staff out of their 53-year-old building at 925 Harbor Plaza in the Port of Long Beach complex. After a few false starts on where to relocate, the more than 300 harbor employees are expected to move into a temporary facility near the Long Beach Airport in the fall.

For Long Beach Harbor Commissioner Rich Dines, grouping City Hall, the Main Library and the port headquarters in one Civic Center is an idea worth exploring.

"There's a need right now for the port to relocate to a permanent headquarters and for many of the same reasons, there's a need for our city to relocate to a new City Hall," said Dines, who this week presented the harbor board with a rendering of two gleaming towers that City Hall and the Harbor Department could each occupy, flanking a smaller building where harbor and city commissioners can share meeting space. "And so I think there's opportunity for both the Harbor Department and the city to work together. "

There's been much speculation over the location the port would ultimately call home, from various port properties to the site of the current Long Beach Courthouse to one of several parcels formerly owned by the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency, which was dismantled along with other RDAs throughout California last year.

Other than a safe, secure building somewhere in or near downtown within five years, the options are open, port officials have said.

Some have joked that City Hall's Main Library resembles a bunker more than a place of learning. A park built atop the structure has long since closed because of water leaking through the roof.

In addition to its appearance, a 2005 study discovered seismic deficiencies in City Hall's concrete wing panels, vertical trusses, columns and beams.

Retrofitting City Hall alone would cost $170 million, and other options have been estimated between $80 million and more than $200 million, not including land and other costs. Officials said the price could be largely absorbed within the $12.6 million spent on debt service, operating costs and off-site leases associated with the current Civic Center.

Assistant City Manager Suzanne Frick said partnering with the port for a joint venture at the Civic Center is an attractive option because meeting space, parking and even amenities such as a cafeteria can be shared.

"In that sense, it's logical to co-locate," Frick said.

Frick attended the last couple of harbor commission meetings to see if the port would be part of the city's request to seek qualified vendors to develop and possibly run a new Civic Center.

Harbor officials did agree to be part of the request, but not without some hesitation.

"I have a little bit of a problem with moving forward and saying that we're moving into a permanent building when we haven't moved into a temporary headquarters yet," Commissioner Thomas Fields said.

Commissioner Sramek said he wants to leave the port's options open.

"I think we've all talked about this for a number of years now," Sramek said. "We ought to go out to an open process and look at other properties and look at other possibilities for building a building. I want to make sure we're not locked into anything. "

Sramek also said he didn't mind being part of the request but worried about making a decision that they may not be ready to make.

"I don't want us to hold you guys up," he said, responding to Frick.

Dines said the two towers concept was just an idea that could bring the port and the city together.

"I think this is something to follow on Commissioner Fields' idea of business clustering," Dines said. "This idea, I think, would bring a lot of businesses, both port- and government-related, to downtown Long Beach. "

Board President Susan E. Anderson Wise said the chosen vendor needs to be knowledgeable enough about financing and operating differences between the harbor department and the city. She added that the port needs to continue its process for finding a new home.

The harbor department is partnering with an outside consultant and reviewing the goals and vision for a new port headquarters that should be done within the next four to six weeks.

"I can support that but I do feel at the same time we as a harbor department need to move forward," she said.

Meanwhile, Frick said she expects the city to be in a position to issue a request for proposals on the Civic Center project in four to six months.

She added that it's premature to determine whether a partnership is the preferred path.

"We're keeping all the options open to see what a development team can offer up," she said.