FREMONT -- The city's plan to create a traditional downtown, where people walk among condos, shops and restaurants, has added a crucial but costly element:A $250 million civic center complex.

The sweeping project would include a new City Hall, which Fremont envisions as downtown's centerpiece. "Downtown is something everyone in Fremont has dreamed of for a long time," said Deputy City Manager Jessica von Borck. "We see the civic center as providing another venue for the community to gather and celebrate."

The civic center would fill a 6-acre parcel on Capitol Avenue, between Liberty and State streets, and would create an identity for the area. Construction of the publicly funded project could be as high as a quarter-billion dollars.

Fremont City Hall is seen on Oct. 5, 2011. (Anda Chu/Staff)
Fremont City Hall is seen on Oct. 5, 2011. (Anda Chu/Staff)

City leaders say it will be worth the price as it could boost retail sales and allow administrators to serve the public more efficiently.

"It won't only serve as a civic center," von Borck said. "We intend for it to bring visitors and community members to activate its retail space throughout the day."

When the civic center draws people downtown, foot traffic would be funneled to 10,000 square feet of stores and dining spots along Capitol Avenue, said.

"It will be a key component that we intend as a stimulus to downtown, to bring economic benefits overall to the city," she said.

When Fremont condenses its city offices -- now dispersed in several locations -- it could sell those sites and other surplus parcels to boost the city's revenue, Mayor Bill Harrison said.


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"We'll sell about 10 properties to help pay for the downtown and Warm Springs projects," he said.

The surplus property sales would cover 25 to 30 percent of the entire civic center's construction costs, von Borck said.

"We're also seeking grants and other creative ways to fund things," she said.

The city approved the civic center plan last week and hopes to start the first of four phases in 2016.

First, Fremont would build a community center that would host public events and serve as an interim City Council chamber.

Next, a housing complex with up to 60 units and a seven-level parking garage would start construction in 2019, according to city reports. A nine-story City Hall and adjacent public park, estimated at $183 million, would break ground in 2024.

A fourth phase would add a small annex building to the complex but the city could nix that part of the plan, a city report states.

At a meeting earlier this year, Fremont council members said they want the civic center to become a "distinctive central public gathering place" that also "demonstrates an inviting civic identity that is whimsical yet timeless."

For years, there was little identity in a sluggish downtown that was more dream than reality. But the 110-acre area has seen steady progress, including the opening last year of a Whole Foods store and a 300-unit apartment complex.

Last month, Fremont approved 140 townhomes and condos and 21,000 square feet retail on a four-acre property across the street from the civic center site.

And city leaders will hold a groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Friday celebrating the extension of Capitol Avenue, downtown's unofficial Main Street.

Harrison said he hopes the civic center becomes an iconic gathering spot the whole community can use.

"The plan for this basically draws from everything in a city -- residential, commercial, entertainment, civic and cultural," Harrison said. "I'd like to see a City Hall that represents the entire city."

Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.