For the better part of two years, at least, the city of Dallas has been making plans to expand the Oak Cliff Municipal Center Complex. But the project presented in 2016 is not the same as what is transpiring now.
After one aborted attempt to hire a contractor, the city re-circulated a request for qualifications. Building designers won’t find much clarity here, however. It reads like the diary of a confused teenager: “I’m not sure who I am, but feel free to jump in. I’m open to suggestions.”
This started out simple enough. The OCMC Complex at 320 E. Jefferson Boulevard houses employees from the offices of Sustainable Development and Construction (SDC), Public Works, Trinity Watershed Management, Code Compliance, Water Utilities and the Dallas Police Department.
It has been used for city business for 32 years and it is overcrowded and getting worse. The OCMC is often referred to as the “front door” for development because all permits for construction go through its halls. Demand for services increases every year, as does the staff.
It is also a very public building. Just counting for SDC and Building Permit services, there are more than 450 visitors a day. Then there is the parking shortage. The complex has 254 on-site parking spaces for 530 employees and 54 spaces for visitors.
The city was aiming for a new building to be erected immediately behind the existing building on a portion of the parking lot. A presentation to the Economic Development Committee described a structure of between 38,000 and 42,000 square feet and include a parking garage for employees and customers. It would also be LEED Gold Certified, “or better.” There was a lot of concern about having a low carbon footprint.
Cost was estimated at $20 million and it would be paid entirely from the Building Inspection Enterprise Fund. On June 22, 2016, City Council was supposed to have had an agenda item authorizing a contract with W.B. Kibler. Design and pre-construction work should have been completed by September 2016 and City Council was to have authorized construction last November.
Well, the W.B. Kibler deal did not appear in June. It did not get on a City Council agenda (Item No. 6) until Oct. 11 and by then the estimated construction start had been pushed to June 2018.
But wait. When council convened and the secretary read the agenda, “Item number six is deleted.” What? The contract was never awarded and no explanation was given.
On Jan. 13, the RFQ was reissued, but not as a design-build project. The city took over project management, and this is no longer just an expansion of city office space and parking. The project changed in size, budget and purpose.
It should be noted that the existing facility is considered of historic significance. Built in 1955 for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, the OCMC building has three stories and a basement level for a total of 165,500 square feet. It is the largest and most prominent building on a length of Jefferson Boulevard that is otherwise flush with appropriately scaled and very quaint, one-story 1940s-1950s-era commercial buildings that now cater to a vibrant Hispanic community.
Half the block that the OCMC sits on is surface parking and the OCMC shares Jefferson Boulevard frontage with Supermercado Monterrey, a Latin grocer.
This latest RFQ, to put it kindly, is open to interpretation. It seems the city has a half-baked idea of what it should be and is inviting architects to help shape its future.
First the basics—the budget is now given as a range of $20 million to $25 million. And the size of the new building has grown:
“The initial project may be a 40,000 to 60,000-square-foot (or more) building, with possible parking structure, some renovation of exterior and interior of the existing Oak Cliff Municipal Center and other projects at this location,” the RFQ states. “Other future projects may include additional parking and/or parking structure, renovation of existing Oak Cliff Municipal Center and possible retail.”
That summary of the scope of work, it turns out, was misleading, as the city later explained. Interested bidders were confused about the mention of renovations to the existing building and “future projects.” This was the city’s answer:
The RFQ goes on to state that the new building will “initially” be used as office space for city departments. Initially?
The next line of type reads: “The selected team will have an opportunity to develop the branding and corporate identity for this enlarged municipal complex.”
The OCMC needs branding? And a corporate identity? Again, clear as mud. There have been a fair number of questions from architects preparing RFQ submittals. RFQs were due Feb. 9, but the city extended the deadline to Feb. 16. Once submitted, those firms that make it to the short list will receive the Request for Proposals. City Council will consider a contract in late May or early June.
What hasn’t changed? The city still wants a LEED Gold rating and expects the design team to come up with strategies to achieve a carbon neutral building.
It takes some reading between the lines, but it is clear the city staff and stakeholders decided to stop one project, regroup and go for a more ambitious project that would have options for some mixed-use development down the line.
It isn’t too hard to connect the dots from there. Looking at the bigger picture, the OCMC is barely four blocks from the eastern edge of the Bishop Arts District. At least three major mixed use developments are taking off that will expand the district, magnify its appeal and increase the neighborhood population with hundreds of new, well-heeled residents. These include the Bishop Arts Village, Crescent Bishop Arts, and Bishop Arts Station projects.
The immediate surroundings around the OCMC Complex have a humbler flavor today, but Jefferson Boulevard has good bones and gentrification is coming. The OCMC Complex is well endowed when it comes to real estate. In addition to the block that touches Jefferson, it controls two surface parking lots across East 12th Street (see map).
Located just across the interstate from the Dallas Zoo and within walking distance of the booming Bishop Arts District, it makes sense to prepare the OCMC Complex to take advantage of progress.