Fairfield and Solano County Collaborate to Meet Community Needs
by Chris McKenzie
Students who participated in the 2008-09 Youth In Government program celebrate their achievements.
In 1998, the County of Solano had outgrown its offices in downtown Fairfield and planned to consolidate its operations in another location. The county was considering a site in one of Fairfield’s business parks.This move would have had a major adverse economic impact on downtown Fairfield because the county is the downtown area’s largest employer, occupying an area equal to four city blocks. The move would have also taken prime industrial land slated for private sector job generation and eliminated tax increment revenues from the local redevelopment agency, as the business park was in a redevelopment project area.
At the same time, the City of Fairfield and its redevelopment agency were formulating a new downtown economic development strategy that identified the critical need to expand downtown employment, encourage private investment in rehabilitation and redevelopment, and provide additional infill housing. No new private construction projects had occurred along Texas Street, the main downtown thoroughfare, in decades. In addition, downtown lacked a large public gathering space, which necessitated street closures for events like the weekly farmers’ market.
The city and county began working cooperatively to ascertain if adequate land was available downtown to consolidate county offices. The Fairfield City Council and Solano County Board of Supervisors held their first-ever joint meetings in 1999 to discuss the project. The city and county agreed to jointly fund a master plan to determine whether the project was feasible.
Master Planning Process Addresses Challenges
The project faced a number of serious challenges, including:
A proposed five-acre site that was perceived as too small for a project of the scale proposed;
The impact of construction and the loss of parking to the nearby courts, jail and businesses;
The need for additional parking to support private development on land surrounding the project;
The fact that a number of properties would become vacant when the county occupied its new building; and
The need for private investment to further revitalize the downtown business district.
The joint master planning process demonstrated that the project could be built in downtown Fairfield, but intergovernmental cooperation was essential for this project to succeed. Meeting the individual needs of the two government bodies and their respective constituencies required collaboration on all levels, from elected officials and administrators to project staff from both organizations involved in architecture, planning, redevelopment, economic development, finance and public works. It required that city staff participate as part of the county development team from initial concept through project completion.
On a strategic level, the county, city and redevelopment agency negotiated several agreements involving property transfers and operations of the new Government Center. The goal of these activities was to spur private development and provide public spaces downtown. In one agreement, the county agreed to revise the original project design to include a public plaza on Texas Street, which the city would lease and operate. This eliminated the need for the city and redevelopment agency to construct a separate public square (as identified in the 2000 Downtown Economic Development Strategy). In exchange, the redevelopment agency agreed to contribute $3 million to the County Government Center project, and the city agreed to waive permit fees and provide after-hours law enforcement for the new plaza and the parking garage.
This cooperation is allowing land to be assembled for a new mixed-use building facing the new plaza. The redevelopment agency will buy two surplus county parcels and the adjacent vacant bank building, remove the buildings and sell the property to the mixed-use developer. The anticipated 60,000-square-foot mixed-use project will include two three-story buildings, with restaurants, retail shops, offices and residential units. In addition to selling land and leasing additional downtown property to the redevelopment agency for parking, the county agreed to set aside reserved parking in the new County Administrative Center parking garage for use by the residential tenants of the mixed-use building.
Project Stimulates Private Investment
The County Government Center is playing a critical role in the revitalization of downtown Fairfield by acting as a catalyst for private investment. For the first time in many years, the downtown area is receiving substantial interest from the development community. Property owners are investing in facade improvements, renovation of vacant tenant spaces and construction of buildings for new businesses. The redevelopment agency has also budgeted long term for developing additional parking downtown as a result of this activity and development interest.
The County Government Center project was completed in April 2005 on time and on budget. The final project consists of:
A six-story, 300,000-square-foot County Administrative Center;
A five-level parking garage with approximately 1,000 spaces;
A public plaza and outdoor courtyard;
A 43,000-square-foot Probation Department building; and
An expanded cogeneration facility.
This investment in downtown Fairfield is valued at more than $100 million. The project consolidates the administrative and office functions of approximately 18 county departments and divisions. The building will house more than 800 county employees, with room for expansion.
Through this partnership, the city, county and residents have benefited. The City of Fairfield achieved its goal of retaining the county as a major employer downtown. The county achieved its goal of consolidating its offices and services in one location. The community benefited by receiving improved service delivery from the county, a gathering place for events and a new world-class structure that evokes civic pride. By working together, the city and county preserved prime acreage in Fairfield’s business parks for job- and tax-generating private industry, revitalized Fairfield’s downtown, and created additional public parking that will benefit downtown businesses. Although the County Government Center was completed in April 2005, the city and county continue to hold coordination meetings to discuss current joint projects and opportunities for future cooperation, carrying the successful working relationship forward. Other joint projects include management of land jointly purchased to provide for expansion of Travis Air Force Base, joint development of a wetlands mitigation bank, cooperative planning on open space preservation projects, and working together to meet fair share housing obligations.
Contact: Curt Johnston, assistant director, economic development, Dept. of Community Development; phone: (707) 428-7445; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The City of Fairfield won the Grand Prize in the Effective Advocacy, Intergovernmental Relations and Regional Cooperation category of the 2005 California Cities Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program. For more information about the awards program, visit www.cacities.org/helenputnam.