DEL MAR — A decades-long effort to improve the downtown corridor was delayed once again after the six construction bids received came in higher than the anticipated $1.4 million cost for phase one, which was slated to begin this spring and be finished by mid-June.
Council members at the May 7 meeting unanimously agreed to reject all proposals and re-evaluate their options in September.
Between now and then, City Manager Scott Huth and his staff, with input from the Finance Committee, will research options to complete and fund the $5.6 million project in its entirety rather than in phases.
“We are reaffirming a commitment to actually get this thing done because we all are anxious to move forward,” Councilman Terry Sinnott said.
“This still remains one of … our highest priority projects and we want to get the whole thing done,” Mayor Dwight Worden added.
The overall project calls for improvements to sidewalks, parking areas, bike lanes, medians, landscaping and the roadway along Camino del Mar, from Ninth Street to the intersection at the northern entrance of Del Mar Plaza.
Elements include new benches, trashcans, bicycle racks, newspaper displays, bus shelters, disabled accessible ramps and transitions, retaining walls, site walls and lighting.
The six bids for phase one ranged from approximately $1.7 million to $2.1 million. Even using the lowest bid, miscellaneous construction costs such as insurance and bonding exceeded the project budget by about $500,000.
In addition to the option council opted to go with, staff presented another alternative, which was to authorize Huth to enter into an agreement with the lowest bidder, delay the start of construction until after Labor Day and allocate $500,000 from Measure Q to make up the funding gap.
Council previously approved for phase one the use of $400,000 from Measure Q, a voter-approved 1 percent sales tax increase.
There will eventually be enough Measure Q money from to pay for the downtown upgrades, but those funds are also slated for Shores Park improvements and utility undergrounding.
Worden said he didn’t want to shortchange those two projects.
“My gut tells me there’s ways to manage that to make that work,” he said.
The handful of people who weighed in on the streetscape project supported the option selected by council members.
Longtime resident and developer Jim Watkins, also a downtown property owner, said completing the project is “vitally important to the community.”
He described the area as dull, with buildings that are aging and sidewalks in a state of disrepair.
“It really is not a very inviting situation right now,” he said, adding that the improvements will “enhance the warmth, the charm, the village character … and economic viability.”
“Let’s get the job done,” Watkins said.
Zach Groban, chairman of the Business Support Advisory Committee who was speaking as a resident and business owner, said the downtown businesses were burdened with the tax increase, so improvements to the village should take precedence over the other projects in line for Measure Q money.
“In a lot of ways, we should go first,” he said. “We’ve been waiting for this project for years. … It needs to get funded. … Keep the momentum going.”
Councilman Dave Druker agreed.
“We need to figure out how to get this project going as quickly as possible,” he said.
Huth said the city will find out June 1 if it will be awarded a $665,000 county grant. If council approves a funding plan in September, construction could begin in January 2019 and be done before summer.
“I think six months is reasonable,” he said.