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Annapolis officials pushing forward with Hillman Garage, City Dock redevelopment despite coronavirus pandemic

The Noah Hillman Parking Garage in downtown Annapolis. The city is moving forward with a plan to demolish and rebuild the aging structure.
The Noah Hillman Parking Garage in downtown Annapolis. The city is moving forward with a plan to demolish and rebuild the aging structure. (File photo by Paul W. Gillespie, Staff, Capital Gazette)

While most of daily life in Annapolis has lurched to a halt in the last two weeks as coronavirus spreads throughout the state, city officials are trying to keep one of the largest development projects in city history on track.

All city buildings are closed and most city staff are teleworking amid a month-long state of emergency as officials hope to delay the virus spread. But that won’t stop Mayor Gavin Buckley, City Manager David Jarrell and other officials who met Friday to discuss the progress of the plan to demolish and reconstruct Hillman Garage and redevelop City Dock.

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“Despite the current coronavirus situation, whether it be virtually or in person, we are going to move forward,” Jarrell said.

The city issued a request for proposal to design, build, finance, operate and maintain a new parking facility in place of the grumbling structure next to City Hall which has been described as being at the end of its functional life. The request also includes plans to redevelop City Dock.

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Two national firms made up of designers, engineers, construction companies, parking operators and other companies were short-listed. Each submitted a comprehensive proposal by the March 18 deadline, said Jarrell, who became city manager in February.

Buckley stressed the need to keep the development project going because it will be key to help the city recover from the pandemic.

“We need to see what Annapolis looks like on the other side of this,” he said. “We need to come together on it, and we need to have some things to get excited about that create jobs and create community space where we can come together safely.”

The request for proposal includes goals such as expanding the garage’s capacity to 700 spaces — it’s currently at 425 — as well as providing parking alternatives downtown and a transition plan for parking during construction. The request also asks that firms redevelop City Dock and incorporate the “principles and elements” laid out in a consensus plan created by the City Dock Action Committee, a group of nearly 100 community members who compiled a comprehensive plan to remake downtown.

The City Dock project has an estimated $50 million price tag, most of which would go toward improving resilience infrastructure. A bill passed by the General Assembly to create a resilience authority that would help fund the project will be sent to Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk.

In addition to financing, resilience will be a major component that the city will review in the proposals, Jarrell said.

“The biggest factor is the financial factor because we want them to finance all of it,” he said. “The resiliency piece of it, how are they going to build a resilient garage but more important a resilient City Dock.”

The city has since called together its selection committee, made up of city officials and outside experts from a range of fields, to review the proposals and grade them on how each meets the goals of the project.

A firm will be chosen in late spring, contract negotiations will follow.

First, the selection committee will meet each firm for oral proposals, though those could be virtual meetings if the pandemic has still disrupted in-person meetings in the coming months.

“We hope by the time that this comes about we’ll be able to bring in both of them to have face to face interviews and ask questions,” Jarrell said. “But you know, you lose a little, not having people in person to be able to look them in the eye and ask them questions and see how they respond.”

The city hasn’t entered into a private-public partnership like this before, Jarrell said, which could mean the negotiations are protracted. But he hoped an agreement could be made by August or even sooner.

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"The city has never done this before, Jarrell said. “But this is pretty exciting stuff.”

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