PHOENIX — A community center project is short of what is needed to start construction, and the city is being asked to provide $700,000.

Phoenix Urban Renewal Agency leaders discussed the request at Monday’s City Council meeting. Councilors made no commitment; one questioned if the project should be pursued at this time, and others asked about scaling back plans. The council approved a motion to have staff look at funding options to obtain the $700,000.

A community center has been viewed as a key piece of urban renewal efforts to revitalize downtown on 31 acres bordered by Main Street, Bear Creek Drive, and First and Fourth streets. But the agency hasn't had success selling commercial lots it owns to help finance the 6,500-square foot center between Third and Fourth streets on Main. Three agency commercial lots in the area are for sale, with an asking price of $469,000.

“We need to do some soul searching about how much money is going into the building and what we are getting out of it in return,” said Councilor Stuart Warren. “It could be a great driver, but we don’t know. This is a large chunk of change for the city. What do we want moving forward?”

Under Oregon law, the city could not loan the money to PHURA, but it could give the money to the agency. City Attorney Ryan Kirchhoff said PHURA in turn could sign an agreement that it would repay the $700,000 plus interest at a later date. Urban renewal would turn the center over to the city if it is built.

“The whole idea behind creating an urban renewal agency is that you raise money for capital projects without tapping into city funds,” said Interim City Manager Dave Kanner. He said, however, the city could borrow the money or perhaps look at reducing the $280,000 contingency in the general fund.

Needs for a new police station, an overhaul of Phoenix City Hall and other capital projects should also be considered in weighing the PHURA request, Kanner said.

Adroit Construction submitted the winning RFP to build the center for just under $2.6 million. Other costs including permits, system development charges, interior furnishings and construction monitoring have raised the total to just over $2.8 million. Elimination of a plaza and council chamber would save $148,600. The initial cost estimate for the center was about $2.3 million.

Urban Renewal will have $2.3 million to put toward the project if Umpqua Bank approves a $1 million loan. The agency expects to hear from Umpqua by the end of the month, said PHURA board chairman Al Muelhoefer.

Adroit's proposal is only valid until Sept. 25. JB Steel and Vitus Construction also submitted proposals.

Councilor Michael Shunk suggested the space could become a park for a few years before center development. Councilor Stuart Warren (name corrected) wondered about savings if the building's size were reduced by 1,000 square feet.

“I definitely think they need to break ground on something. People are just tired of looking at that land doing nothing,” said Chamber of Commerce President Melissa Wagy. “I think an outside pavilion doesn’t need to be expensive, and there would be an area to do something.”

The chamber wanted to hold a Cinco de Mayo event this year but couldn’t find a location, said Wagy. Lighting could be installed throughout the area and electricity run to a pavilion, she suggested.

— Tony Boom is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at tboomwriter@gmail.com.