SAN RAMON -- Plans for the construction of a downtown City Center in San Ramon are back on track, and a new $13.4 million City Hall will be the first phase of the development to get underway.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously gave Sunset Development the green light to begin designing a sleek new 45,000-square-foot City Hall on city land in the long-planned civic center, retail, residential and entertainment complex. The 40-acre project near Camino Ramon and Bollinger Canyon Road has been stymied in recent years by the recession, but things may be turning around.

"Lord knows we have been waiting for the time to come when the markets have been freed up a bit," said Sunset CEO Alex Mehran, adding that the city agreement is "setting the stage" for the rest of City Center.

The deal calls for Sunset to build a new City Hall in the southwest corner of Central Park using $7.3 million Sunset owes the city for a previous land purchase. There would be another $7.5 million payment the company will owe the city when it buys 11 acres of city land next to the park under the terms of a deal negotiated more than a decade ago.

With construction funding identified -- and a smaller and cheaper civic facility than ones planned in 2003 and 2007 -- the city can avoid taking out construction loans once needed when cost estimates topped $130 million and $40 million respectively, city officials said.

"You can have wishes and dreams, and then you can have the reality of what you can really afford to pay for," City Manager Greg Rogers said.


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While the timing for the remaining City Center phases remains unclear, estimates show a City Hall design-build construction contract could be signed and building permits issued as soon as August, clearing the way for work to start before the end of 2014. Once finished less than two years later, the new City Hall will be more than twice the size of the current one built in 1982.

The agreement nixes past plans for the construction of a new library in favor of a more than $1 million renovation and expansion of the existing one by Sunset, a change former Mayor Abram Wilson opposes.

"We have this backwards. We should be putting the new library where the City Hall is proposed and moving the City Hall into the library," Wilson said.

Others at the meeting had mixed reactions. Some urged the council to postpone a vote to allow for more public input. Others, including a one-time staunch City Center critic, urged the council to proceed.

"With the economy coming back, it would be unforgivable of the city not to grow with that downtown," said Jim Gibbon with the citizen group San Ramon for Open Government. In 2008, the group sued and settled a lawsuit against the city over the project's environmental impact.

Attorney and council candidate Thomas von Thury said he has discovered walking door to door that "the nature and scope of the new City Center is not well-known among the residents." He asked for a postponement.

Despite some urging a delay and citywide vote, multiple council members disagreed, including Mayor Bill Clarkson, who said, "This has been an ongoing public discussion for upwards of 20 years."

Ashly McGlone covers San Ramon. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.