How the COVID Pandemic Changed Burlington’s TIGER Grant Project
Earlier this month, Burlington City Council signed an agreement with a Dubuque-based construction company for the completion of the city’s transportation investment and economic recovery grant for a project that includes a pledge of an additional $ 3.8 million that the city had not budgeted for.
The only city is able to pay this extra money only because of the possibility of using federal COVID-19 relief funds to pay for the city’s projects, freeing up money that was supposed to be used for the TIGER project. and putting it in the sewer separation which will be vital for the realization of the TIGER project.
The city also hopes to work with the contractor to complete the value engineering, where the plans are slightly modified to save money and time.
“Now that we’ve signed a contract, we can sit down with the contractor,” said Burlington City Manager Chad Bird.
Now, work on the project, which was due to start in late 2020 or early 2021, could start as early as the end of September, although it may not start until next year.
Burlington won the $ 17.5 million TIGER grant in 2018 and went through two years of design before it could finally be offered for an offer in October 2020. Only one offer was received at that time, and it was way over the city budget. The project was re-tendered last month. Prior to contract award earlier this month, plans had undergone a number of unexpected changes that were not taken into account until 2020.
Myriad of changes sent planners back to the drawing board
The first element of the TIGER project to be carried out was the construction of a hotel by the river. The hotel was not included in the city’s original plan for the project, which initially called for the hotel’s proposed location to be the centerpiece of the waterfront portion of the TIGER project.
However, city council signed a development agreement with West Des Moines-based developer Ryan Jenson, forcing city project engineer Veenstra and Kimm to rethink some of his plans.
After several months of studying the project, Jensen returned and told council he didn’t want to build a hotel. Instead, he just wanted to manage the Burlington Memorial Auditorium, for which another contract was signed. But Jensen withdrew from the contract soon after, leaving the management of the auditorium to Burlington Riverfront Entertainment, which had already managed the venue for several years.
The removal of the hotel was not seen as a major blow to the project. As the city headed into spring 2020, council members and city officials planned to finalize plans, secure offers, and hopefully begin construction in the fall.
But the world had other ideas.
COVID-19 has forced businesses to close and the price of materials to rise. Many consumers, fearing exposure to COVID-19 and adjusting to the closure of local storefronts, turned to e-commerce, which meant Burlington was not getting the sales tax revenue from it. ‘local options he needed.
Goodbye boat docks
When the time came for the city council to accept another grant that was part of the TIGER project, one that would have added boat docks, the council was torn apart. On the one hand, these boat docks were essential to what was planned under the TIGER grant. On the other hand, the city was going to have to pay money in return. The city manager at the time, Jim Ferneau, was not sure that this was actually feasible, with the long-term economic impact of the pandemic still a mystery.
The council split into two, with deputy mayor Lynda Graham-Murray and city councilor Matt Rinker voting for the docks and newly elected councilors Robert Crister and Bill Maupin voting against. Mayor Jon Billups, as port manager of Bluff Harbor Marina, had to abstain from voting.
The boat docks subsidy not only cut boat docks, it also cut toilets that were to be built to accommodate green space.
Even with two major changes in the spring, the city was still able to obtain the documents for an offer to purchase in October.
The project was split into two phases. The roads phase was scheduled to be tendered in October 2020 and would focus specifically on work to be done on Main and Jefferson Streets. The riparian part of the project was due to be released in March 2021.
With the design plans out of the way, the council put its TIGER grant proposal out to tender. The hope was that the scale of the project would reduce costs. In fact, the city was so excited about the potential for getting good deals that it included optional projects, thus encouraging entrepreneurs to do more with the same amount of money in the hopes of getting the deal. .
But the wide scope of the project’s plans did not attract the offers the council had hoped for. The city received only one bid for the streets phase, and that bid was $ 21 million. This was more than the total budget for the TIGER grant specific part of the project and $ 8 million more than the budget for the roads part of the plan.
Cuts had to be made and the hope was to make them in time for the spring supply that was expected for the riparian part of the project. Project manager Leo Foley had heard that his initial plans were too complicated for entrepreneurs, so he worked to find a way to make them easier to understand.
When it came to removing elements from the plan, Veenstra and Kimm didn’t remove wide paths from the project. Instead, the company sharpened its exacto knife, cutting out small items like speakers for playing music, Wi-Fi, and decreasing the number of trees to plant.
An area behind the auditorium which, as part of the hotel’s plan, was previously supposed to have the paddling pool has also been removed.
The cuts totaled $ 3 million with the hope that the competition would do the rest.
Veenstra and Kimm employees also opened their rolodexes and called out any contractors they could think of who might want to bid on the project. The company contacted a total of 70 individual companies.
It did not work. The project still exceeded the budget by $ 4 million, the exact amount the city had received as part of the US relief plan. The city received two bidders, but only one for the two projects. This bidder was Poulter Construction.
Veenstra and Kim had previously worked with the construction company on a project in Dubuque. Based on that work, Foley said, he was confident the city could accomplish what it needed to do with the business. As a result, city council signed a contract with Poulter Construction for just over $ 21 million.