KCBD INVESTIGATES: Citizens Tower price tag has doubled in three years

KCBD INVESTIGATES: Citizens Tower price tag has doubled in three years
Inside Citizens Tower (Source: KCBD)
Inside Citizens Tower (Source: KCBD)
Inside Citizens Tower (Source: KCBD)
Inside Citizens Tower (Source: KCBD)

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - The estimated cost of renovating Citizens Tower has doubled from $32 million three years ago, to nearly $64 million today, $64 million of your tax dollars.

The KCBD Investigates Team went to city officials to find out why they are spending twice as much of your money.

The high-rise in the heart of downtown Lubbock has created problems for more than a decade. For years, material fell from the vacant building, creating hazardous conditions for people below.

In 2014, the city decided to take action in an effort to turn this eyesore into an asset.

More than $1 million later, financed with certificates of obligation, the 11-story building became city property.

The Omni building became Citizens Tower, but citizens did not have a voice in the decision.

"It was very irresponsible. Once we realized that the cost was going to keep spiraling out of control, we could have mitigated after that. Council was not willing to do that. The last vote was six to one, go ahead and issue the bonds. Every vote on it was six to one," Robertson said.

Former Lubbock Mayor Glen Robertson is the only council member who voted against it, and he stands by that decision today.

"I tell you, it was the biggest mistake we made as a council was to buy the building," Robertson said.

Current Mayor Dan Pope said, "I think citizens should have had a chance to vote for Citizens Tower."

When Pope became mayor in 2016, he appointed an unofficial sub-committee made up of three council members, including Steve Massengale, to oversee the project.

"This is a big project. It's no secret that in my campaign I thought citizens should have participated in this project, but we are committed. We need to get it finished," Massengale said.

But at what cost?

In 2014, the city hired Parkhill, Smith and Cooper to assess how much it would cost to transform the dilapidated building into leasable space.

But when we asked Massengale about the study, he said, "I haven't looked at it or read it. I know something sits out there prior to me getting on the council, but I haven't read it, no."

The study projected a cost of $32 million, about half of today's budget.

Mayor Pope said, "I know there was a study done, but that is all I know. I've only heard rumors of that study, that was way before my time."

Robertson says the three-year-old, $45,000 study is something current council members should review.

"They need to do their homework and look at that study. If they haven't looked at it, then they are not doing their jobs, bottom line," Robertson said.

Robertson said estimates continued to increase while he was in office, but when he left, he was told $65 million would cover much more than renovations to Citizens Tower.

"Total of $65 million for city hall, and the police station, and property storage. Total all in, that was IT, technology, new furnishings, finish out all of the structural improvements to the building," Robertson said.

Today, the $64 million only covers Citizens Tower and street level parking.

"The numbers just escalated by right at about 100 percent," Robertson said.

Massengale said he is familiar with the earlier estimates, but they were not realistic.

"There was discussion to that effect prior to me being on council, but there was just no way you could include both projects in that amount of money," Massengale said.

Massengale insists that the city has a maximum guaranteed price.

"We know what our guaranteed risk is, so it shouldn't cost more than $63 and a half million dollars," Massengale said.

Robertson, whose business is commercial real estate, has his doubts.

"They are looking at you with the camera in their eye and telling you they have a guaranteed maximum price. I've built buildings and done enough business with contractors to know there will be change orders and that guaranteed maximum price will not cover a change order," Robertson said.

Massengale said they expect to move into Citizens Tower in 2019.

As construction begins on Citizen's Tower, the city is now starting another $60 million dollar project.

The city is doing away with its original plan to renovate City Hall into the police department.

This new Public Safety Facilities Proposal will expand the Lubbock Police Department into multiple buildings in an effort to move forward with the concept of community policing.

This $60 million project will include a new administration building downtown, a property warehouse, a new municipal court and three police stations in East, South and North Lubbock.

KCBD is following the latest on these recent changes and will continue to ask the tough questions about what the government is doing with your money.

PREVIOUS STORY: Are Omni Building renovations worth the cost?

Copyright 2017 KCBD. All rights reserved.