The $900 million rebuild of the Long Beach Civic Center was envisioned as a bustling Downtown core. Planned as part of the complex was a boutique hotel and hundreds of residential units with retail and restaurants on the street level, but years after the project was approved, it’s languishing — the only visible sign of it is a giant hole in the ground between City Hall and Lincoln Park.

City officials have been trying for years to push the project forward in some form, but now, deadlines are looming, with entitlements set to expire and the possibility that the site will go up for sale on the open market if the company responsible doesn’t pay the city millions in fees.

Any timeline for building something is still up in the air.

Known as the Mid-Block site, the parcel was part of the public-private partnership the City Council approved in December 2015 with a group now known as Plenary Americas to build a new City Hall, Port of Long Beach headquarters, Main Library and Lincoln Park.

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As part of the plan, Plenary pitched a 580-unit residential complex with one tower that included homes and a 200-room hotel. The ground level was planned to have about 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.

Now, two years after Lincoln Park officially opened to the public, the site is still a massive hole where trucks have been pumping out water from the recent rains.

“I look at it every day, and I’m very motivated to get that project moving again,” said Christopher Koontz, the city’s director of Community Development.

Koontz said plans have been derailed by a perfect storm of mishaps.

In 2020, the project appeared to be moving forward when the pandemic lockdowns hit. Koontz’s team had to meet with the developers outside to maintain social distancing as they tried to keep things moving forward. Months later, they pulled out of the project citing the economic uncertainty introduced, Koontz said.

A rendering of the proposed Mid Block development as part of the Civic Center project. Rendering courtesy of the city of Long Beach.

In February 2022, the City Council tried to revive the plan to build the 580 units without the hotel and approved a new developer to seek tax credits to build “moderate income” housing, but that deal is now unlikely to move forward.

Koontz said it relied on low interest rates that have since spiked as inflation has forced federal regulators to make borrowing money more expensive.

“Everything that could go wrong has kind of happened for this project,” he said.

There’s no deadline for Plenary to develop the land, but the company is facing a July deadline to pay Long Beach millions of dollars in fees or risk triggering a contractual provision that allows the city to take back the property and sell it on the open market. City officials previously said that the Mid-Block site had been valued at upward of $50 million so Koontz believes Plenary will pay the roughly five to eight million dollars it owes the city before July.

In a statement, Sam Hull, vice president of Plenary Americas, said the company was optimistic about developing the site and that they’ve seen positive economic and market trends recently.

“The City continues to be a strong and trusted partner for both the Mid-Block project and the broader Long Beach Civic Center Redevelopment project, and we look forward to continued collaboration as we work to complete the final component of the Civic Center campus,” Hull said.

Another deadline looms in November when entitlements for the 580 residential units are set to expire. While it’s not a deadline to complete the project, work would have to begin by mid-November. The developer would have to seek an extension — its final one— before then to avoid restarting the city’s approval process.

The Mid-Block area where the former Long Beach City Hall was located sits behind a fence and a large hole in the ground is filled with water from a recent rain storm. Photo by Jason Ruiz

Koontz said that the process generally takes about seven to 12 months and the timeframe to get a hearing scheduled before the city is about 45 days. However, Koontz said, “This is not other projects” and that the city would be motivated to get any new proposal through that process as quickly as possible.

The delays in construction have already been eating into the city’s budget. Long Beach was expecting to get about $1 million annually in property taxes, sales tax and hotel taxes produced by the Mid-Block development.

That money was supposed to offset the roughly $14.7 million annual fee the city is paying Plenary over the next 40 years as part of the Civic Center development project.

In the meantime, Public Works Director Eric Lopez said the city has begun to shrink the footprint of the fence that surrounds the Mid-Block hole, first by restoring access to the adjacent sidewalk on Ocean Boulevard. Soon, the city could open access to a new walkway near the eastern boundary with Lincoln Park, he said.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to show there’s no deadline for Plenary to develop the land, just a deadline to pay the city’s fees.

Jason Ruiz covers City Hall and politics for the Long Beach Post. Reach him at [email protected] or @JasonRuiz_LB on Twitter.