SUGAR HILL -- Sugar Hill turned an important corner this week, though perhaps not a shovel until at least Christmas.
At its monthly meeting Monday night, the City Council named Lawrenceville-based Precision Planning architect of its planned $8.5 million downtown City Hall. Choice of a specific design and builder, however, is expected to take six or eight months, with construction unlikely before the end of the year.
"This is a tangible step and commitment toward seeing this through," Mayor Gary Pirkle said of the 30,000-square-foot, turn-of-the-century hall at West Broad Street and Temple Drive. "You can't turn shovels until you make decisions like this."
The council chose Precision over Alpharetta-based Pieper O'Brien Herr, the other finalist among 20 firms that responded to the city's request for proposals. Nine firms interviewed and five ultimately presented their concepts to the council, with Precision and Pieper, within $10,000 of each other, invited back at the council's April 5 work session for a final shot at winning the job.
"I'm so excited," Councilman Mike Sullivan said at the start of Monday's meeting, before the choice of architect was announced. "I can't tell you how important this is for the city."
The vision for a revitalized downtown began in 2002 when the city purchased 1.5 acres and a fellowship hall there. Since, a town green and recreation center have developed, as has a Downtown Development Authority and plan for a 3/4-mile streetscape anticipated to begin this summer.
Chosen unanimously by the council, Precision already was well known to Sugar Hill over the last eight years. The firm designed the renovation of Sugar Hill's existing city hall and its recreation center, as well as the current 18-acre expansion of E.E. Robinson Park and recently opened 52-acre Gary Pirkle Park.
The council didn't embrace a specific design for the hall Monday, but instead merely chose the firm whose general concepts it liked most. The council cautioned that what ultimately gets built could be similar or vastly different from anything proposed so far.
Though Precision and Pieper both integrated the copper cupola into the two-story hall with a basement, the only near certainties the city had, Precision offered an enticing variety of designs, including one concept of a triangulated building in the center of the intersection.
Ultimately, council members voted for a firm they already had experience with, the designer of Snellville's City Hall.
"There's definitely an advantage to going with a firm you already have an established track record with," Community Relations Director Don Kelemen said.
Pirkle, a former city councilman when talk of downtown first began, said patience is vital when planning downtowns like Suwanee's and Duluth's.
"Projects that have long-term impact take a long time to get done," he said. "When you're building something for 50 years, you want to be happy with the final product, not just OK with it."
Separately, the council:
* Voted to increase its fee on municipal court fines from $50 to $60 to help pay for new software it began using at the first of this year.
* Voted to appropriate approximately $34,000 from general funds, roughly $2 per resident, to help fund Gwinnett's cities' ongoing legal battle with the county over taxation and service delivery strategy.