The city of Saint John will issue tenders for construction of the Peel Plaza project, common council decided Monday during a special meeting to discuss whether the controversial project should proceed.

But the multi-million dollar complex has been scaled back from the original proposal six years ago.

And council won't give the final go ahead until it knows how much it will cost.

'It will be accessible to local bidders and it will also attract a number of competitive bids so the taxpayers will ultimately gain any competitive advantage from that competitive tension.'—City manager Pat Woods

Four separate tender calls will be issued — for the police station, parking garage, surrounding plaza and required infrastructure, said city manager Pat Woods.

Dividing the uptown project into four pieces will allow smaller companies to bid and should bring in better prices, he said.

"It will be accessible to local bidders and it will also attract a number of competitive bids so the taxpayers will ultimately gain any competitive advantage from that competitive tension."

Once the bids come back in about five to six weeks, council will meet again to discuss whether to go ahead with construction.

"We will have a better sense of what interest rates are at the time," said Woods. "We'll know dollar accurate costs, not what somebody thinks they might be, we'll know what the tender prices are."

Smaller garage, less ambitious park

It is estimated the scaled back project will cost about $42 million — $3 million to $8 million less than the original city estimate six years ago.

Council accepted a staff recommendation to reduce the size of the parking garage to 460 spaces instead of 560, and the park won't have a pond or as many fountains.

The police headquarters will also be less environmentally friendly than originally planned to help cut costs. It will be built to a LEED silver standard instead of gold.

Woods expects the project will have a "marginal impact" on the city's tax rate.

The headquarters and garage would be financed over 25 years, while money borrowed for the park and infrastructure would be paid back over 15 years.

The city will have to keep its annual borrowing costs down for other big projects, said Woods.

And council will have to stick to a plan to keep the police, fire and Saint John Transit budget increases to one per cent in 2011 and 2012, which may not be possible without cuts.

West side resident Don Darling, who attended the meeting, said he's glad council put off making a final decision.

"You know, I thought tonight that we were going to have a final vote and I would have had a lot of questions unanswered, so pleased to see that there was a process that's been laid out and we'll see here in five or six weeks what happens."

Deputy Mayor Stephen Chase and two councillors, Bill Farren and Patty Higgins, voted against the motion to issue tenders.

Meanwhlie, the adjacent provincial justice building is currently under construction at the site of the former YM-YWCA on Hazen Avenue. It's expected to have 13 courtrooms, along with offices for judges, Crown prosecutors, sheriffs and other staff and be connected to the proposed police headquarters.