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Sun, Jan. 26

First quarter sees surge in commercial permits
City also issues record number of public construction permits

KINGMAN - Last year was easily Kingman's worst year for new housing starts in more than two decades - no big surprise, given the collapse of the nationwide housing bubble.

But the ongoing recession may have helped paved the way for a boom in new local commercial and public construction projects, with a flood of new permits issued, approved or applied for since the beginning of 2009.

According to a newly-released annual report from the city Planning and Zoning Department, the city of Kingman issued only 103 permits for new residential construction last year. That's down 45 percent from the 190 permits issued in 2007, and down a staggering 883 percent from the 910 permits issued at the housing boom's peak in 2005.

Since 1980, Kingman has averaged about 236 new residential permits a year. That average drops to 187 if one discounts the abnormally high boom years of 2003 to 2005.

New commercial permits were also down to 17 compared to 26 issued in 2007. That's closer to Kingman's historical average of 18 new permits a year, but the valuation of those commercial projects was higher in 2008 than in any preceding year.

In fact, the total value of new commercial projects approved last year alone - $58 million - rivals that of all commercial permits issued in the preceding four years combined. That's thanks in no small part to Hualapai Mountain Medical Center, whose new commercial permit carried a value of $39 million, which is based on the building's size, its purpose and the amount of non-combustible materials used in its construction.

"If you built a hospital out of wood, which isn't even permitted, we would have a valuation of $183.79 per square foot," said Kingman commercial plans examiner Jim McErlean. "I believe they're using Type IB, so their valuation was based on $218.06 per square foot.

"Type IB construction is non-combustible, but certain structural elements have a fire rating," McErlean said.

He said 2009 is already shaping up to be a good year for new commercial construction. While it still has a ways to go to surpass last year's $58 million figure, in just three months the Planning and Zoning department has received applications for 10 new commercial projects totaling $10.7 million - already overtaking all but six of the past 28 years.

What's more impressive, however, is the number of permits already approved or issued for public construction projects. Since 1980, Kingman has issued an average of fewer than two new public construction permits a year. This year, however, the city has already issued six permits and approved another for projects related to Kingman Unified School District and Mohave County, including the White Cliffs Middle School, valued at $11.3 million and the new county detention center, valued at $34.8 million.

In fact, at $53 million total, the value of this year's new public construction projects far exceeds that of any past year in Kingman, with the closest contender being 2004, which saw a comparatively paltry $8.6 million in public projects.

While necessity is certainly a factor in at least some of these projects, McErlean noted that the recession has also played a part in allowing for such costly new construction to take place now rather than at the height of the housing boom.

"When the economy's in this shape, things that they put out to bid, they may have gotten for less money, so it's a good time for public and commercial investment," he said. "That's just common sense that people are looking for work, so bids are going to come in cheaper because people are fighting for the work. Some of the projects that go out to bid get re-bid because it's possible they can get a better deal."

McErlean was quick to point out, however, that just because a project carries a high valuation doesn't necessarily mean it will lead to a large number of new jobs, at least, not local jobs.

"With the hospital, there have been lots of jobs out there; and talking to some of the people - Lott Brothers, the contractor - they have not been able to find enough qualified help," he said.

"At this point they've probably got what they need, but during the course of construction, when the various trades were looking for skilled labor, they weren't able to find enough qualified people locally. They eventually had to go out of town to get people."

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