Real Estate

Sale price of Brickell tower at center of teachers union flap

In negotiating the sale of an affordable apartment building that sits on prime real estate stretching from Biscayne Bay to Brickell Avenue, the leaders of United Teachers of Dade say they’re chasing “the best offer” on the table.

But with union elections just days away, an executive with a prominent Miami developer says the Stanley Axlrod UTD Towers is being sold at a substantial discount after a better, more lucrative deal was ignored for months.

Nelson Duque, vice president of acquisitions for Fortune International Realty, told The Miami Herald that an investor he represents has offered $20 million cash for the tower at 1809 Brickell Ave., with the first offer going back more than a year. He said the union never responded and instead entered into negotiations to sell the land and tower for $14 million — an issue that has now become political.

“Why would UTD accept $6 million less than already offered?” asks an anonymous election mailer published on the eve of Tuesday’s vote for six-figure-salaried leadership positions. “Ask yourself. Ask them.”

Union President Karen Aronowitz, who is not running for reelection, declined Friday to specifically address Duque’s statements. She said she can’t talk about confidential negotiations privy only to the executive board of the union, which also serves as the board for the nonprofit that owns the property. But she issued this statement: “We absolutely explore every option to get maximum value for our members. Unfortunately, our internal elections bring out the worst in some candidates who pretend they care about UTD. For the longest time, people have come out of the woodwork making offers, most of which are not real.”

The union, which had the UTD Towers built more than 40 years ago to ensure retired teachers would be able to continue to live in Miami, has been looking to sell the property for more than a decade. Because of a loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, it must remain an affordable living facility for tenants 62 and older until 2019. HUD must approve a buyer.

Aronowitz acknowledged last week that leaders have a letter of intent signed with an unnamed party and are working toward a contract. She said any profits would go toward a nonprofit that funds members’ professional development.

But Duque, who said he also represents independent investors outside Fortune, said his client’s $20-million offer was structured to comply with federal housing regulations and made more than a year ago. He said the union only responded this month through an attorney to say it was now in exclusive negotiations and unable to talk about the sale.

“I represent a very prominent investor in South Florida with a proven track record who’s made an offer, all cash, closing in less than seven days, that is at least 35 percent better than what’s on the table,” Duque said. “I’ve personally visited UTD more than half a dozen times. I’ve sent it [the offer] via courier, Fed Ex and via email with confirmation receipt at least another dozen times. I’ve sent it attached to a flower arrangement with 1-800 Flowers with a receipt. And it’s never been answered.”

Out of frustration, Duque said he began sending his emails to other members of the executive board. He said that last month someone anonymously sent him minutes of an executive meeting of the board for Stanley Axlrod UTD Towers, showing the pending sale is worth just $14 million. Now, his statements have become election fodder for union candidates. Some of his emails were published in a campaign mailer that questioned Aronowitz and her two top lieutenants, Artie Leichner and Fedrick Ingram, who are running against four others for the $134,000 job of president.

Ingram couldn’t be reached for comment.

Leichner, the union’s first vice president, said he could not discuss details of the pending sale but said the property has been appraised at about $14 million. He said he never saw Duque’s offer until after current negotiations were under way.

“This is a surprising thing that it would come out right before the election,” he said. “Or maybe not.”

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