More than a year ago, Homestead relocated its City Hall to a temporary office in a shopping plaza.
The move came after an environmental study found that City Hall was contaminated with mold, asbestos and radon, a colorless and odorless gas that may cause lung cancer.
The study’s results prompted staff to conduct similar environmental studies on all city-owned buildings.
The findings: The city’s police station at 4 S. Krome Ave. also has high levels of radon as well as a slew of other problems such as mold, clogged water drains, cracks in the walls and water damage. In addition, the 1910 facility does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Now, the police department will relocate to a building at the city-owned baseball stadium, the City Council decided at its Tuesday night meeting.
The move will take up to eight months and while the city can use the building rent free, it still has to pay about $3 million for renovations, city staff told the council.
“I don’t know who else has taken a tour out there, but that building is frightening,” said Councilman Jon Burgess referring to the baseball complex’s building. “The majority of it, you can’t operate anything. That’s one of my fears – that we are going to go out there and find we really need $5 million for a new police building.”
Staff said while there are no guarantees, its estimates matched those of an expert’s and both numbers point to $3 million.
And while the baseball stadium’s building is a temporary fix of the problem, the council is considering several sites, including the Community Redevelopment Agency-owned lots in downtown Homestead, as the permanent place for a new police department building.
To fund the estimated $18 million construction of a new law-enforcement headquarters, the City Council gave consensus for a citywide referendum that will ask residents if they support a tax increase to pay for a general-obligation bond.
The special election may be held in time for the annual June 1 TRIM notice to reflect the tax increase. A TRIM notice is an annual letter sent to Miami-Dade County residents notifying them of their upcoming taxes.
If Homestead is to meet the June 1 deadline, the city will be working under a tight timeline to hold the referendum. The city may have to hold the election by the end of April so that council has the time to also approve a resolution before June 1.
Staff and the council vowed to hold meetings and information sessions before the election to help residents learn more about why the tax increase is needed.
The City Council did not want Homestead to embark on the project of renovating the contaminated police department on Krome Avenue.
The building is part of the Historic Downtown District and as such, all renovations have to abide by strict guidelines. That may limit the amount of renovation that can be done.
But, said City Manager George Gretsas, if voters do not approve a general-obligation bond, then the city will likely have to retrofit the old building.
That “would be a fairly ugly scenario, but that’s what elections are all about,” he told the council.
Tuesday’s decisions about the future of a police department building prompted more discussion about downtown Homestead, an economically depressed area.
Several projects are pending in the area, including the renovation of the long-shuttered Seminole Theatre. The council is awaiting a study on the building that will shed light on its potential. The council is also considering a separate ballot question as part of the referendum asking voters if they support a tax increase that would fund the renovation of the theater. Staff estimates that the owner of a $169,000 home would see an increase of nearly $33 annually to support theater renovations.
"Let's not just have this thing [the Seminole Theatre] hanging over our head for the next 15 years. Let's put it on the ballot," said Vice Mayor Stephen Shelley.
Gretsas told the council that the concept of a "downtown" has made a comeback in recent years, and he encouraged the council to think about the future of downtown Homestead.
Other projects on the table near the area include a new City Hall. The city recently solicited bids for that building. While Homestead has $16.6 million available for the development, another $8.4 million may have to come from a loan or from the sale of other city-owned property. That is if the new City Hall costs $25 million, a worst case scenario.
Finally, the city is also considering an $8 million garage for the area.
"When cities have seen this kind of activity, the private sector typically moves in because what they see is a community that has faith in its downtown," Gretsas told the council.