The Coral Gables City Commission has made it clear it would prefer to lease, not sell or give away, the public land under a potential mixed-use development that would replace a widely-used garage on Andalusia Avenue and keep some parking on that land.
Last week, commissioners discussed a draft of the request for proposals from developers on how to redevelop two decades-old parking garages near Miracle Mile: Garage 4, across from the Publix at 2551 LeJeune Road, and Garage 1, behind the Actor’s Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre.
The commission called for a discussion with the consultant preparing the solicitation, Abramson & Associates, after some commissioners were displeased to learn of former City Manager Pat Salerno’s vision for the redevelopment through a Miami Herald article. That vision is to either lease, sell or give the land under Garage 4 to private development in exchange for one public garage behind the theater with about 1,000 spaces.
Barry Abramson, founder of the firm, guided the council through a draft of the solicitation and took note of suggestions and requests on how to further refine it.
“I think the best thing is to really set out some things that you know you absolutely know you have to have, some things that you absolutely will tolerate, and then allow flexibility so you can encourage some scenarios,” he told the commission, “so that you’re seeing from developers how much money or how much free parking they will give you if they do it this way or they do it that way.”
Traditionally, the city has shied away from selling or giving away its land in exchange for development. Commissioner Bill Kerdyk Jr. said he supported making it clear in the solicitation that the city wants to lease.
“I think it’s good for the city of Coral Gables,” he said. “We’ve been successful when we’ve done that before.”
Commissioner Vince Lago said sticking strictly to a lease might narrow the field of developers too much and suggested the city say it prefers a lease.
“I don’t want this to be an exercise in futility,” he said.
City staff are awaiting a commercial real estate appraisal for both properties to use in its decision-making.
“I’m not going to cut any deal with any developer if I find out that that property, Garage 4, is worth a lot more than what I could build my own parking garage for,” Lago said.
Bob Gallaher, a partner at Miami-based commercial real estate appraisal and consulting firm Gallaher & Birch, said in today’s market, the land could be worth significantly more than its assessed value by the county appraiser’s office, which is about $8 million.
“Assessed value, in a very robust market, can be surprisingly low,” said Gallaher, who isn’t involved in the garage deal.
Commissioners also agreed that keeping some amount of parking on the Garage 4 site is crucial to attract people to businesses on the 300 block of Miracle Mile.
“I want to see more foot traffic on Miracle Mile,” said Commissioner Frank Quesada.
The commission will consider a revised solicitation at its June 10 meeting as developers await a shot at the project.
Cindy Birdsill, the city’s economic sustainability director, told the commission dozens of firms have already shown interest.
“I have a list of at least 50 people who have asked to be notified,” she said.