Miami commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to try and negotiate the purchase of a controversial West Grove trolley garage that ignited a bitter civil rights dispute.
The empty maintenance facility at 3320 Douglas Rd. was built by Astor Development as part of a land swap with Coral Gables. Under the agreement, Astor received the city-owned site of an existing trolley maintenance facility on South Le Jeune Road near the tony Village of Merrick Park and in exchange built a new trolley hub in the historic black community just outside the Gables boundaries, in West Coconut Grove.
But the building’s construction prompted a backlash from neighbors who said they objected to plans to dump an industrial facility in the middle of a residential community. Lawsuits ensued, and after a complaint was lodged, a federal investigation found Miami, Coral Gables and Miami-Dade County had failed to appropriately study the facility’s impact on the neighborhood where it was developed.
Coral Gables then chose to find a new maintenance site for its trolleys, leaving Astor and the West Grove with a brand new, empty building. So on Thursday, at the suggestion of Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, commissioners told City Manager Daniel Alfonso to conduct appraisals on the property and seek to negotiate the building’s purchase. Russell has considered renovating the building and turning it into a community center, but says he wants the neighborhood to decide.
“This is just the first step,” he said.
The facility is currently on the market for $3.8 million, but by law the city can only pay “fair market value” for property. Commissioners said they don’t want to overpay for someone’s “mistake,” and hoped they may be able to lower the price if Astor Development president Henry Torres is eager to unload the property.
Torres, reached by phone after the vote, said he has an existing offer on the table. He was initially skeptical about the city’s interest, but after hearing from Russell over the weekend he’s interested to speak about the city’s plans.
“I'm glad they decided they want to talk to me. I want to talk to them too,” he said.