Homestead city officials gathered Tuesday and happily counted down to the demolition of two old structures in the city’s historic downtown.
A crowd of spectators watched as two excavators simultaneously tore through the two one-story buildings that will give way to the Losner Park expansion.
“I think this is a real turning point for our community,” Mayor Jeff Porter said. “This has been talked about for years and years.”
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The Losner Park expansion is one of the final puzzle pieces to fulfill the city council’s vision of revitalizing downtown Homestead, and with it, the city’s economy.
Next to the demolition site, the Seminole Theater, shuttered since 1979, is being restored. Officials celebrated the kick-off of the renovation project in early May, just a year after voters agreed to raise property taxes to restore the 1920s theater.
Homestead voters approved a bond referendum in a May 2014 to increase property tax bills by 19 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value to raise $5 million for the theater renovations. In the same election, residents voted to increase property tax bills another 82 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value to raise $18 million for a new police station and $3 million to set up a temporary police station in the sports complex.
In March, the Homestead police moved out of the old station, a 103-year-old building with mold, water damage and high levels of radon — a colorless, odorless, radioactive gas that causes lung cancer.
The old city hall building on Campbell Drive also had mold, radon gas and asbestos, and officials relocated their offices in 2013 to a rented location in Portofino Plaza for $29,727 a month. Since then, all public meetings have been held at the William F. “Bill” Dickinson Community Center, 1601 N. Krome Ave.
The new city hall, an 83,000 square-foot building located in the historic downtown, should be completed by the end of 2015.
“We work hard together. We knock stuff down, and we build stuff,” Porter said. “We are going continue to build, and continue to address problems.”
Sasaki Associates, which provided the planning and urban design for the main venue of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, is working with the city council and getting residents’ input to come up with a conceptual design of the park, said City Manager George Gretsas.
Once completed, the park will be able to host outdoor movies and other community events.
“I’ve heard that the people of the east side of town want to come to the west side; they just don’t feel there is anything to do right now,” Gretsas said. “We will hopefully create a magnet where people want to come and get together.”
The city still has to determine how to fund the park expansion, however.
“Tearing down the buildings is the easy part, it’s building this park up that’s going to be the hard part,” Gretsas said. “We have to find funding and we haven’t yet figured out how we are going to do that.”