Miami-Dade County

One option for building Miami-Dade a new courthouse: Let developers build at the library

The historic civil courthouse at 73 West Flagler Street opened in 1928 and once held the trial of Al Capone.
The historic civil courthouse at 73 West Flagler Street opened in 1928 and once held the trial of Al Capone. Emily Michot

Could Miami-Dade County trade a library for a courthouse?

That’s one of the options on the table as the county offers up a string of downtown properties to developers interested in assembling a financial plan to replace Miami-Dade’s aging civil courthouse without raising property taxes.

Commissioners on Tuesday approved a roster of possible development sites that builders could either use for a courthouse or for another project that would generate revenue for a courthouse. On the list: the “Cultural Center” complex that houses both Miami-Dade’s downtown library and the tax-funded museum known as HistoryMiami.

Any development plans would require space for both county facilities, and the library site is just one of more than a dozen possibilities outlined in a request for proposals from developers. Mayor Carlos Gimenez and the 13-member commission would still need to consider any proposal submitted, but the new solicitation opens up a path for the county to weigh courthouse deals from the private sector.

We’re happy to see the commission behind us.

Chief Judge Bertila Soto

“This is the beginning, and we know that,” said Bertila Soto, chief judge of Miami-Dade’s civil court. “But we’re happy to see the commission behind us.”

Soto helped lead a 2014 campaign to raise Miami-Dade’s property tax reserved for debt payments in order to build a $390 million replacement to the county’s 1928 downtown courthouse, but voters rejected the plan. That left county leaders, who endorsed the bond referendum, searching for a way to build a new courthouse without property taxes to pay for it.

Even with land to offer, county leaders and developers are seeking a revenue stream to pay for the building. Harvey Ruvin, the county’s elected court clerk, on Tuesday suggested imposing a fee on new development to help pay for government buildings.

“We have impact fees for water and sewer, we have it for roads,” Ruvin said. “It would make sense to look at that as a possible option for funding the courthouse.”

The county properties offered by the Gimenez administration cover some prime downtown real estate, including land surrounding the tower that contains County Hall itself and a Metrorail station, as well as the existing courthouse. Developer Russell Galbut has already offered to build a courthouse on a lot he owns in exchange for $18 million a year and the ability to turn the 1928 tower into a commercial building.

Michael Weiser, chairman of HistoryMiami, urged commissioners to reject any plan that delivers a courthouse at the expense of the “cultural plaza” that houses the library and the museum.

“We must be careful not to harm other institutions critical to the quality of our civic life,” he said.

Lobbyist proposal

Miami-Dade commissioners on Tuesday voted 6 to 4 to allow lobbyists to serve on the committee recommending changes to the county charter.

When the commission voted earlier this year to convene the panel, it did not include the lobbyist ban that was in place for the last charter-review process in 2012. Commissioners have already appointed some lobbyists to the 2017 committee, but a proposal by Chairman Esteban “Steve” Bovo would have reversed those appointments.

Bovo’s proposal failed after critics questioned whether the restrictions were fair. Joining Bovo on the Yes side: Audrey Edmonson, Daniella Levine Cava and Xavier Suarez.