Miami Shores

Miami Shores says ‘hell no’ to $20 million community center. What’s next?

C. Lawton McCall Community Center, at 9617 Park Dr. in Miami Shores, was built in 1972. Renovation — or replacement — of the center has been a hot topic.
C. Lawton McCall Community Center, at 9617 Park Dr. in Miami Shores, was built in 1972. Renovation — or replacement — of the center has been a hot topic.

The sleepy bedroom community of Miami Shores got political this year.

The recent election to fill three spots on the village council and decide on a $20 million bond for a new community center was filled with finger-pointing blog posts, calls of corruption and, at one point, a fake social media profile someone created of the village manager.

The newly elected council members are traditionally sworn in as mayor, vice mayor and council member depending on how many votes each received. MacAdam Glinn, the senior vice president of Skanska USA Building in Florida, won the most votes. Sean Brady, a data analyst, came in second, and Jonathan Meltz, a defense attorney, barely edged out office manager Liangy Fernandez-Calli for the third seat.

But the real point of contention was the other item on the ballot: whether or not the village should take out $20 million in bonds to fund a new community center.

Glinn, an incumbent, said he was looking for a mandate from voters with the referendum. He got it. The measure was shot down by more than 70 percent of voters.

“It could not have been more resounding,” he said.

The C. Lawton McCall Community Center, at 9617 Park Dr. in Miami Shores, was built in 1972. The nearly 50-year-old building is well-worn and at max capacity for the popular aftercare, gymnastics and ballet programs. Parents are calling to put their 2-year-olds on the wait list for the aftercare program, which accepts children aged 5 and up.

“We don’t have room,” said Angela Dorney, the interim recreation director for the community center.

In December 2014, the council approached a Colorado consulting firm for a feasibility study. Throughout 2015, Ballard*King & Associates met with staff at the center, held community workshops and sent out a resident survey.

Ballard*King concluded that remodeling the existing center would be as expensive — or more — than constructing a new building.

Last summer, Ballard*King presented its 94-page final report, which included a capital cost opinion from Skanska construction — the same firm Glinn works for — pegging the total project cost at just over $18 million. A final brochure put out by the city pegged the price tag at just over $17 million.

The suggested floor plan for a new community center. Ballard*King & Associates

In January, the council decided to ask Miami Shores if the village could take out $20 million in bonds to pay for the new center. They voted to out it on the ballot and held a meeting, where the village manager presented the community with a rendering.

The presentation surprised plenty of residents, who complained that the process wasn’t transparent or inclusive.

“They kept it like a secret,” said Steven Shulman, a neighborhood activist. “Nobody was informed.”

Even though the project was already two years in the making at that point, newly elected councilman Jonathan Meltz said, plenty of residents said this was the first they’d heard of it.

“That perception became reality,” he said. “If people tell you it came out of nowhere, then for them, it did.”

In response, Glinn said the council decided to put every document, presentation and survey result on the town website. They added a tax calculator so residents could find out how much the bond would cost them and a time line of every step of the process.

But, Glinn said, “people’s minds were made.”

Shulman gathered a passionate group of residents that stormed comment threads on Facebook and Nextdoor and dotted the village with 300 red lawn signs urging citizens to “VOTE NO.”

“Most of the people aren’t against a new recreation center,” he said. “They’re against a blank check.”

The election result, Shulman said, was a “resounding hell no.”

But the probable new mayor of the village, Glinn, said he’s in no hurry to dive back into the fray.

“We’ve all got to take a deep breath and let some time pass,” he said.

His immediate priority with the center, he said, is to address needs from community center staff and figure out how to have the center make money again. The center was more than $117,000 in the red for the 2015-2016 fiscal year. That same year, the afterschool program made a little over $70,000, and the summer camps brought in about $22,000.

Meltz, the new council member, said he’s ready to find money to pay architects and builders for “real plans” for a new community center.

“Now we get to work together to get a community center done,” Meltz said.

Alex Harris: 305-376-5005, @harrisalexc