South Miami

South Miami ponders reconstructing a new city hall

South Miami City Hall in 1951.
South Miami City Hall in 1951.

South Miami’s deteriorating and sinking city hall may have to be replaced.

“The problem is that it’s sitting in a puddle,” Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “It’s sitting in an underground river and it’s wet. So it’s going to take a lot of site foundation work. It’s very expensive to do this. The alternative is to get a private entity to build something that will benefit the city, as well as a city hall, on the same site.”

After assessing the costs associated with renovating the current building, at 6130 Sunset Dr., South Miami City Manager Steven Alexander found the bill could prove very hefty.

Now city staff are looking at the idea of a public/private partnership that could result in increased revenue for the city and very low, if not any, cost for new facilities.

“What the manager did was to look at the different options,” Stoddard said. “Either fixing up city hall, or rebuilding it. What he found is that to repair city hall would be very expensive, somewhere in the range of $7 million or $8 million.”

The current city hall site is in bad shape, experiencing water leaks, outdated office space, and has moldy conditions that have resulted in recurring refurbishments. The second floor of the building is not ADA accessible.

Alexander hired an architect, who said that it would cost $8 million to reconstruct the current 3.4-acre property

On Feb. 17, the city commission passed a resolution endorsing a Green Task Force letter that established goals for the city regarding an environmentally connected design of city hall and other municipal facilities, and authorizing Alexander to take certain actions.

“Basically the way [a partnership] would work, is in exchange for the city hall property, a developer would come in and build a new structure here and as part of the compensation to the city for the land, they would build us brand new space,” Alexander said in his June 15 report. “Whether it was attached to their structure or a separate structure, whether it was partially here and partially at the inspection station or elsewhere in the city, remains to be seen, based on what somebody wants to propose.”

Currently, no property taxes are paid for the 50-year-old property, but going to a public/private partnership would put the large site on the tax rolls.

“We have a lot of land we can consolidate,” Stoddard said. “If we do that, we would likely get a new city hall for very little money, possibly no money. So we need to put in place the structure that allows us to get offers from private entities. Right now we don’t have a mechanism for doing it. We don’t know exactly what offers would come in but we think that the private sector would be interested in doing this.”

Stoddard said the newfound cash from rezoning the property could go toward revamping numerous parks in the city and maybe even purchasing the Ludlam Trail.

“When/if we get in a proposal, it has to be evaluated carefully by professionals,” Stoddard said. “Many different types of people have to look at it from different perspectives and aspects and that’s the expertise…We would need to hire people. One example would be an appraiser. We need to hire an appraiser to look at the value of the property and make sure we are getting a fair valuation on it. We would need to hire attorneys who specialize in these types of transactions. We might need to hire any number of other experts. $50,000 would cover our expenses in evaluating a proposal. That would be paid by the company submitting the proposal.”

There is currently no timeline for the proposal, but current conditions in the aging structure have worn on city staff.

“What we have is building that is molding rapidly again,” Stoddard said. “We had drywall replaced a year and a half ago and the paint is already bubbling. The air conditioner just went out. Staff is cramped and the market is good right now. With the building starting to crumble under us again, this is the time to be looking.”

If a developer purchases the land, it could also build the city a new library and police station.

“The reality is, in terms of the value of this piece of property, there appears to be enough value for somebody to be able to build us out the new space we think we need,” Alexander said in his report. “We went through a pretty extensive research exercise. The chief sent a lot of people from his staff to other police departments. We sent people out to various city halls and tried to see how people were designing spaces, how they were using spaces, what worked and what didn’t work. What we came up with was city hall in my estimation needs about 20,000 feet and the police needs in the neighborhood of 20,000 feet.”

The current library property is on land that the county and city have an agreement for. According to the agreement, if the space is not used for a library, the “geography reverts back to the city,” according to Alexander.

“The county is very interested in building a state of the art library,” Alexander said. “They are very interested in having that library associated with some aspect of the city government.”

Alexander said current “community desires” for the area includes a hotel and grocery store.

“So we’ve got developed and will bring back, at [commission] agreement, guidelines for accepting and evaluating proposals for looking into whether any of this is going to work out,” Alexander said.

Anybody wishing to apply for a project, renovation, or new construction, etc. will pay application fees and other fees, which will in turn, pay for the city’s expert evaluations.

“Then at some point we assume that we have several short listed projects that staff and expert outside staff has gone through, and bring forward for recommendations,” Alexander said. “When we get to that point of having say three possible projects, at that time we recommend going out to the public for public input on those various projects.”

Alexander also commented on the new-found funds for community needs.

“Turning this property over to a developer, then whatever they build here will be taxed for its ad valorem tax values,” Alexander said. “Those values of taxes to the city will be dramatic. It will be a significant raise in revenue to the city. That raise in revenues to the city will be game changing. [Commissioners] will be able to look at things that you haven’t been able to do or think about doing, in terms of in terms of being good stewards of the city.”