A potential price put on City Hall by a secret buyer is too low for the South Miami city commission. But the commission has authorized City Manager Steven Alexander to continue talks with the party, following a letter of intent addressed to Mayor Philip Stoddard on Feb. 16.
The letter, sent from ARA Newark, a national full service investment advisory firm, was sent on behalf of a client with “strong interest” in developing in South Miami, particular the City Hall site at 6130 Sunset Dr.
Troy Ballard, senior managing director of the firm, listed a purchase price of $15 million for the property, including the City Hall building and police station, but not the library property. An initial deposit of $100,000 and an additional deposit of $100,000 at completion of an investigation period is also included in the proposal.
“I think it’s a pretty exciting opportunity for the city to have an opportunity to look at the potential that this offer provides,” Alexander said. “There is no reason that the city has to commit to going forward on this. So looking at any or all of these offers literally doesn’t cost the city any money at this point in evaluation.”
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“It gives an idea to the community of what is possible.”
Alexander added that there are a “couple of other firms” that are at least “verbally interested in making offers and sending letters of interest.”
“I was pleased by the attitude of the offer, that the developer had been listening to South Miami and was sensitive to our needs and desires as a community,” Stoddard said. “That is a most welcome approach to working inside the city.”
South Miami has 60 days from the date of the offer to respond. After the commission’s March 1 authorization, Alexander will find out the identity of the buyer when he meets with the interested parties. He also said that the city is committed to a large public information effort.
The buyer is contemplating a use consistent with current TODD Mixed Use-5 zoning for the 3.42-acre property. TODD (MU-5) allows permitted heights of a two-story minimum and four-story maximum, but buildings up to eight stories with a bonus.
“Recognizing that land value depends on use, the commission wanted the manager to explore how the value of city property would change with different uses that might benefit the city overall, versus uses that might exacerbate existing traffic problems,” Stoddard said.
Ballard says that there is a strong and viable market demand for medical office uses, but parking and traffic concerns were “viewed to be detrimental” to the city’s needs.
Instead, the buyer made preliminary development plans that “contemplate” a mixed-use develop program including residential, a neighborhood grocery and boutique retail.
“It’s a well reasoned, very considerate offer from the terms of understanding that any government needs to continue on with its business and not be interrupted just because somebody wants to buy the site,” Alexander said.
At the meeting, Alexander mentioned possible development of a new City Hall on the library property, among other sites.
“We need to explore all the different ways to improve working conditions at City Hall,” he said. “Financing reconstruction with land sale is one possibility. Within that option, we can consider any number of sites, of which the library is just one.”
On Dec. 16, the commission deferred a resolution that would have adopted a draft amendment to South Miami’s charter that restricted the sale or lease of city property or the purchase of property by the city, subject to a referendum of the city’s electorate approving the amendment.
“I’m going to report back to the commission after the meeting and announce who the buyer is at the next meeting,” Alexander said. “Whatever needs to be clarified at that point from their offer or if there is a change in direction at that point as a result of the comment from the commission, I will report that as well.”
The letter also mentions a plan for the complete protection and preservation of the Sylvia Martin Building. Ballard says that the client has solutions for development and retention of municipal facilities. The client also “developed a plan to ensure the ongoing and continuous city services and functions throughout the entire implementation of this project and beyond.”
“I think here in terms of City Hall, we’ve been talking about this issue for more than a year,” Commissioner Gabriel Edmond said from the dais March 1. “To be frank there has been some division on this commission. (Stoddard, Commissioner Josh Liebman, Vice Mayor Bob Welsh) have been the biggest proponents of selling City Hall. We are in a new session right now. I’m asking right now is for us to go forward with a new city hall, we have to have a better meeting of the minds of us five. I don’t think we’ve really ever done that in terms of how we move forward together.”