South Miami

South Miami considers selling City Hall property to developers

South Miami Mayor Philip K. Stoddard in front of City Hall on Wednesday, April 6 2016.
South Miami Mayor Philip K. Stoddard in front of City Hall on Wednesday, April 6 2016. rkoltun@elnuevoherald.com

South Miami has been offered millions of dollars from developers who want to buy City Hall, knock it down and build residential and retail.

While a cluster of residents disapprove of selling City Hall, commissioners and staff are negotiating its purchase price.

Oxford Group Holdings was the second party in as many months to make an offer for the property at 6130 Sunset Dr. Its $30 million bid is twice as much as was offered in February by Lynx Development Group, but includes more property in return.

Mayor Philip Stoddard, members of the commission, and city staff have voiced concerns about the almost 60-year-old building, saying it has outdated technologies, is energy inefficient and contains malicious mold that leads to office illness. The city’s Green Task Force suggested investigating the redevelopment of the facility.

City Manager Steven Alexander has talked to “about seven different entities over two years” interested in the property.

“We aren’t coming in with a complete predetermined design and saying this is what we have to do,” said Wasim Shomar, CEO of Lynx Companies and managing principal for Lynx Development Group. “We are coming in to say we all understand that this is not the best use of this land right now and City Hall is not the best fit for the needs of the city today.”

The commission agreed that the $15 million offer was too low for the property, including the City Hall building and police station, but not the public library. Lynx’s offer included $200,000 in deposits. On March 1, the commission authorized Alexander to meet with Lynx.

Oxford Group Holdings’ letter of intent includes the purchase of the library site at 6100 Sunset Dr., and properties at 5890 SW 69 St., and 5818 SW 71 St. Oxford offers a $100,000 initial deposit and $1 million deposit upon completion of its due diligence period. Oxford wrote that its plan to acquire the properties to allow a mixed-use project, including a new City Hall, would “require a rezoning of the parcels.”

Current zoning for the 3.42 acres allows for buildings up to eight stories with a bonus. Lynx is contemplating a mixed-used development program, including residential, a neighborhood grocery and boutique retail.

On Dec. 16, the commission deferred adopting an amendment to the city charter restricting the sale or lease of city property or the purchase of property by the city. Instead, commissioners want voters to decide. The issue was not on February’s ballot.

“Now that I have this one letter in, other folks have said ‘Gee, maybe we should get involved in it,’” Alexander said. “There is a lot of interest. … All these things are going to be a negotiation process which will be different for each proposal we get.”

“Lynx has said they are interested in talking to the commissioners and finding out a little more about what they are willing to accept on the property and what would work for them from a usage standpoint there on city hall. That has a lot to do with the valuation of the property.”

Lynx also mentions a plan for the complete protection and preservation of the Sylvia Martin Building. Shomar said Lynx is currently renovating Sunny Isles Beach City Hall and has worked with many municipalities.

In South Dade, Homestead has the newest City Hall, opening this March. Coral Gables has one of the oldest, built in 1927, while Pinecrest’s was built in 2004. Palmetto Bay’s was constructed in 2012. Cutler Bay’s town center was built in 1986.

“From an urban development point of view in the 21st century and given our understanding of environmental consideration, sea levels, and what have you, like anything else, at some point you have to take a look at it and say is this the best use of that property,” Shomar said. “We think that it’s not at this point. If we are able to work with the city hand-in-hand, we can help them develop that piece of land to address all of the needs they have. It’s in the early stages of simply coming together in the private sector with the city in the public sector and now we can create something that’s a win-win for everybody.”

It hasn’t been a win for Yvonne Beckman, who filed ethics complaints against Stoddard and Vice Mayor Bob Welsh for attending Green Task Force meetings in December 2014 and January 2015 and “promulgated the sale of City Hall.” Beckman alleged Stoddard and Welsh made attempts to “coerce GTF members” and deliberately exclude residents “from participating in their government.”

The Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust this week found no probable cause on Beckman’s complaint.

On Sep. 4, 2007, the Green Task Force was created as a “Green Building Committee.”

“I don’t think the residents have the same sentiment of the rank and file in the city of South Miami,” Beckman said. “I think it is Stoddard’s idea that higher and denser is a good idea and City Hall is one of our few assets in the city that the people actually own. He feels he can sell it. He may be able to do so. But he needs to be able to do that and tell the people exactly what he is doing and have transparency so people can come in and be a part of this.”

Meanwhile, Shomar hopes his company purchases the City Hall property.

“Its location is fantastic,” Shomar said. “It’s (has) multiple arteries for transportation. It’s very close to the Metrorail station and off of Sunset and U.S. 1, major streets. …We watch very closely all the plans of the city and all the aspirations they have to be friendlier to the environment and to create a true city of pleasant living.”

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