The Real Deal Miami

Wellington considers $15M village hall

By Dan Weil | October 23, 2008 10:57AM

Wellington, the U.S.’ equestrian capital during the winter, will eventually go through with plans to build a new village hall, but current economic conditions make it a tougher proposition, local real estate professionals say.

The village council is considering a $15 million proposal for a new government headquarters, part of a town center project that would include an amphitheater and playground. The village government is now dispersed through five locations, with some employees working in a trailer.

The facilities haven’t changed since the village was incorporated in 1996. Wellington has become famous for its wealthy winter visitors, like actor Tommy Lee Jones, who come down for horse-related activities.

The timing is difficult now thanks to the U.S. financial crisis and economic downturn.

“People are looking inward; they’re financially strapped,” says Barbara Richardson, a real estate lawyer who owns part of an equestrian business in Wellington.

Rick Gonzalez, a local architect, says now is the perfect time to build a new structure, thanks to the real estate bust. “Construction prices for government buildings have dropped 20 to 30 percent,” he says. “Plus it will create jobs in the local economy” during this time of distress.

That school of thinking may clash with political realities — public financing for the project may be a tough sell, but it will be vital for the young municipality. Neil Merin, a real estate broker in West Palm Beach, says Wellington would do well to stage a referendum for the plan, noting that West Palm Beach was successfully sued when it began building a $105 million city center project without voter approval.

What’s necessary is for the village government to clearly explain to the citizenry why a new building is necessary, Gonzalez says. “The town center could become the heart and soul of the town.”

“I think a new village hall ultimately will happen because it’s so necessary,” Richardson says. “It’s just a matter of timing.

I think it’s more likely to happen when the economy improves and people aren’t so scared about where their life savings are going.”