Miami-Dade commission demands a new 26-story courthouse, old one to be sold

FECI proposed building a smaller, more expensive courthouse

Miami Dade County's courthouse
Miami Dade County's courthouse

Private developers interested in building a new Miami-Dade courthouse in downtown Miami will have to make it 26 stories and 600,000 square feet in size.

At the request of Miami-Dade County Commissioner Sally Heyman, county commissioners on Tuesday approved a rule specifying that bids to construct a new courthouse must conform to the terms of an 800-page master plan crafted last year with the input of attorneys and judges. Under that plan, the courthouse must be 600,000 square feet with 26 floors and have at least 46 finished courtrooms at completion and 50 courtrooms by 2035. The county would also invest $361 million to build it as part of a public-private venture. The courthouse will replace the circa-1928 Miami-Dade courthouse at 73 West Flagler Street in Miami.

Last summer, Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez directed staff to see if they could create a smaller, cheaper courthouse with 20 floors and 525,000 square feet that would only cost $274 million. Gimenez also wanted to build the new civil courthouse on a county-owned surface lot next to the Miami-Dade Children’s Courthouse at 155 Northwest Third Street.

But some attorneys and judges feared that a scaled back courthouse would be insufficient. “This is going to be the building for the next 100 years,” said Chief Judge Bertila Soto, who worried that the new courthouse may just have half the courtrooms promised.

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On January 11th, the county received an unsolicited proposal from a team that includes Florida East Coast Industries, the company that’s developing MiamiCentral, a 3 million-square-foot complex that includes a station for Brightline, a passenger train system run by a subsidiary of FECI.

“I don’t know how much detail I can give under that proposal, but it will be a smaller building, but at a higher price of $361 million,” Tara Smith, director of the the county’s internal services department, told commissioners. Under the county’s “cone of silence” ordinance, bids are secret until the mayor makes a recommendation.

The mayor is due to make a preliminary recommendation on FECI’s bid next week. If the mayor doesn’t outright reject the bid, he’ll have another 30 days to review it. Among the mayor’s options is issuing a formal request for proposals for developers to build a new courthouse.

So far, FECI is the only unsolicited bid that was received by the county’s internal services department, said Jose Galan, assistant director of the department. A separate proposal issued by developer Russell Galbut last year, which would have him redevelop the old courthouse and build a new $300 million courthouse in exchange for $1.8 billion over a 99-year lease, was submitted under the state’s economic development statute and was not accepted as a formal bid, Galan added. Leland Salomon, director of economic development, said Galbut can resubmit his proposal if an RFP is issued.

As for the old courthouse, the county intends to sell the historically designated building under a separate RFP. “We’ll have a package to put the old courthouse out for sale very soon,” Smith told commissioners.