Miami-Dade Mayor Gimenez nixes FECI’s courthouse proposal

Proposal included building and maintaining courthouse for $26M over 35 years

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

UPDATED Feb. 12, 4:40 p.m.: Miami-Dade’s mayor has rejected a proposal by the operator of the Brightline passenger train to build a new downtown Miami courthouse.

Instead, Mayor Carlos Gimenez revealed in a memo obtained by The Real Deal that he has started a formal bid process for developers to replace the 90-year-old Miami-Dade County Courthouse — which lawyers and judges insist is obsolete, moldy, and falling apart — with a state-of-the art facility. That bid process began on January 31 and will end on April 2, Gimenez stated in the memo dated Thursday.

New Flagler Courthouse Development Partners (NFCDP) made an “unsolicited” proposal on Jan. 11 to build a new courthouse. The partners of NFCDP include Florida East Coast Industries, which is developing the 3-million-square-foot MiamiCentral complex as well as the Brightline express rail system.

The details of NFCDP’s proposal will not be made public for another 150 days, per the county’s cone of silence ordinance. However, during a Miami-Dade County Commission meeting last week, Tara Smith, director of Internal Services, said that NFCDP had proposed building a “smaller building” than the 600,000-square-foot, 26-story structure backed by the commission. Smith also said the NFCDP building would cost $361 million to build.

In his memo, Gimenez stated that NFCDP “proposed to deliver the new courthouse and maintain the facility in exchange for an estimated annual availability payment of $26 million for a 35-year term.”

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Gimenez also said that NFCDP proposed to build the new courthouse on a county-owned parcel adjacent to the Miami-Dade County Courthouse at 73 West Flagler Street. The location of the site, referred to as “alternative site” in Gimenez’s memo, will also remain secret for the next 150 days, according to Jose Galan, assistant director of the county’s internal services department.

A site near the old circa-1928 courthouse is preferred by Jorge Piedra, president of the Cuban American Bar Association, according to a letter he wrote to county commissioners. “This particular site will pay proper homage to the iconic Miami-Dade County Courthouse while re-invigorating the Flagler Street corridor,” he wrote.

Gimenez, though, prefers the county-owned lots near the Children’s Courthouse at 155 Northwest Third Street, which he describes as “the most build-ready site among the county’s downtown holdings.” The “alternative site,” on the other hand, “has other potential land uses that may be monetized by the county to mitigate the costs associated with the courthouse project,” Gimenez wrote. Those “monetized” options include the county selling or leasing this “alternative site.”

In 2014, county officials hoped to issue $390 million in bonds to build a new downtown Miami courthouse to replace the 90-year-old Miami Dade Courthouse. Prior to that vote, Florida East Coast Industries was negotiating with county staff on a proposal to build a 618,000-square-foot courthouse with 51 courtrooms. Ultimately, however, voters rejected the bond proposal and talks with FECI fizzled.

But that wasn’t the end of the concept of the county partnering with a private developer to build a new civil courthouse. This past April, the county received a proposal from developer Russell Galbut to build a $300 million, 35-story courthouse on a lot he co-owns with Andrew Resnick at 54 West Flagler Street, in exchange for $18 million a year for the next 99 years. That bid will have to be formally re-issued to be considered, Galan said.

A month later, the county commission invited developers to submit proposals to build a new courthouse on eight county-owned sites in downtown Miami. To help finance the courthouse’s construction, the county commission offered to sell or redevelop three county-owned buildings: the Lawson E. Thomas Courthouse Center at 175 Northwest First Avenue, the old historic Miami-Dade Courthouse, and the Cultural Center across the street from the old courthouse. The Cultural Center currently houses HistoryMiami and the county’s main library.