Brightline’s parent company might still have a chance to build a new downtown Miami-Dade civil courthouse — in spite of the county mayor’s opposition.
On June 5, the Miami-Dade County Commission will decide whether or not to merge two bidding processes for real estate developers and contractors interested in building a new courthouse that will replace the deteriorating circa 1928 civil courthouse at 73 West Flagler Street.
If the processes are merged, it will enable New Flagler Courthouse Development Partners’ unsolicited proposal to compete with four other teams vying to build the new courthouse. NFCDP’s team includes Florida East Coast Industries, the parent company of Brightline, which will start passenger train service at FECI’s MiamiCentral project this weekend.
County Commissioner Sally Heyman made the proposal to keep the team’s bid alive at Tuesday’s commission meeting. Heyman stated that the “unsolicited proposer” was “aggrieved and harmed,” a likely reference to the accidental leaking of the team’s sealed bid to the Plenary Group, a multinational company that expressed interest in building the new courthouse, April 5. As a result of that leak, deemed accidental, KPMG LLP was replaced by BMO Capital Markets as the county’s consultant in the courthouse bidding process.
Eugene Stearns, a lobbyist representing NFCDP, said Heyman’s proposal was a step in the right direction. “We are getting close to what could be a positive outcome for the county and the judicial system,” he said.
But Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said accepting NFCDP’s bid will be costly for county taxpayers. “The board’s acceptance of the unsolicited proposal is expected to be significantly more expensive than the procurement process already initiated by the county,” Gimenez stated in a May 10th memo.
FECI has been expressing interest in building a new courthouse for the county since 2014. Back then, the company proposed constructing a 618,000-square- foot courthouse with 51 courtrooms. That proposal fizzled after county voters rejected a $390 million bond issue that would fund the construction of a new courthouse.
On Jan. 11, FECI and its partners at NFCDP submitted a new proposal to build a new courthouse on land beside the old courthouse in exchange for $26 million a year for the next 35 years from the county. NFCDP would also purchase and redevelop the historically designated courthouse as a hotel. Further details of the proposal are still secret under the county’s proposed cone of silence law.
Gimenez, however, issued a “request for qualifications” on January 31 from developers interested in building a new civil courthouse under a “two-step P3 process.” On May 2, four proposals were submitted by Fengate Capital Management, the Plenary Group, Sacyr Infrastructure USA, and M-S-E Judicial Partners. Details on the four teams’ proposals are also currently secret.
In the May 10 report, Gimenez and BMO Capital insist that the two-step procurement process will ensure a more affordable and transparent process than the “alternative” proposal pushed by NFCDP. It’s a stance that Gimenez has repeated since February 12 when he first recommended that NFCDP’s unsolicited bid be rejected.
Gimenez has also insisted that the new courthouse be built on county-owned surface lots at the Children’s Courthouse at 155 Northwest Third Street. Gimenez claims it will cost $6.3 million more if the new courthouse is built near Flagler Street instead of the Children’s Courthouse site.
Local lawyer organizations, however, have stated that they prefer that the new courthouse be built near 73 West Flagler. The Miami Downtown Development Authority also fears that building the new courthouse elsewhere could harm Flagler Street’s future economic development. Due to those concerns, the county commission has also insisted on an economic impact report from the mayor.
Chief Judge Bertila Soto said either site can work for a new courthouse. But most importantly, Soto stressed the need for a new courthouse as soon as possible. Due to lead contamination, water fountains at the current 1928-era courthouse have been closed, Soto said. And, due to mold, falling plaster, and other hazards, the court has spent $2.7 million relocating staff and equipment to other buildings in the county in the past three-and-a-half years, Soto added. Just last week, the 19th and 20th floors were closed down.
“The 14th floor flooded because there was a leak in the bathroom,” Soto said. “So, we’re hoping that June 5th is the last day and they will pick a procurement process and it will happen. At least we know they are going to build a building. And we don’t care who. We just want to build it.”