Miami-Dade committee backs Flagler site for new downtown courthouse

Vote is another victory for Brightline’s parent company, which has long championed the site
By Erik Bojnansky | July 12, 2018 03:45PM

Six Miami-Dade County Commissioners are recommending that a 25,000-square-foot park on Flagler Street be the sole site for a new Miami-Dade Civic Courthouse.

The unanimous vote came Tuesday morning during a chairman’s policy council meeting held in county chambers. The site item will come before the full 13-member county commission on July 24.

County officials have been attempting to find a way to partner with a private developer to construct a new 600,000-square-foot civil courthouse in Miami’s downtown area ever since Miami-Dade voters rejected a $390 million bond issue in 2014. Lawyers and judges insist that the current Miami-Dade County Courthouse at 79 West Flagler Street, built in 1928, is essentially an unsafe building with loose plaster, mold infestations, crummy plumbing, and lead-contaminated drinking water.

However, there’s been disagreement over how the county should go about selecting a development team to build the new courthouse or where it should be located. On June 5, over the objections of Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez, the county commission decided to throw out a P3 “two-step” bidding process and issue a brand new open bidding method that was advocated by one of the bidders, a development team lead by Florida East Coast Industries. FECI is the parent company of the Brightline train system and developer of MiamiCentral, a 3-million-square-foot, mixed-use project that will include apartments, retail, offices, and a pair of train stations.

Gimenez had also tried to throw out FECI’s unsolicited bid to construct a new courthouse in exchange for $26 million a year for the next 35 years, only to be overruled by the county commission.

Tuesday’s vote, which took less than five minutes, was yet another victory for the FECI-led team which has long advocated that the new courthouse be built on Cultural Center Plaza Park, located just west of the Flagler Courthouse and east of the Metrorail tracks and the Cultural Center Plaza. The Cultural Center Plaza is home to the HistoryMiami museum and Miami-Dade’s main library.

Previously, Gimenez advocated a 42,000-square-foot site by the new Miami Children’s Courthouse at 155 Northwest Third Street. Gimenez claimed the county would save $6.3 million building at the Children’s Courthouse site since it was essentially vacant (it’s now a surface parking lot) and already environmentally remediated.

However, Flagler business owners, the Downtown Development Authority, and lawyer groups like the Cuban American Bar Association insisted on the Flagler site.

Commissioner Sally Heyman thinks the site near the Miami Children’s Courthouse should be reserved for a future facility that can provide services for children and families. Heyman also felt that a new courthouse belongs “right here on Flagler” since it’s a “central draw for the community.”

“It further defines us as a big player in a big city in a big county,” Heyman added.

During the meeting, the mayor’s office didn’t voice any objection to Flagler being the sole site. Instead, Deputy Mayor Edward Marquiz just urged a decision. “A selection of a site is critical for us to move forward judiciously,” he told commissioners.

Eugene Stearns, FECI’s lobbyist, said the debate over where to build the new courthouse “is over” and that Gimenez has “seen the writing on the wall.”

Besides FECI, four other development teams have submitted proposals to build a new courthouse: Fengate Capital Management, the Plenary Group, Sacyr Infrastructure USA, and M-S-E Judicial Partners. A new RFP (request for proposals) will be issued in 30 days. A separate bid will be issued for developers interested in buying and redeveloping the current historically designated courthouse.