A new courthouse proposed by the developer of the Brightline rail system in downtown Miami remains in the running in a step supported by some in the legal community but opposed by Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
The county wants a new civil and probate courthouse to replace the historic Miami-Dade County Courthouse at 73 W. Flagler St., which comes with an assortment of old-age problems from mold to termites.
Two county-owned properties being considered for a courthouse are a 21,000-square-foot site on the northwest corner of Flagler Street and Southwest First Avenue just west of the existing courthouse and a 42,000-square-foot parking lot for the Children’s Courthouse at 155 NW Third St.
The County Commission voted Tuesday to postpone review of the private proposal on the north side of Flagler Street and look at it again once the county has received applications from developers bidding to build the project.
The private plan was submitted by Brightline’as parent company, Florida East Coast Industries LLC, and El Paso-based real estate company Hunt Cos. Inc. The two turned in their plan under the name New Flagler Courthouse Development Partners.
The county been trying for years to figure out where and how to build and pay for a new courthouse. A $390 million bond measure was defeated by 64 percent of voters in 2014.
Now, the county wants to pursue a public-private partnership where a developer pays the upfront costs and the public agency repays the developer over time. The PortMiami Tunnel, which connects MacArthur Causeway to the port, was built as a public-private partnership.
Miami-Dade is doing a two-step solicitation in which developers turn in their qualifications and experience by May, and a shortlist submits specific courthouse plans and cost by January, according to an April 4 memo Gimenez sent commissioners.
New Flagler Courthouse turned in its plan separately from the official call for developers. The specifics are unknown because the company asked the county to keep its plan secret.
Gimenez had said he opposes this plan in part because it would ultimately result in significantly higher costs for the county because it reduces competition from developers, according to the April 4 memo.
The mayor also has said he opposes the New Flagler site because it’s part of the Cultural Center Plaza, which includes HistoryMiami and the county’s central library, and is being looked at for future commercial development, according to his memo.
The existing courthouse would be sold in a separate deal under the Gimenez recommendation adopted Tuesday by the commission.
The county can sell the courthouse for more money in an independent deal, according to Gimenez. The county then could use the revenue to cover new courthouse costs.
On Tuesday, at least 10 representatives of the legal community said they support the New Flagler site, and they as well as other attorneys, judges and court reporters implored the commission to move ahead with construction.
“I work in the courthouse several times a week. I have suffered respiratory illness because of spending four days in trial in a courtroom that was later discovered to have mold. I truly worry about all of our safety every time I am in there,” said court reporter Rosa Naccarato.
She said she also supports the Flagler Street site for logistical reasons. It’s closer to affordable parking, Interstate 95 and lunch spots.
The County Commission is scheduled to make the final decision in April 2019, according to Gimenez’s memo.
The existing 28-floor courthouse, which opened in segregated Miami in 1928, has basement flooding and a lack of access for people with disabilities. Work was recently completed to restore its crumbling stone facade. Courtrooms on upper floors have columns blocking the line of sight for judges, attorneys and spectators.