The parent company of the Brightline passenger train and four other development teams remain in the running to build the new Miami-Dade civil courthouse after a decision that finally settled how the county would proceed with selecting the developer.
The County Commission on Tuesday voted 8-2 to keep all proposers in the competition and allow others to apply, after previously several times postponing a decision.
The existing 1928 courthouse at 73 W. Flagler St. has a slew of problems, including mold and termites. Attorneys also have complained of impractical designs of the courtrooms and the rest of the courthouse, including that some floors have no bathrooms.
The county has been trying for years to build and pay for a new courthouse but has hit snags. In 2014, voters rejected a $390 million bond measure to finance a new courthouse. Now, Miami-Dade wants to do the project through a public-private partnership, but again things are complicated, this time because a development team turned in an unsolicited proposal.
Coral Gables-based Florida East Coast Industries LLC — the parent company of the Brightline train that connects the downtowns of Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — and El Paso-based real estate company Hunt Cos. Inc. turned in the unsolicited courthouse plan in January. The two are working under the group name New Flagler Courthouse Development Partners LLC.
The county about two weeks later opened the official solicitation, a two-step process where developers first turned in their qualifications by May and then teams on a short list are to submit their specific plans and costs by January.
Four development teams applied in the first step of the process.
According to a May 10 memo from County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to commissioners, the respondents were:
- Toronto-based investment firm Fengate Capital Management Ltd., which has partnered with Miami-based Arquitectonica International Corp. and Colorado-based construction and management firm Hensel Phelps and others;
- M-S-E Judicial Partners LLC, a partnership among design firm DLR Group, Boston-based Suffolk Construction and Ontario-based construction firm EllisDon Corp. among others;
- Plenary Group USA Concessions Ltd., which is an investor, builder and operator of public infrastructure whose partners include design and architecture firm HOK and Los Angeles-based construction firm Tutor Perini Corp;
- and Sacyr Infrastructure USA, which is a partnership among global firm Sacyr SA, Los Angeles-based engineering firm AECOM and New York-based Plaza Construction.
Until Tuesday, the issue remained as to how exactly the county should proceed—continue with its two-step process, select the New Flagler proposal, or keep both?
It chose the third. The approved resolution, put forth by Commissioner Sally Heyman, allows for both New Flagler and the four development teams to be considered down the line, despite Gimenez opposing this plan.
“We feel that maybe this process puts somebody at an advantage and some others in a disadvantage, and we want to make sure we have as much competition as possible. So I am not sure if you are going to have the same level of interest from the folks that participated in our process,” he said Tuesday.
Gimenez not only is apprehensive about this hybrid process — so termed for including New Flagler and all others who applied — but already had recommended the commission throws out New Flagler’s proposal altogether.
It would be much costlier in part because it reduces competition from other developers, Gimenez has said in memos to the commission.
Under the county’s Tuesday decision, others can apply to build a courthouse but only by submitting through the county’s official process, as no more unsolicited plans will be accepted.
Then, up to three shortlisted applicants will advance.
While the county made one decision about the new courthouse, another remains — exactly where it will be built.
Two sites are at play. One is the 25,000-square-foot site on the northwest corner of Flagler Street and Southwest First Avenue just west of the existing courthouse, which is where New Flagler wants to build. The other is a 42,000-square-foot parking lot for the Children’s Courthouse at 155 NW Third St., the site recommended by the mayor.
Gimenez opposes the Flagler Street site, saying that it would cost $6.3 million more to build there, according to his May 10 memo. In previous correspondence with commissioners, Gimenez also said the Flagler site is part of the Cultural Center Plaza, which includes HistoryMiami and the county’s central library, and is being looked at for future commercial development.
But some in the legal community have said they want the courthouse to remain along Flagler Street because that location is closer to affordable parking, Interstate 95 and lunch spots.
The County Commission is to pick a site at its June 19 meeting or a subsequent one.
The Miami Downtown Development Authority, a marketing and research agency funded by property taxes, will analyze the economic impact on downtown from a courthouse being built on either site.
Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava was one of the no votes Tuesday. She said a new courthouse is necessary, as the current one is “a health risk” and “a dangerous situation.”
But, she said, she voted no because she opposes the selection process.