Miami-Dade County will owe $12.7 million more than originally projected in the first year for a new civil courthouse, partly due to a change in location, county records shows.
The county is to pay $38.7 million for the first year it occupies the courthouse, more than the $26 million previously announced due to rising interest rates, rising construction costs and switching from the Children’s Courthouse parking lot to a Flagler Street site.
The County Commission voted 10-0 in July for the site west of the existing courthouse despite Mayor Carlos Gimenez pushing for the Children’s Courthouse site and cautioning the Flagler Street location would cost more.
The 1928 courthouse at 73 W. Flagler St. has issues such as termites, mold and water and plumbing leaks.
Many in the Miami legal community pushed for the Flagler site for logistical reasons such as proximity to Interstate 95 and restaurants.
County Commissioner Sally Heyman, a lawyer who sponsored the Flagler resolution, said the price tags for construction at either site at this point are just that — estimates — and solid costs won’t be known until after a developer is selected.
“There were projections and estimates, and that’s all they are,” she said. “We don’t even have a selected group, and we don’t have what they are going to propose.”
The half-acre Flagler site consists of a small park and parking lot on the northwest corner of Flagler Street and Northwest First Avenue. The lot at the Children’s Courthouse site at 155 NW Third St. is an acre.
“Because the Flagler site that was ultimately selected is much more narrow, the building has to be higher to accommodate all the 50 courtrooms. We are looking at potentially a 30-plus story building. On the Children’s Courthouse site, I think we were estimating 23 stories,” said Dan Chatlos, Miami-Dade Internal Services Department strategic program director. “A taller building means it’s more expensive.”
The new courthouse is set to have 46 courtrooms and enough space for the construction of another four.
Miami-Dade must pay $800,000 a year for rent, although that’s a preliminary estimate and might be tweaked after two land appraisals. The Children’s Courthouse location would have been rent-free, Chatlos said.
Both sites are county-owned, but the county used Federal Transit Administration funds in 1979 during Metrorail construction on the west side of the Flagler site. The grant conditions require fair-market rent for nontransit uses such as a courthouse.
“In this case we are building a civil courthouse on a piece of land that was purchased for transportation purposes. The FTA will let us do that but requires us to pay a market rent to essentially support transportation operations,” Chatlos said.
The $38.7 million first-year cost to the county breaks down to the $800,000 rent and $37.9 million for the development team.
Chatlos said it’s hard to say how much of the 49 percent increase is because of the site switch and how much is due to other factors.
The county will pay the developers, which will design, build, operate and finance the courthouse for 30 years, according to a Nov. 6 memo from Gimenez to commissioners. Payments will be adjusted annually for inflation.
A county selection committee is reviewing the qualifications of five teams vying for the project. Up to three that make a short list will be asked to submit plans.
The groups are Toronto-based investment firm Fengate Capital Management Ltd., Miami-based Arquitectonica and Colorado-based Hensel Phelps; M-S-E Judicial Partners LLC, a partnership of the DLR Group and Suffolk Construction; Plenary Group USA Concessions Ltd., whose partners include design and architecture firm HOK and Los Angeles-based Tutor Perini Corp.; and Sacyr Infrastructure USA, a partnership of Sacyr SA, AECOM and Plaza Construction. The fifth team of Coral Gables-based Florida East Coast Industries LLC and El Paso-based Hunt Cos. Inc. submitted an unsolicited proposal.
The first-year payment is due in the 2022-23 fiscal year when the courthouse is to set for occupancy.
The county has said it won’t use any property taxes on the courthouse. Revenue sources include the remainder of a $50 million voter-approved bond and proceeds from the future sale of county property, including the existing courthouse.
The county plans a separate competitive solicitation for the sale and redevelopment of the historic courthouse.
Miami-Dade Chief Circuit Judge Bertila Soto said the Flagler site pays homage to Miami history and sees symbolic value in a Flagler courthouse.
The location was picked after “lengthy and detailed public discussion this past summer where commissioners examined many factors related to costs and benefits of all options,” she said in an emailed statement. ”We remain confident that the County’s competitive process will yield the lowest cost to build a much-needed new civil and probate courthouse.”