The mold-ridden, historic David W. Dyer Federal courthouse in downtown Miami could be put on the auction block — but not if some Miami judges have something to say about it.
The General Services Administration (GSA), which owns all federal courthouses, said a feasibility study is under way to determine whether the Dyer building needs to be gutted or can be cleaned of mold without gutting it, and how much it would cost to renovate the building.
After the study is completed within the next few months, GSA will then decide whether to renovate the courthouse or to sell it, said GSA spokesman Gary Mote.
“One option would be to sell the building,” Mote said. “We haven’t put it on the market yet.”
But any plan to sell the building would likely be met with resistance and even outrage from some in the Miami legal community.
The Dyer building is part of the Miami federal courthouse complex and, until recently, hosted magistrate court. Formerly the site of the city’s main post office, the Spanish-style building was constructed in 1933 of limestone and features a grand ceremonial courtroom with crystal chandeliers and murals that is used for swearing-ins of judges and U.S. attorneys.
Adding to the history: Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega was housed in the basement for months during his drug trial in the 1990s. Although the building is a historical landmark, that would not preclude it from being sold, said Mote — “as long as the buyer lived up to the historical covenants.”
But finding a buyer for the building could prove a tough sell. The building, which is now empty, has been found to have significant mold and air safety issues and is the subject of a recently filed lawsuit.
The federal lawsuit was brought by the family of former Magistrate Judge Ted Klein, who died suddenly of a respiratory ailment in 2006 — brought on, claim his family, by mold at the Dyer Courthouse.
After two studies found significant mold and air safety issues in the courthouse, Chief Judge Federico Moreno ordered the courthouse basement closed to everyone except those wearing protective masks and gear. He also encouraged employees — several of whom complained of health and respiratory problems — to consult with their doctors.
As a new courthouse, the Wilkie D. Ferguson Federal Courthouse, opened up across the street, employees at the Dyer Building were shifted to other courthouses. As of last week, the building is empty, except for an employee or two in the basement handling sealed files.
The ceremonial courtroom is not even in use any more; last week’s citizenship ceremony — which is usually held there — was instead moved to the James Lawrence King Federal Courthouse.
But Miami Magistrate Judge Peter Palermo — who worked in the Dyer Building for 37 years before moving to the King building this month — said he would “raise hell” over any proposal to sell the Dyer Building.
“It’s historical,” he said, calling the grand ceremonial courtroom “one of the most beautiful courtrooms in the country. When lawyers come to town they all want to tour it. I would fight like hell.”
Miami attorney Barry Wax, the outgoing president of the Miami chapter of the Federal Bar Association, said he could not understand why anyone would buy the building if it can’t be torn down.
“It’s a valuable piece of property,” Wax said. “There’s no question it’s a viable spot for development. Perhaps someone might want it as a museum. They’d get it for a song right now, that’s for sure.”