On November 8, 2016, the people of America went to the polls. Nationally, they made a choice. We won’t get into the wisdom of that today. The voters in the City of South Miami went to the polls on that day, too, and expressed themselves on a local issue that has been simmering for years.
They were asked, “What should we do about the City Hall and the Police Station?” The City Hall complex, built in the 1950s, was looking dowdy and has all the visual appeal of a muumuu on a bargain rack at Walmart.
The vote was 72 percent in favor of getting a new City Hall and Police Station. The voters didn’t just approve the referendum, they handed the Mayor and Commission a mandate. The people voted for the proposition on the promise that the new construction would not cost the city anything. The present site would be sold for development and the funds used to build the new facilities.
Politicians are creatures who can be spooked by two people wearing the same t-shirt speaking at the podium. So, you would think that a proposal garnering 72 percent of the vote would put them into high gear.
Not this Mayor and not this Commission. The City is letting an opportunity slip by. If the value of the City Hall property is, as expected, more than what it would take to build a new City Hall and Police Station, then it would be a HUGE win for South Miami.
If handled the right way, the City would get a new City Hall and Police Station and the excess revenue could be used to fund programs or put into the capital fund to be used to renovate other outdated city properties. Correctly managed, the sale could lead to the beautification of the area. It would also put the property on the tax rolls, meaning that the City could reap more than $800,000 in property taxes each year.
What happened? To characterize what the city is doing as “stalling” would be pulling our punches.
The City put out not one, but two Requests for Proposals. One for a straight sale and one answering an unsolicited proposal submitted by one interested party. There were six qualified proposals submitted in answer to the RFP. The value of the City Hall complex was estimated to be around $24 million. To put that in perspective, our City’s budget this year is about $18 million. The City could realize more than enough to build a new City Hall and Police Station.
Rather than act on the responses to that RFP, the City put out a second RFP, asking interested entities if they wanted to redevelop the property as a public-private partnership to see if that route would be better for the City.
Then, the inexplicable happened. The City Manager withdrew the RFPs, canceling the entire process. The Manager offers no explanation or justification. Since that time, the Mayor has offered no comment.
The City Commission, with the exception of Commissioner Josh Liebman, has stayed mum about this. And City staff are like ostriches with their heads in the sand. None of them will speak on the record as to what is really going on.
Although the City leadership may be hoping that people’s memories will fade, the vote was clear. South Miamians want a new City Hall and Police Station and they want it to be paid for by the sale of the property on Sunset Drive. It’s time to quit stalling and get to work.