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Forty-four years after it opened, the building that houses the Coral Gables police and fire departments is leaking and structurally unsound, with parking bays where fire engines no longer fit. City leaders think the cost of upgrading the building is impractical, so on Tuesday, the City Commission approved a land swap that will clear the way for a new, larger public safety building about a half-mile north.
Under the deal, the city will build a new headquarters for police, fire and other city departments plus a public parking garage on two parcels at or near the intersection of Salzedo Street and Alcazar Avenue. Part will be on Lot 6, a city-owned parking lot, and part will be on a privately-owned piece of land on Minorca Avenue that the city will acquire.
The owner of the Minorca property, C/LeJeune, LLC, will get the land where the police department stands, although the city departments would continue to occupy the building until the new headquarters are built, which is set for completion by 2020.
City staff and commissioners see the move as a more effective option than trying to renovate and retrofit the headquarters at 2801 Salzedo, which was built in 1973 and is about 63,000 square feet. Stantec Consulting Services indicated, in a 2014 study, that the building had multiple cracks and leaks, might not hold up in a hurricane and that the bays meant to hold fire trucks were not fit to hold them anymore. The upgrades were estimated to cost more than $20 million and would still not address some of the building’s structural issues.
Through the agreement the city will receive $5.2 million, as the 2801 Salzedo St. site is larger than the property at 250 Minorca Ave. C/LeJeune will receive $2 million in impact fee credits.
“Three years later, in a perfect world, we own Minorca, they own Salzedo, we’ve brought in $5.2 million and we’ve stayed on the Salzedo property throughout those three years without paying additional rent,” said Vivian de las Cuevas-Diaz, the city’s outside counsel with the law firm Holland and Knight.
Police leaders and city staff think that moving operations about half a mile north will help speed up fire rescue response times in the North Gables area, and the parking garage will help ease downtown parking needs.
“I think that this, just alone, based on the simple fact that it’s more north, it’s gonna be a brand new building, I think it provides us with the necessary and adequate response times to meet those needs of the residents in that area,” Commissioner Vince Lago said.
The public parking garage will also have office or retail space. Staff also plans to determine if the new police headquarters will house Coral Gables TV and the parking, human resources and information technology departments — all currently housed in the police building.
Commissioners asked for assurance that when construction does eventually begin, that the city take great care to avoid the kinds of issues that caused delays in the Miracle Mile streetscape construction.
“We have experienced, and the public has seen, a number of instances where there are problems, both because of structural and because of engineering,” said Commissioner Patricia Keon.
Assistant City Manager Peter Iglesias said the project will take about 10 months to design and 20 months to build.
“We’ll have specific milestones that we will look at and if those milestones are not met then the project is delayed,” Iglesias said. “We realize the timeline that we have and we’re acting appropriately.”
As part of the agreement, if the city remains at 2801 Salzedo beyond 2020, it will pay about $166,000 a month to remain there until the new police headquarters is finished. The deal also requires C/LeJeune to develop the site as a mixed-use building, a residential development or an office building.
The city is expected to issue about $20 million in bonds to pay for the new public safety building, which will be paid for in part by recent increases in parking rates. An hourly rate increase of about 50 cents was approved last November by the City Commission. The maximum hourly rate for on-street parking increased to $2 and to $1.50 an hour for parking in public garages. That increase will be applied incrementally over the next few months. It isn’t being applied to street parking on Miracle Mile, 100 Giralda and at the nearby public parking garages until the streetscape project is substantially complete.
Finance director Diana Gomez has said that the parking rate increase is one of several options the city is considering to pay for the new headquarters, as it may also use impact fee revenues, revenues from the sale of the current police building or other money.