Fate of city hall project in Gables due on commission plate
By Sherri C. Ranta
The fate of the $17 million Coral Gables administration building and garage, stopped early in construction because of a lawsuit, is back in the hands of city commissioners after a citizens' committee recommended the project be demolished and a facilities master plan be developed.
City commissioners will consider the recommendations, but whatever their decision, cost and liability issues will have to be worked out, said Mayor Don Slesnick.
Commissioners will meet today (5/31) in executive session to consider the lawsuit and the legality of the city's contracts with Turner Management Construction Co., the firm retained by the city to construct the annex, which was started in January.
A judge earlier this year voided the contract between the city and Turner, citing improper delegation of authority from city commissioners to the city manager to enter into the contract for the city. As a result of that ruling, work on the project - now fenced and idle - was halted about a month ago.
Mayor Slesnick said he hopes the commission can make a decision by June 21. He is a voting member of the board.
Former mayor George Corrigan on Tuesday presented the committee's recommendations to the commission. After endorsing the demolition of the project, the committee recommended the site be converted back to surface parking and landscaped. It also proposed as alternatives for new city offices the purchase of 427, 475 and 495 Biltmore Way. The buildings at those addresses, behind City Hall and housing physician offices, would be demolished for new construction.
Mr. Corrigan said all eight committee members agreed to the recommendations but the group did not consider the cost to the city or liability issues associated with razing the project.
"Nobody could tell us about the cost," he said. "I personally felt that it would be several million dollars. It's difficult to walk away from that kind of decision. But to spend $17 million on something you're going to be unhappy with doesn't make a lot of sense."
Turner Vice President Scott M. Skidelsky told city officials in late April about $1.4 million in work had been completed at the site. Stopping work through May 29, he said, would cost contractors about $500,000.
The committee was created in late-April and has met for about a month at the request of the commission following a wave of anti-development sentiment and anger about the project, which had contributed to voters ousting the mayor and two city commissioners earlier in April.
Mr. Corrigan said he was surprised at so little public involvement in the committee process, which had included three public hearings and as many meetings.
"I think there were less than 30 people who spoke at all three meetings," he said.
Committee members, he said, thought the proposed 60,000-square-foot building adjacent to City Hall on Biltmore Way and the seven-level parking garage at Coral Way and Hernando Street were too big for the site. If built, the garage would dwarf First United Methodist Church, Mr. Corrigan said.