Fate of Gables city hall project may be decided Monday
By Mindy Hagen
A debate over the $17 million Coral Gables administration building will continue at a special July 16 meeting designed to resolve the stalled project's future.
The city has heard three main proposals for the building:
ndemolish the partially built complex in accordance with a recommendation from a citizens' blue ribbon committee;
nreduce the size of the plans;
ncontinue construction according to the original proposal.
Construction was stopped on the building and adjacent parking garage earlier this year after a judge voided the city's contract with Turner Management Construction Co. Officials from Turner said $1.4 million of work had been completed.
The election of a new city government on April 10 also contributed to freezing the project as newly elected Mayor Don Slesnick and two commission members replaced pro-development members who had authorized it.
The city then appointed a seven-member citizens' task force chaired by George Corrigan, Gables mayor from 1987-93, to consider the fate of the building. The committee recommended the project, designed by Spillis Candela architects, be demolished and the Biltmore Way site remain as parking with landscaping.
Though he thinks the commission has already decided to go along with the committee's recommendation, Felix Pardo, an architect and resident presented the commission with the option to reduce the project's size. But he has "no hope at all" his plan would be approved at the special meeting.
Mr. Pardo's proposal would scale back the building's square footage by 10%, from 69,991 to 62,897.
Mr. Pardo, who will be on vacation during the Monday session, accused the committee of giving the commission a mandate to raze the building without considering costs or presenting the commission with other options. He said the city would be "slitting its own throat" in choosing to scrap plans for the complex and called the committee's plan "absolute stupidity."
"The blue ribbon committee did a disservice by not being objective," said Mr. Pardo, an architect with the Coral Gables-based Pardo & Associates. "The damage of what is being done here can only hurt our community. No developer will have any confidence to go into our city again if this project is ended when we are 25% into construction. We are about to achieve the reputation that the City of Miami has."
While presenting the committee's plan to demolish the building in favor of a parking lot on May 31, Mr. Corrigan said his team could not come up with figures to show costs.
"Nobody could tell us about the cost," said Mr. Corrigan, chairman of the blue ribbon committee. "I personally felt 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."
Having heard both proposals and continuous debate on the building since his election, Mr. Slesnick said he hopes the commission can make a final decision at the special meeting.
"It's my hope that the time has come," Mr. Slesnick said. "You can't force people to decide on these things. But we'll see when we get there if three of the five commission members are ready to decide."
Mr. Pardo said the election of Mr. Slesnick and commissioners Maria Anderson and Rafael Cabrera Jr. on April 10 should not have halted a project approved under the city's previous administration.
"These are things that go beyond city hall," he said. "If a project is half-built, it's crazy to stop just because you change politicians. If this is how it works, the space shuttle would have never been built."
Mr. Slesnick said the purpose of the special meeting is for residents to talk openly about ideas they support and even bring new ideas to the table. Although he originally wanted the commission to vote on plans by June 21, Mr. Slesnick said the city has taken the appropriate time in making the decision because they have listened to all proposals.
"It hasn't taken excessively long to come to a decision," he said. "We do have to move along and try to close the debate. But I'm not hyper about definitely ending it on Monday. People all along have asked the right questions and received good answers. I hope the time has come."