City of Doral plans three municipal buildings, including a new city hall
By Ashley Hopkins
The City of Doral may be seven years young, but officials have huge plans to expand area infrastructure. First on the agenda: construction of downtown Doral, complete with a city hall, police station and public works building.
The $21 million city hall at Northwest 53rd Terrace and 83rd Avenue, which the city plans to finance with reserves, should be done by 2012. Contract negotiations with Codina Properties were finished in mid-August and, according to Mayor Juan Carlos Bermudez, construction teams should break ground on the three-story, 60,000-square-foot building by late October or early November.
Officials call this a significant step. While Doral, which incorporated as a city in 2003, used to be known as an industrial community, it's become more residential in recent years as the county has worked to build up more commercial space.
"We started the city with not one baseball field," Mr. Bermudez said, "without one basketball court."
Vice Mayor Robert Van Name likened the city's development to the "wild, wild west."
"The challenges are numerous," he said. "If you've been there for many years you have a solid foundation, but we had nothing. We started from scratch."
While city hall is being constructed, officials have been renting office space practically across the street from where they plan to build, at 8300 NW 53rd St.
Councilman Pete Cabrera has reservations about whether now is the prime time to begin work on city hall, as only $38 million sits in reserves, 55% of which will finance the new building.
"I'd like to stay on the right track, and unfortunately I don't know if we are right now," he said.
In addition to city hall, officials have requested proposals to construct a police headquarters and are in the midst of choosing a construction team, Mr. Bermudez said. The city has approved the design but it's unknown when construction will begin.
Along with city hall and police headquarters, Doral's government also expects to build both a public works building and mid-size trade center. The public works building has been approved and is entering the design phase, and the city has hired a consultant to do a preliminary feasibility study for the trade center. Mr. Van Name expects the city council to discuss building plans this month.
"People ask us how we are going to do all this," Mr. Van Name said. "I realize that I might not be here to see it all, but we're trying to create that foundation, that base."
Mr. Cabrera has reservations that the city may be biting of more than it can chew.
"The problem is, if we use the money for the city hall and the police station, we'd use up all our reserves and would have to apply for bonds," he said.
Others said they think Doral's government has done a good job managing its finances.
"I think one of our greatest features has been our ability to manage the budget," said Councilwoman Sandra Ruiz.
According to Mr. Van Name, the city has been working with an advisory council on planning and budgeting issues since before Doral incorporated, which has helped the government keep a firm grasp on its finances.
This, in addition to the city's strong industrial environment, has helped to keep the area afloat during hard economic times. The city has seen a significant growth in the tile industry in recent years, bringing more trade groups into the area, adding business and increasing revenue.
"The City of Doral is very fortunate," Mr. Van Name said. "In fact, we're blessed. We actually bring in more than we spend each year."
While the construction of city offices is high on its list of initiatives, the city is working on a wide variety of transportation and environmental projects too.
As Doral has a number of canal rights-of-way and power lines cutting through the city, council members are pushing for a bike master plan that would create a bike path connecting the area. Under the canal refurbishment project, the city would restore eroding canal embankments and install bike paths along maintenance easements, totaling 1.5 miles and $2.5 million.
Doral officials also hope to improve the trolley system by expanding routes and adding vehicles, a project expected to cost about $450,000 each year.
While economic times may be tough, Doral officials have another issue on their hands: turnover. As both Ms. Ruiz and Mr. Van Name plan to retire in November, the city will soon be faced with training replacements.
While Ms. Ruiz said "it may be a positive step to get a new perspective" on the council, she worries it may take some time for new representatives to get up to speed on project history.
Overstaffing may also become an issue, she says. Many departments have been built up quickly, and when the time comes for more employees to retire, the city could suffer a financial hit.
"If we do overstaff, eventually we're going to have to pay for retirement," she said, later adding, "We are a council who went from having absolutely zero employees, and I'm sure that now we're at least at 300."
Whatever the outcome, council members remain optimistic as the city enters its seventh year.
"There are a lot of things on the plate," Mr. Cabrera said. "There are a lot of needs, and we've done a lot in a short period of time."