Courthouse partnership deal advancing
Miami-Dade County officials who have been analyzing the best options for a new civil courthouse now await guidance on public-private partnerships as well as a long-range master plan update of the historic building’s needs.
The county solicited legal and financial advisory services pertaining to public-private partnerships, also referred to as P3s, and expects to receive and evaluate proposals next month, said Miriam Singer, chief purchasing officer and senior assistant director of the Internal Services Department. She said once these contracts are awarded, the county will work on a request to qualify firms submitting P3 proposals to design, build, finance, operate and maintain county civil and criminal court and jail facilities.
According to a memo Mayor Carlos Gimenez sent to county commissioners Feb. 18, he anticipates staff will present a recommendation for awarding financial advisory and legal services contracts in July.
On Feb. 3, commissioners adopted a resolution expressing the willingness to explore establishing a public-private partnership for court and jail facilities. Included in the resolution are statements that the courthouse at 73 W Flagler St. needs substantial repairs and might no longer be able to serve the county’s needs and, due to its age and the growth of the criminal justice system, the Richard E. Gerstein Criminal Justice Building at 1351 NW 12th St. is overcrowded and faces a wide range of problems due to its design, spacing and the functions it seeks to accommodate.
Moreover, the resolution states, the Miami-Dade County Corrections and Rehabilitation Department operates six correctional facilities in a complex of buildings across the county, certain conditions of which have been found by the US Department of Justice to violate the rights of inmates. The department recommended remedial measures and a settlement agreement with the county addressing the identified violations.
Given their location and function, the resolution states, court and jail facilities may operate more efficiently if their operations are consolidated.
The description of the project in the solicitations identifies potential county sites (without any assurance as to their availability or suitability for development) including the area generally bounded by Northwest 11th and 13th streets and 13th and 14th avenues.
The county expects proposers for both specialized financial consulting and legal services to have experience in two or more public-private engagements exceeding $250 million.
The commissioners also approved establishment of two advisory panels, currently in formation, on P3 and court/jail facilities.
At the same time, commissioners are educating themselves on P3s. On March 13, the Strategic Planning & Government Operations committee invited representatives from Nossaman LLP to share experiences and best practices gained from their work on public-private partnership projects. On May 12, the committee heard a presentation regarding taxpayer protection for P3s by Donald Cohen, executive director of In The Public Interest.
“It is important to note we are working closely with the courts on these projects, and we plan to engage a wide array of stakeholders in the master planning process to include the Chief Judge, Clerk of the Court, State Attorney, Public Defender, police chiefs, among others,” Ms. Singer said.
Judge Jennifer Bailey, one of the stakeholders, said the county jumps right on work for the current civil courthouse as it becomes necessary. The critical issue of 14 structural columns has been addressed and work is ongoing for about 50% of the others compromised by corrosion. In addition, façade work – the source of leaks contributing to structural corrosion – continues and is a little over half complete, said Judge Bailey, who oversees operations of the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court.
However, she said, the court remains in a building with organic system collapse: a 40-year inspection found significant electrical problems throughout; and air-quality issues stemming from interior leaks in the HVAC system have resulted in the closing of the 18th, 19th and 20th floors. Several upper-level floors have been closed for years.
“As situations arise, we lose space,” Judge Bailey said. “We lost a courtroom because of leaks; we are still down one-third of the floor where probation was moved.”
That approximately 5,000 square feet requires air-conditioning system work, which Judge Bailey said is estimated to require two years.
The ever-narrowing space and lack of an assembly room for jurors are constant worries for the system, Judge Bailey said, pointing out three large trials were scheduled to begin May 18.
“We face a unique situation,” she said. “The court is a tenant, the county is the landlord and the city is regulator and inspector.”
All parties want to be respectful of each other. However, Judge Bailey said, the court is a tenant without options. “We are not a tenant that can pick up and leave as other city and county offices have – anyone who could leave already has.”
Right now, Judge Bailey said, the court feels there’s sufficient information to start the process of finding a new facility.
In about six months, a consultant the county hired will complete the master plan update on the operational needs of the civil courthouse, providing the most current information to accompany the comprehensive master plan conducted in 2008. Judge Bailey said that plan found the civil courthouse would have to be replaced
“The mayor and all the commissioners and county staff have acknowledged we need a new civil courthouse,” Judge Bailey said. “Now, the questions are how we’ll build it, where, how we’ll get the money and the timetable.”
Judge Bailey said there’s always tension between the economy and basic necessities for court functions. “No judge or staff member is looking for a lavish facility,” she said. “We just want an adequate courthouse to serve the public.”