Gables names team to weigh fate of Biltmore Way, city hall job
By Sherri C. Ranta
The Coral Gables City Commission Tuesday appointed a seven-member blue-ribbon committee to consider the fate of the city's $16 million administration building and parking garage, a construction project on hold since the election of Mayor Don Slesnick in early April.
Citizens appointed to the committee, led by Chairman George Corrigan, mayor from 1987-93, will review the project - including possibly scaling back the job and the city's liability related to it - before reporting to the commission May 29.
Mr. Slesnick said the review would include the proposed expansion of Merrick Park and the closing of Biltmore Way. The committee will have a small, unspecified budget.
The closing of Biltmore Way - the road fronting city hall - is unpopular. Newly elected Commissioner Rafael Cabrera Jr. Tuesday pushed to keep Biltmore Way open.
Mr. Corrigan said it would be "premature for any conclusions." He said the committee would probably start work next week.
Other committee members are George Arrizurieta; George C. Hernandez, architect and University of Miami professor; Sherrill Hudson, a senior accountant with Deloitte & Touche; Michael Kashtan; Duffy Matson, a licensed contractor, and Andy Murai, chairman of the city's code enforcement board.
Mr. Slesnick and commissioners Maria Anderson and Mr. Cabrera were elected April 10 in a wave of anti-development sentiment. A few days later, Mr. Slesnick stopped work on the project.
Residents at the meeting Tuesday expressed varied opinions.
Alicia Kehrhahn, who said she moved to the city in 1951, said reviewing the project is a good idea.
"We don't want tall buildings. We're a sophisticated town," she said, "but still a small town."
Others, like Miracle Mile business owner Rip Holmes, said the city is "going through an identity crisis and period of confusion.
"We finally get used to one commission. Now we have a new commission," he said.
Meanwhile, city officials are assessing the consequences of stopping a project in mid-stream. About $1.4 million in work was completed before the stop order, construction officials said. Rebar and concrete blocks have been left at the site, which is surrounded by a fence.
The city could be incurring a $2,200 daily expense for the stoppage - about $60,000 a month, said Commissioner William H. Kerdyk Jr.
But Mr. Slesnick said considering the size, scope and cost of the $16 million project, a $60,000 expense is an "investment that can be made."
City Attorney Elizabeth M. Hernandez told commissioners a judge has ruled illegal the city's contract with Turner Construction Management Co. for the job.
"There's no penalty as far as I'm concerned," she said.
The city and Turner were named in a suit by citizens seeking to stop the project.
Turner Vice President Scott M. Skidelsky said the city sent the company a letter in January stating that the contract was binding.
"This is the first time" Ms. Hernandez has said this, Mr. Skidelsky said after the meeting.
He told commissioners that stopping the project from now to May 29 will cost subcontractors about $500,000, including security, fencing, crane rentals and material storage. "What we need is clear direction from you as a client."