Gables elects to raze city hall annex, plot future for project
By Mindy Hagen
Reasoning that city finances could not support a $16 million city hall annex, Coral Gables commissioners decided to demolish the partially built structure, but try to acquire more land along Biltmore Way and build again when auditors project the city would have more funds.
Citizens agreed with an idea to plan a new design for an annex in two years when auditors predict Coral Gables will have a net surplus of $6 million to $10 million.
Commissioners said they would try to buy properties at 427, 475 and 495 Biltmore Way during that time, allowing a new annex to take up the entire block but still allowing for green space.
"We need to look for a long-term solution," Gables Commissioner William Kerdyk Jr. said. "We need the whole block for a good plan, so we need to purchase the buildings along Biltmore Way. Now is not the time because we do not have the funding in place."
The partially built foundation adjacent to city hall on Biltmore Way will be demolished after the city completes its court-ordered mediation with Turner Management Construction Co. to reach a settlement for the unfinished work.
Citizens reinforced the current project's unpopularity in the city's April 10 elections, replacing the three commission members in favor of the annex with candidates who had voiced opposition to the proposed administration building and parking garage structure. Construction on the annex had been halted just days before the election.
At Monday's meeting, the majority of citizens spoke in favor of demolishing the project instead of reducing the building's size or continuing with the original design. Newly elected Mayor Don Slesnick joined commissioners Kerdyk, Maria Anderson and Ralph Cabrera Jr. in a 4-1 vote in favor of a committee recommendation to tear down the construction and replace it with a parking lot.
Commissioner Wayne "Chip" Withers, while agreeing most of the structure should be demolished, voted against the recommendation because, he said, he wanted to see more complete financial figures associated with the city's losses.
Numbers prepared by City Manager H.C. "Jack" Eads Jr. show the city has already paid $1.9 million in planning and construction costs to architects Spillis Candela DMJM and Turner Construction. Abandoning the project and paving the area for parking will cost an additional $1.6 million, leaving the city with a loss of $3.5 million.
But citizens at the meeting thought losing that money was a better alternative than going ahead with the $16 million project.
"We don't have the money to pay for this building," said Andy Murai, a member of the recommending committee and chairman of the city's code enforcement board. "We have never had the financing for it in place. We need to stop the project and re-assess."
Although the city needs more space now for its staff, the committee said the proposed annex at 60,000 square feet was too large for its allocated space. Plans for the annex show the building's footprint stretching to the sidewalk without any room for green space.
"I see a lot of brick and mortar and little green space," Ms. Anderson said. "This is a direct contradiction of what our city beautiful was founded on. We should bring it down and plan a vision for the future."
Ms. Anderson also suggested that an $8 million, city-owned equipment yard on 72nd Avenue be temporarily used for city offices. Ms. Anderson said many rooms in the building are not being used.
"I have trouble with having that amount of viable office space going unused," she said. "Right now the equipment yard is unused dollars spent. We need to eliminate government waste through better financial planning."