City holds up county office building as part of negotiation over lawsuit, Winton says
By Susan Stabley
Miami commissioners have delayed a 17-story office building that would house Miami-Dade County administrative offices to gain leverage in a dispute with the county over nearby Overtown land, City Commission Chairman Johnny Winton said Friday.
The office building is planned as a public-private development on land under county control at the Overtown/Area Metrorail station, but construction can't start until the city officially closes a nearby road that hasn't been used since the mid-1980s.
Groundbreaking on the 340,722-square-foot building was due this summer, said attorney Judy Burke of Shutts & Bowen, who represents the developer, Overtown Partnership Ltd.
"The building is designed, it's leased, it's ready to go," she said
The county-owned land is east of Northwest First Court between Sixth and Eighth streets, and the road is now a parking lot for transit users, said Frank Talleda of the county's Office of Public Transportation Management.
The road closing and approval of plan development standards went before the city commission May 22 but were deferred to a July 26 planning and zoning meeting that since has been cancelled. The matters go back for review July 17.
"It's all about leverage," Mr. Winton said. "The county wants to do this deal that it has every right in the world to do. In this instance, it happens to need a vacation. So they need that from the city."
Mr. Winton said the delay is tied to a county lawsuit with the city over three parcels along Northwest Second Avenue between Sixth and Ninth streets. The county deeded the land to the city in the mid-1980s with the stipulation that the land would be developed. The land hasn't been developed, and the county wants the property back.
"The connection is simply negotiation of something they want versus negotiations of something we want," said Mr. Winton.
City Commissioner Arthur Teele Jr. has asked to meet with City Administrator/City Manager Joe Arriola on the office project. The commission, during its May 22 meeting, directed Mr. Arriola and City Attorney Alex Vilarello to draft documents to protect the city's interests.
"This is very dangerous," Mr. Teele told commissioners at that meeting. "Once we give them the green light, they can build anything they want."
But Mr. Winton said Friday that the city's real concern is to resolve the dispute with the county over the undeveloped parcels, which are across the street from the office-space site.
The office building is one of many joint development projects out of the county's transit office, said Mr. Talleda. "The idea is to bring focus density around stations to promote transit ridership and create a source of income for transit."
Ms. Burke said the developer is getting anxious about the delays. "This is such an important development for the Overtown area. It's a shame anything can keep it from going forward. Nothing kills a project more than time delays."
Mr. Winton said he expects a resolution soon.
"The tenor and tone of those negotiations probably haven't been better in 20 years than they are today," he said. "The fact is we cannot win the major battle by fighting each other. We only win the battle for the citizens by working together."