By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Hallandale Beach officials are vying to add another big ticket property to the city’s controversial land bank: a 9.1 acre U.S. Postal Service complex next to city hall at a cost of about $9 million.
The city is seeking to reclaim property it sold to the postal service in 1986 for $2.5 million, with the condition that the city would have right of first refusal if the agency were to cease using the property at 500 S. Federal Hwy. as a mail facility.
The postal service announced in July that the property would be put up for sale, and gave the city until last week to make an offer. A post office still operates on the site pending the outcome of the sale.
City officials would not disclose their formal offer for the property, which includes a 21,116 square-foot building. A city-obtained appraisal set the value at $6.5 million, with an additional $400,000 for closing and other costs.
In addition, the financially strapped postal system wants the successful bidder to provide a smaller postal building on about two acres of land nearby, at no cost to the agency. The estimated cost for a new 11,400 square-foot building could be $2 million; it would be less if an existing city structure were used.
“I understand this is an opportunity, but where’s the money coming from? How are we going to fund it?” said City Commissioner Keith London, who was on the losing side of a 4-1 commission vote Oct. 5 to acquire the post office property. The vote set in motion the city’s intent to make the deadline for an offer on the land.
ANOTHER CONTROVERSIAL LAND PURCHASE?
The post office site deal would be the latest in a series land purchases by the city since 2001. In all, the city has acquired 85 acres costing $30 million, primarily through its Community Redevelopment Agency. The agency, controlled by the city commission, was created to make improvements in business zones through the use of property tax dollars.
Money for the post office site could come from a variety of sources, including the CRA.
Broward Bulldog reported last month that a draft of an outside audit report criticized the CRA for failing to adequately track property acquisitions.
There also has been criticism of the city’s land-buying initiatives because there have been no specific plans for much of the purchased property.
“There’s always a lot of debate” when government agencies start purchasing land, said Irv Rosenbaum, Nova Southeastern Vice Chancellor and former top administrator of Hollywood and Davie. “Like everyone, I’d be cautious about land buying at this time.”
In this economy, he said, it may be difficult to attract developers to build on city-acquired land for redevelopment projects.
Rosenbaum, who spent 25 years in government administration, said land acquisition can be beneficial if done at the right time and with community support.
When he was town administrator in Davie, voters supported a bond referendum to buy land for open space purposes, he said. “We didn’t have a plan, but we an idea.”
Today, Rosenbaum said, Davie residents boast about horse, nature and walking trails created on land obtained from that referendum. “That was a different time. We bought land with growth revenues…for a fraction of what it would have cost later.”
Some in Hallandale say the deal post office property is too pricey.
“We can’t afford it,” Commissioner London said, adding the city has done almost nothing with the property previously purchased.
He said the city had to use $11 million in reserves to balance the 2011-2012 budget and $9 million in reserves to balance the 2010-2011 budget.
“Naysayers,” responded Mayor Joy Cooper, a leading proponent of acquiring the postal property. “There’s an opportunity for the city to preserve the property for public use…to enhance open space…create a central park-like facility.”
In the past, Cooper said, the city passed up opportunities to obtain prime oceanfront property and the Diplomat Golf Course for public use. “The city failed to act before,” she said. “It would be shortsighted and a lack of vision not to act on this opportunity.”
Cooper said the city manager has assured her funds are available to obtain the property through a combination sources, including Parks Master Plan improvement funds or Community Redevelopment Agency funds.
In recent years, the city obtained three properties, totaling 7.6 acres at a total cost of $18 million, near the post office and city hall. City officials said the three parcels and the post office property would be used to expand the existing 17-acre Bluesten Park.
HARD TIMES AND OPPORTUNITY
Facing a huge financial problem, the independently operated U.S. Postal Service has said it is considering closing of nearly 3,700 offices nationwide. Various locations in Broward have been mentioned for possible closure.
The city’s proposal, as outlined to the city commission, offers three sites for a new post office on city property within a half-mile area of the current post office. City officials said one of the sites includes the existing Cultural Center, which could be retrofitted for the replacement post office.
One factor in the city’s favor for acquiring the postal facility is the zoning, which limits uses to “community facilities,” such as government buildings, hospitals, parks, playgrounds. Any other uses, a city memo said, would require rezoning.
The postal service document states that it will “identify the respondent who will provide the maximum benefit to the Postal Service, all selection criteria considered.” It also said postal officials may enter into negotiations with one or more of the bidders.
If its bid is not selected outright, the city will have 10 days after receiving notice of the successful bid to match the offer, city officials said.
William Gjebre can be reached at Wgjebre@browardbulldog.org