By William Gjebre, BrowardBulldog.org
Developers of a $1.2 billion residential and commercial development at Gulfstream Park have convinced commissioners at Broward County and Hallandale Beach to release them from an earlier pledge to build 225 units of affordable housing.
The county and city also agreed to eliminate requirements to build a 500-car parking garage area nearby and a connecting shuttle bus service to Hollywood’s Tri-Rail station. The concessions should save the developers of the Village at Gulfstream Park as much as $15 million.
As an alternative to building the 225 units, the developers have agreed to pay the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency at least $5,000 per unit – or $1.1 million. The money would go to rehabilitate housing or build new residences for low income residents elsewhere in the city.
“They are letting them off cheap,” said Broward Commissioner Sue Gunzburger, who opposed the project six years ago. The county commission OK’d the changes 6-3 in March.
“That’s way too low,” lamented community activist and city commission candidate Csaba Kulin. He said developers should have been asked to pay $50,000 per unit, or $11.5 million – an amount he contends was the city’s original low-ball estimate of building costs.
Kulin said developers would save an additional $5 million by not having to build the 500-car parking facility, and up to $250,000 a year by not having to implement the shuttle service. “Three gifts worth about $17 million,” Kulin said.
A spokesman for Village at Gulfstream Park defended the money-saving deal modifications.
“Things have changed since the project was approved,” said Will Vogel. He said that’s why Hallandale Beach approved the changes in December and the county followed suit in March.
The 1 million square foot development at Hallandale Beach’s famous horse track and casino is a signature project for the city, featuring commercial, condo and office space aimed at making it a destination, like downtown Fort Lauderdale, Aventura and South Beach.
CITY REBUFFS CRITICS
Alvin Jackson, executive director of Hallandale’s Community Redevelopment Agency, said the money from the developer will be used to “create a pot of funding to address existing substandard and foreclosed housing and possibly build some new housing in other parts” of the city’s redevelopment agency. He said he did not know how far $1 million would go to rehabilitate existing housing or build new housing.
“I don’t feel the developer got off the hook” by being allowed to contribute $5,000 per unit as an alternative to building them, Jackson said.
Broward County Director of Housing, Finance and Community Development Ralph Stone said that when the economy was booming it was possible to extract more money from developers for affordable housing.
“There was a profit in many of these projects and the builders could afford” to offer additional inducements,” Stone said. “But the real estate market and the economy changed; there’s less profit and thus these [inducements] could not be supported in projects in today’s market.”
“We have to be realistic,” Stone said.
In unanimously approving the proposed changes, Hallandale Beach commissioners included a provision urged by Mayor Joy Cooper that would hike the $5,000 payout slightly to adjust for annual increases in construction costs.
BIG PLANS FIZZLE
The project received widespread attention in November 2006 when the Hallandale City Commission approved zoning for the mixed-use project on 60.8 acres at the southeast corner of Hallandale Beach Boulevard and Federal Highway. This is the city’s busiest intersection, just opposite city hall and the city library; the city of Aventura is just south.
The Village at Gulfstream Park s a joint venture of Forest City Enterprises, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, and MI Development Inc. (MID), a real estate whose racetrack properties include Santa Anita Park in Southern California and Gulfstream Park, according to the developer’s website.
The joint venture presented a bold plan that was approved by the city and the county: 1,500 condominium units, including 225 affordable/workforce housing units, 75 of them inside the complex, and the other 150 offsite; 750,000 square feet of leasable retail space; 140,000 square feet of office space; a 500 room hotel and a 2,500 seat movie complex.
When built out, the complex and the adjacent race track and casino make for a compelling draw for locals and visitors from around the world.
The first portion of the restaurants and shops open February, 2010. Currently there is approximately 420,000 square feet of retail and 100,000 square feet of office.
With the approved changes, Vogel said, it is now “more practical and feasible to go forward.”
Vogel said Village at Gulfstream Park is having some talks with developers regarding construction of the residential units. City documents indicate that, giving the current economic situation, the first units may be rentals rather than sale units. There may be some workforce housing and some affordable housing in the complex, Vogel added.
The developers hope to have agreements by the end of this year, Vogel told city commissioners, for not only the first housing units, but also for the hotel, and the movie complex.
William Gjebre can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org