By Ann Henson Feltgen, BrowardBulldog.org
Broward County may finally be closing in on a new home for its Supervisor of Elections following 10 years of trying re-locate to new digs.
Last week, at the urging of public works staff, the County Commission approved a plan to obtain formal bids from two developers – one of them from a family with deep political connections.
The developers expressed interest last March in building a long-sought facility that would consolidate the crowded downtown Fort Lauderdale elections office in County Hall and an elections warehouse now housed about five miles away in the back of the Lauderhill Mall.
The county wants to spend no more than $15 million for both a six- to seven-acre site in a central location and a 74,000-square-foot building.
The goal is to have a developer under contract by September, with a new facility ready within two years.
One of the interested developers, Continental Real Estate Companies, is proposing an eight-acre parcel, the site of a former BJ’s Wholesale Club in Sunrise, near Oakland Park Boulevard and University Drive. The property was purchased by Oakland University Associates LTD, based in New Jersey, in July 1998 for $10 million and is for sale. For 2011 property tax purposes, the county estimates the value of the site at $11.4 million.
The property is in foreclosure with the public sale set for July 12. According to county documents, Continental expects to gain title to the property on or before July 25.
“It’s premature to comment on what we will propose there until the commission approves step two,” said Dave Moret, of Continental. “We need to see what they are looking for.”
The other developer is Sunrise Properties & Investment, controlled by M. Austin Forman, son of the late longtime political powerbroker Hamilton Forman. In his prime, Hamilton Forman was said to have a hand for decades in nearly every major political decision in the county. He died in January 2010. The company’s project manager could not be reached for comment.
Forman’s plan, according to county documents, includes three parcels in Plantation at 6901 Sunrise Blvd., near Plantation High School. The company purchased the 6.67 acres in March 1999 for $1.6 million. The site’s current assessed value is $3.4 million. In a June 12 memo to the board, Snipes recommended this option.
An evaluation committee will make a recommendation to the county commission, which will make the final decision on a developer.
“All things being equal, the contractor will be responsible for building at the negotiated price, time and place,” said Steve Hammond, a county assistant director of Public Works.
FINDING A SATISFACTORY SITE
Finding a new home would be a relief for Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, who splits her time between the two existing facilities.
In October, commissioners discussed purchasing and remodeling the current Lauderhill Mall location to consolidate Snipes’ operations. However, Snipes objected during the January commission meeting saying the facility was too small and too old. A heated debate ensued and the site was dropped.
“The Lauderhill Mall owners have been very responsive to our needs, but it’s an old leaky building and we need more security,” Snipes said.
Vandals had damaged staff cars in the parking lot, she said.
Other sites have been considered and discarded over the years; one bid was tossed because it came in over the previous $10 million budget.
Commissioners have also been wary of spending county funds due to the economy and at one point, the money was returned to county coffers, Snipes said.
“This time around, things are going well,” Hammond said. “With the county commission you never know, there’s a healthy debate about all expenditures. But, I think everyone is aware of the need.”
Ann Henson Feltgen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org