Miami commission looks to Melreese for new city HQ, police, fire, solid waste

The sudden and unexpected plan to put the city of Miami’s administration building and City Hall at the publicly-owned Melreese — adjacent to the future Miami Freedom Park — grew like a hungry monster last week when Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla suggested moving the police and fire departments and, heck, solid waste to the potential future offices there.

ADLP apparently wants to have a fire sale of downtown public properties.

“It would open up our tax rolls in downtown Miami. That’s very valuable land that is worth hundreds of millions,” Diaz de la Portilla said about the police department HQ at 400 NW Second Avenue and the fire rescue HQ at 1151 NW 7th St. He wants to find a “comprehensive solution” to the city’s growing pains.

“It’s a good idea. It’s a great location,” ADLP said. “Independent of Miami Freedom Park, I think that the idea you can solve some of the city of Miami’s problems in one fell swoop is a good idea.”

Read related: Miami ponders new City Hall and administration HQ at Melreese Park

He also suggested that Jorge Mas and David Beckham, owners of the InterMiami soccer team and developers of Miami Freedom Park, pay for some of it.

“If they could throw in a couple million bucks to help us build it, that wouldn’t be a bad thing,” he said, smiling but not joking.

Commissioner Manolo Reyes was the only one who voted against authorizing the city manager to negotiate the possible construction of a city complex on the eastern edge of the golf course, basically where the clubhouse and baseball fields are now. He said it had nothing to do with his opposition to Miami Freedom Park but that he simply could not support a development that would cause 1,000 people or more to drive into the neighborhood on a daily basis without a deep analysis of negative impacts and a look at potential alternative sites.

“I will vote for it if you prove to me that is the best place to build the MRC,” Reyes said. “As of now, we have not done a comprehensive analysis of other land owned by the city of Miami where the MRC could be built. I haven’t seen it. I asked for it before, when the previous manager was here. What he gave me was a Mickey Mouse analysis. I want an in-depth analysis.

“We are just taking this out of the blue sky and saying ‘Let’s put it here.’”

City Manager Art Noriega said the original concept — the land swap development lease and/or sale approved by voters in 2018 — was to build the new administration building on a parcel of land adjacent to the current MRC location, owned by the same people who wanted to turn the MRC, at 444 SW Second Ave., into a waterfront residential mixed-use project, providing public access to a new multi-level restaurant complex and an expanded public Riverwalk.

“As the commission evaluated the zoning change over time, and it’s been consistently deferred, the very consistent feedback I got was that there was a desire to not have the building located at that site,” Noriega said, being oh so careful not to say who was giving him this feedback.

City Hall insiders told Ladra that Diaz de la Portilla was the one providing some resistance. Apparently, he wasn’t getting his ask from the Adler Group. There have also been rumors since Miami Freedom Park was being considered earlier this year that the city would be the first tenant for the office part of the real estate complex.

And while this plan is for the acreage that is not part of Miami Freedom Park — the city would not be leasing anything from anyone — it does provide the retail and restaurant and parking part of the project with a fixed, daily customer base. Any out-of-towners presenting to the commission could stay at a future Freedom Park hotel.

In other words, this definitely benefits the Freedom Park developers.

There are also legitimate reasons for moving the administration building to the Melreese site. Having to purchase the property and losing the tax benefits — even though the city gets to put the MRC replacement project on the tax roll — is one of them. But the site footprint also presented issues, Noriega said. “We were squeezing the future administration building on an awkward site and it was an extremely inefficiently-designed building,” he told commissioners.

Read related: Miami Freedom Park scores yes vote for massive stadium real estate complex

The manager also said that the prior administration’s analysis had not considered the Melreese location. “This site was not an option because there had not been a formal transition from a golf course to a soccer stadium and commercial development,” Noriega said.

Through conversation while the Miami Freedom Park application was getting approved earlier this year, the administration saw the Melreese location as a “good option,” Noriega said, adding that it would be much more efficiently designed with all the customer service departments on the first floor, front facing.

“The analysis that Commissioner Reyes speaks of in terms of … impact, we certainly could do. But I wasn’t going to engage in that expense without a commission vote,” he said, adding that most of the city owned properties that could accommodate a new MRC are spoken for with other projects.

Reyes said he wanted an independent analysis on the impact to the surrounding area. “I don’t want to further hurt those neighbors that are around there and the amount of traffic that is going to be additionally generated by this.”

“People who live around there are going to be affected. The airport is going to be affected. And those are the negative effects we have to analyze before we do any type of development,” Reyes said. “Because we are not working for today, we are working for the future.”

He likes the area next to Marlins Park better. But Commissioner Joe Carollo said it wouldn’t work.

“Believe me I would love to have it there. It’s not practical,” Carollo said. “We would have to acquire additional land for parking. And it’s going to be cramped. What we’re basically going to be able to build there is another MRC.

“The other problem I see with it is we spent, us and the county, hundreds of millions of dollars on the stadium and now we’re going to put a big building there to block it all?”

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Another site he prefers for affordable housing.

“This one is a big site. It’s not on the tax rolls. It’s in a convenient area near expressways,” Carollo said. “This is a huge area that is going to have many entrances and exits into the facility. I don’t see a better location.”

He also warned that the city could be facing some legal challenges from Adler Group, which has been waiting since 2018 to build on the MRC site.

“We’ve been kicking this around since I basically got here,” Carollo said. ” We are at a point where we have to make a decision.”