Turning the Taj Mahal Project into an Affordable City Hall

How to Build the New City Hall for $15 million

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I am simply a taxpayer that does not want to see Coral Springs burdened with the debt and special interest groups put us into a financial position that we may never be able to recover from.”

By: Howard Melamed

So, I didn’t get elected even though I wanted to save you $13 million and get you to vote on the spending of the new city hall.  It wasn’t important enough of an issue for 50.2 percent that voted for the other guy – the one that did not have the experience, was not an engineer, and said that spending your money wastefully was OK. 

I am writing this article because I want to make sure that the city does not make a mistake going forward.  I also like Mayor Campbell who agreed with my point of view and won the election.  He needs my help. I am sure he was one of the 13,132 that voted for me.

So let’s get some facts going here and see how we can get this City Hall Taj Mahal to a reasonable cost, especially if this train has left the station and is headed down the track anyway.    

Fact is, we needed a new city hall like we needed a hole in the head. The old one could have been updated at a cost of $4 million or we could have purchased the Darth Vader building on University for $11 million.   

Why are we building one?

Stupidity, lack of appreciation of taxpayer money, selfishness by certain city employees, and special interest groups all play a role. 

The previous commissioner gang members: Vignola, Daley, Powers and former Mayor Boccard all supported this fiasco a few months after the 2012 election. This is their legacy, their claim to fame, so that they can say that they started this mess. They voted to hire the architect, get $10 million in loans, and tear down the South City Hall building.  There really was no rush in tearing it down, other than to make sure no one can back out of a new City hall.   

The city employees wanted a new building, and they were the ones that convinced the previous commissioners to get them one. The only public input was from those few people that actually knew about it in the first place or cared, given that 65 percent of the voters of this city are too stupid to even show up at an election. 

Still, that is no excuse for building a Taj Mahal and hurting those that do care.

So only the city employees were polled, and they were also the ones that wanted bigger offices, lavish spaces, a wellness center which included their own gym, and a garden terrace where they can have a cup of coffee (at our expense no doubt).  The building department would get double the space they had (our city is built out, and perhaps the building department should be closed in favor of a consulting company…..more about this another time).

The employees also expect to have another 60-70 more of their friends employed as the new city hall was expanded in size to include more employees, even though computers, efficiency which is supposed to happen when you take two buildings and combine them into one, would dictate less…but you know government, downsizing is not their expertise.  All of this translated into a building size of 1.5 times that of the existing North City hall, and the once existing South City hall combined 70,000 square feet instead of the 44,000 square feet.  That includes new offices for each city commissioner.

Why do we need a parking garage?

It can be surmised that anyone developing Downtown Coral Springs Revision Two  wants the city hall to be built in back of the white building 3300 University Drive, especially if they own all of the land under the building (not the building).  Such developer  may want  to put in this lavish downtown development, promising a theater, restaurants, stores even though other property that the developer may own has plenty of unrented space.  No doubt the City Hall Taj Mahal is needed to be built exactly where they are planning it, because the public would pay for the parking garage the developer needs to make his project work.  Huh?

The parking garage that is part of the new city hall development is not needed for the new city hall.  We have enough parking, and surplus parking across the street to meet all current and future codes.  As well, the parking garage behind the first downtown deal, the South East corner of University and Sample,  in accordance with the original development agreement for that complex, says that the city can use the garage off hours, and can use the top floor during hours.  In other words,  more than enough parking exists in the proximity of the new City Hall to satisfy all concerned without the need of a parking garage.

Moreover, if one were to reduce the size of the City hall to something reasonable and lose a floor (more about this later in this article) then we need less parking as well no need for a parking garage.

The reason I am bringing this up, is that the Parking garage is listed to cost $5 million of the $28 million city hall.  The main reason for building this, or at least the excuse, is that they need it for parking as they would be short 30 parking spots if they building the 70,000 square foot building.

So rather than look for ways to reduce the size of the building, or pass a statute that would allow the building to be built without a parking garage by accepting a 10 percent reduction in parking spaces, or take into consideration alternatives,  they decided to spend $5 million and build it. 

With all of the history behind the City Hall project, and the special interests that have cajoled the previous commissioners to push for the Taj Mahal without a vote by the public, we can still get this deal done at a reasonable cost. 

Too Many Special Interests

It won’t be easy, since there are so many special interest groups in the way including owners of buildings and land adjacent to the area, people in the Chamber of Commerce given positions on committees, and friends of the developer of projects in the area.  Make no mistake about it: they have control over three out of the five commissioners currently seated.

That is why the City hall will never be built on the intended land on Coral Springs Drive, where there is plenty of parking and close proximity to the public safety buildings.  There are simply too many special interest groups that will benefit from the lavish city hall to now change where it will be built.  Quite frankly, I couldn’t care less where they would build the city hall, only that it is built at a reasonable cost and that we all get to vote on it.

For me $15 million would be a  reasonable cost, and not a penny more.

Here’s How to Reduce the Costs

There are three ways to reduce the project cost from $28 million to $15 million:

  1. Reduce the size of the building: lose a floor, squeeze in a few walls and save 15,000 square feet.  This would put the building size at 55,000 square feet maximum which is 25 percent bigger than the existing city hall and the demolished one combined.  It is enough space.  Any architect can make it work and our city employees would still get a new building…less that Wellness center,  coffee terrace,  commissioner offices, and 1/2  the building department size which is already too big. Savings:  $4,000,000
  2. Lose the parking garage.  Now that you have reduced the building size by 25 percent, you need less parking so there is no need of the elaborate parking garage.  Savings: $5,000,000
  3. Get an offer on the  existing City hall property and reduce the cost of the New City hall by applying the money from the old one.  Simple math.  If we get $4 million for selling the property, I am sure a lot of developers would place bids (even an auction)  that may even drive the price of the prime real estate to $6 million  However, being conservative on this, $4 million would be a great price.  Reduction:  $4,000,000.

Do the math:  $4M + 5M + 4M = $13M!   However these are approximate figures, but you get the picture.

By doing the above, we now have a project that used to cost $28 million and now costs  $15 million! 

$10 million was already borrowed for this deal, and 2.1 million already allocated from previous budgets to pay for the architects. We can use the rest from the reserves with plenty left over.

We get a reasonable priced city hall, and the down town development can go ahead …just not on the backs of the public. 

Everyone happy? 

Now all the city has to do is ask our permission to get it all done.  Easy when you come back and tell them that the previous commission would have spent $28M and now the current commission just saved $13M +/- .

There are other savings to be had as well,  including reduction in the architects fees, which quire frankly I would not touch if they would at a minimum agree to find ways to reduce the cost of the building.

We all know that none of what I said will get done.  Many in the city that think they know will try to discount everything, even though I am a civil engineer, and was involved in property development and construction.  Some will attack me personally, others will say it is too late to reverse the course of action. 

It is never too late to save the taxpayers the expense of a lavish City Hall Taj Mahal.   

I can assure you, that all of the cost savings and appropriations are possible and can be done. 

I am simply a taxpayer that does not want to see Coral Springs burdened with the debt and special interest groups put us into a financial position that we may never be able to recover from. 

Will anyone one listen?  I hope so.

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