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At the Property Advisory Board on February 9th, the Deputy City Attorney Cristina M. Suarez was invited to speak by Asset Manager Zeida Sardinas about the Committee’s monthly request for a report on unsolicited bids.
The Board has had a standing item on the agenda for several months to have staff report about any unsolicited bids received by the City related to properties the board advises on. The board advises the staff and the City Commission on uses, leases and sales of CIty-owned properties.
“You Need Commission Approval”
Deputy City Attorney Suarez informed the board that the item needed to be removed from their future agendas, as the board is not eligible to see unsolicited bids unless the Commission specifically allows for this. If they wanted this item to remain on their agendas, they would need to seek the authorization of the Commission.
City Attorney’s Statement
Gables Insider reached out to City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos, who released the following statement about the incident:
“The Deputy City Attorney attended the meeting at my request for the purpose of explaining to the board the procedure for directing staff. If the board wishes to have staff proactively or routinely provide them with certain documents, they simply need to pass a resolution asking the City Commission to direct staff to do so. We are treating their previous vote as such and a resolution will be placed on a March City Commission agenda for the City Commission’s consideration. Of course, any member of the board can make a public records request but requiring the staff to provide records as a matter of course, needs to be done by the City Commission.
The City is very appreciative of the time that our board members dedicate to the City; we simply need to ensure that the appropriate process if follow.”
Board Members Question Intent
Suarez’s words did not sit well with some members of the Board.
One board member observed during the meeting, “We have gone on for several meetings and gotten a response that no unsolicited bids had been received. Clearly, an unsolicited bid came in and they don’t want to talk about it and they have gotten the City Attorney to come in and basically tell us that we can’t get the information that we have requested.”
“If we feel self defensive about this, it’s because all the sudden you know we’ve been doing something you’ve been providing information and now the deputy of City Attorney comes, and it’s the first time that you have an unsolicited bid, and basically try to come up with some legal gymnastics about why we really can’t ask about an unsolicited bid. It seems silly, its public information,” he added.
Process And Prior Unsolicited Bids
The board discussed the process that normally is followed to have items come before the board. Most were not pleased with the fact that they were being brought in once things are done.
The chairman explained that, “for the mobility hub, this committee was an afterthought for the commission.”
Another board member asked about the current process in place. “Is the process that is in place the same one used with the garage, where some of the board members here were concerned that it came to us at the last minute, right at the altar when everything had been done and all the vetting complete. And at that point we were to be a master rubber stamp, because the bid had not arrived to us at a time where there could be meaningful review. Is the current process that you think is sufficient, the one that we have been dealing with, where it is all wrapped up with a bow, sort of arranged before it gets before this committee and it is just for us to up or down vote it?”
The board discussed its exclusion from the process during past unsolicited bids. Sardinas stated that only one unsolicited bid had been received by the City, which was Barreto Hospitality’s original bid for the location of Burger Bob’s.
However, past City communications with Gables Insider refute that, as the City had claimed that the current tenants of the Coral Gables Country Club had also submitted an unsolicited bid following an RFP the City deemed they did not qualify for.
Sardinas was asked point blank by a board member, “Is there an unsolicited bid in the last month?” She replied, “there is.” He asked, “can you tell us about it?” “Well, I can provide you with a public record, if you do a public record request, you can certainly have copies of it,” she replied.
Sardinas, as you will recall was involved the deal for the sale of the lot at 350 Greco Avenue.
The board voted to send a resolution to the Commission asking for approval for this item to remain on their agenda.
The New Bid
During the meeting, Gables Insider followed Asset Manager Sardinas’ recommendation and filed a public record request for the unsolicited bid she mentioned. She had described it as an insignificant bid for a small surface parking lot on Navarre near the Police and Fire Headquarters. The public record request showed a different picture.
The bid is dated January 28, 2022. It was a letter of intent sent to City Manager Peter Iglesias by Location Ventures, LLC, for a 99-year lease of the 20,000 square foot surface parking lot located at 234 Navarre Avenue. (Click here to see a copy of the bid).
The bid offers the City a $214,375 annual payment for the first 5 years with an adjustment every five years after that. The proposal offers as public benefits, to: “provide public parking as part of the City-wide’s master mobility plan; dedicate a public green space on Minorca and Salzedo, congruent to the new public safety building’s open space frontage; pay approximately $150k annually more than the Property currently generates; and pay approximately $100,000 annually in City (excludes County) real estate taxes.” So far, it does not sound like such a bad deal.
Location Ventures, LLC
Location Ventures, a Coral Gables based company, is the owner of several properties on Minorca Avenue, across the street from the Public Safety Building. The company is owned by developer Rishi Kapoor who according to reports is currently working on two co-living developments in Miami-Dade County.
As defined by Wikipedia, co-living is “a residential community living model that accommodates three or more biologically unrelated people.”
Taking The City’s FAR and TDR’s
The bid explains Location Ventures’ plans with the property as follows: “The Lessee is plans on developing residential units on the northeastern corner of Minorca Ave and Salzedo Street (“Lessee’s Project”). The Property is separated from Lessee’s Project by a public alley. The Property and Lessee’s Project’s future
land use designation are Commercial Mid & High-rise. The Lessee is requesting the transfer of the Floor to Area Ratio (FAR) of 70,000 SF (3.5 FAR x 20,000 SF) and 17,500 (.875 TDR x 20,000 SF) of Transferable Development Rights (TDR’s) from the Property to the Lessee’s Project. The Lessee will build a multistory
parking garage with ground floor retail on the Property to meet the parking requirements for its project.”
In other words, Location Ventures is seeking to use this City owned property’s FAR and TDR’s to build a larger project, at a complete risk to Coral Gables residents.
In addition to building a multi-story parking garage it will use for its high rise and charge parking of City residents to use, build retail space it will rent out, it would also mean that their new high rise tower would benefit from 70,000 additional square feet of floor area ratio.
In addition, the City must move quickly on their project. They explain that “the approval of the Lessee’s Project is necessary for entering into an agreement.”
Research into Location Ventures also yielded an interesting connection to Asset Manager Sardinas. The company lists its Vice President of Development as Sardinas’ predecessor, former Coral Gables Assistant Director for Economic Development and Asset Manager for the City from July 2011 to March 2019. He was the staff liaison to the Property Advisory Board.
Location Ventures’ website explains that, “Leonard Roberts, Vice President of Development, is responsible for ensuring Location Ventures’ projects obtain the municipal entitlements necessary to achieve the highest and best use.”
Questions About The Bid
Perhaps one of the most concerning parts of this bid is fact that if there is a default or breach of any kind, the City would not be able to recover the FAR or TDR’s gifted to Location Ventures. As has been discussed at recent Commission meetings and the Budget Advisory Board, the concerns over lack of payment by lessors to some City properties have left some wondering whether long-term leases are beneficial to the City in the long-run or not.
Location Ventures intends to seek financing for the construction and will have a mortgage on the property until such time as the construction is complete and they seek a refinance of the debt.
What Comes Next
According to Sardinas, the bid is still being vetted by staff, who would need to make a recommendation to the Commission before any formal steps are taken.