Homestead City Council Contracts with Axiom Construction
To quiet applause, Homestead City Council at its Wednesday March 22 meeting passed a measure hiring Axiom Construction to build the multimodal complex and parking garage.
The policeman hired to enforce the chamber’s gentility policy muttered, “No clapping, no clapping”, but seemed reluctant to break the good mood.
City manager George Gretsas reflected on the two years since City staff attended a Las Vegas trade conference to entice businesses to Homestead.
“This is what functional government looks like when Mayor and Council are united and together,” said Gretsas. “Staff is at the top of their game and our lawyers spent hours and came up with creative solutions. Thank you everyone. Mission accomplished.” Mayor Jeff Porter added, “Thank you to Axiom; we can finish this deal and spur other investment here because this is what this was about from day one.”
The City Attorney’s office explained the deal as a developers’ agreement plus a ground lease. The developer will manage, operate and service the facility for twenty years, being responsible for all costs. City’s contribution is capped at $33.8 million. The private facility will be built by developer as a multilevel structure with attached six and one-half story parking garage screened by aluminum canopies. It will contain an open plaza plus a retail wrapper of 30 thousand square feet, ten movie theaters, 14 lanes of bowling, a bar, at least one restaurant, and public meeting rooms.
A transit facility will be built to the south of the development. The City proposed to add its cyber-library to the west of the building.
Asked if Axiom would engage the local community as part of its investment, the representative told Councilwoman Patricia Fairclough that the project would create 450 construction jobs open to local residents.
Councilman Jon Burgess asked about the timeFrame for completion. Rene Joubert, principal of the development company, said that was contingent on approvals but he expected to be open in late spring or early summer of 2018.
“Tallahassee is looking to remove funding sources from the CRA,” said Councilman Elvis Maldonado. “Funding came from different sources on this project but we’re keeping the CRA dollars here in Homestead. Thank you to manager and staff.”
Homestead was fearful of losing the project when another developer proposed an identical development in Florida City. Homestead sued to protect its procurement system and lost its request for a preliminary injunction. The underlying suit based on unfair trade practices is still pending.
Financing for the ambitious plan also has been a challenge. The site of the proposed cyber-library was recently added to the scope of development. The City advertised its intent to apply for an additional HUD block grant totaling $773,305 from 2017-2018 funds, the majority of funds for construction of the cybrary. A hearing on that proposal is set for April 10 at 2 pm and at 6 pm at City Hall.
In other business, Council questioned traffic patterns for a proposed 10 acre development off Palm Drive. The plan is for a single access point to 92 twin homes along a private street, first approved in concept in 2008.
Councilman Burgess asked staff, “What do we intend to do to improve traffic over there? I don’t want to hear about a traffic study. We’re supposed to be proactive not reactive in protecting our citizens.”
Hugo Arza representing the developer said there was no access point planned for 340th Street (Palm Drive) until after that road is improved.
Mayor Porter agreed that deferred buildings coming on line in “developments of regional impact” (DRI) have a high impact on today’s neighborhoods. “They were planned long ago and the intersections are antiquated,” he said.
“I don’t want to give the false impression that if this gets approved staff will solve the larger traffic mitigation situation,” said Manager Gretsas. “You need that traffic study to impose additional requirements.”
Councilman Stephen Shelley asked the City Attorney what could be done to improve traffic problems now.
“Developments in the DRI were exempt from traffic studies back in the day. Rules are currently on the book, so going forward you need to correct the Code’s concurrency exemptions for DRI,” said Attorney James White.
Councilman Burgess concluded, “Our biggest frustration is traffic and it never gets addressed. The City’s growing but we’re not taking care of the problems we need to in the long run.”
Council’s agreed this proposed project was not the cause of the problem and approved it. Council consensus was that the larger problem of traffic was the issue that needed discussion.
A zoning change proposed for 41 acres at Mowry Drive and Farm Life School Road where Council had pointed to traffic issues at an earlier meeting, was deferred to the council meeting scheduled for April 26.
Homestead has a public arts ordinance requiring commercial developers to post funds for public art equal to half of one percent of building costs. Marriott Corporation proposed an option permitted by the ordinance to pay for art at that value to place on their private property. Council agreed to the concept in 2013 when building plans were approved for the Marriott Town Place Suites.
A $15,000 John Searles sculpture of aluminum stalks designed to reflect moonlight and sway in the wind was purchased for this purpose. Marriott plans to spend additional monies for a landscaped display area near its entrance. The City Attorney’s office explained that although the art is privately owned, the company was still responsible to the City for the value of the art if it is removed.
Council agreed unanimously to the resolution.
In a final order of business, Council approved a staff-generated list of deposits to be collected for use of City property. Any damages or cleaning fees are to be deducted from deposits with the goal of returning unused fees in seven days. Non-profit organizations often request waiver of fees from Council. Even if fees are waived, all groups must still submit a listed deposit.