Apr 26, 2024 - News

Why did Miami Beach buy a $6.5 million house? City's plans unclear

A general view of the Miami Beach City Hall on April 14, 2020 in Miami Beach, Florida.

Miami Beach City Hall. Photo: Cliff Hawkins/Getty Images

The city of Miami Beach bought a two-story home in North Beach last month for $6.5 million, but its purpose remains unclear.

Why it matters: The city spent months exploring the purchase without detailing any plans for the house, which it bought for $2 million over the highest city appraisal.

  • The city considered using the land to expand Altos Del Mar Park next door, but ultimately the commission voted to make it an office for the Building Department and other city services.
  • Now commissioners are backtracking as they look at other alternatives like a public-funded residence for the city manager, a police substation and other ideas they hope to gather from community members.

Catch up fast: The city first eyed the property at 7605 Collins Ave. after owners Betsy and Rudy Pérez — a former commission candidate and a Grammy-winning music producer — requested a zoning change last October to convert the home into a commercial development with townhomes or a restaurant.

  • Commissioners didn't want that, so they asked the city to buy the property instead.

As recently as January, deputy city manager Eric Carpenter couldn't say how the city would use the property. He said it would be a good investment to unify city property on the block.

  • "Ultimately, I don't know that we know what this property would be used for," he said at the Jan. 31 commission meeting.

Follow the money: It wasn't until February, when the city needed to fund the unbudgeted purchase, that commissioners discovered a possible use: converting the home into an office for the Building Department.

  • Commissioners voted to use Building Department reserves to buy the home, which required that the property be primarily used for services like licensing and permitting.
  • The Building Department, which currently rents out a satellite office in the area, had already budgeted $650,000 to purchase a new office there.
  • "A solution found a problem," the city's chief financial officer Jason Greene said at a March commission meeting.

Friction point: In a committee meeting last week, Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez said commissioners didn't intend for the property to be controlled by the Building Department when they voted to buy it.

  • She proposed turning the home into a public-funded residence for the next city manager instead.
  • Like Gracie Mansion for the mayor of New York City, she suggested Matti's Mansion, named for former Mayor Matti Bower.
  • As the city conducts a national search to find its next city manager, Rosen Gonzalez said she wants that person to live in Miami Beach and see neighborhood issues firsthand.

Reality check: That would require the city buying the property back from itself using other funds.

What they're saying: Commissioners say investing in land makes financial sense for the city as property values increase and that buying land can help expand city services.

  • "The concept is land banking and it's investing in our collective future," Commissioner Tanya K. Bhatt said at a January meeting.

What's next: Commissioners are expected to discuss alternative uses for the property and a potential buyback at a future meeting.

  • They also asked the city to set up a community meeting to get resident feedback.

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