A group of Surfside residents are railing against a proposal for a new Town Hall and civic center, claiming the proposed public-private development is actually a land grab, and are seeking to stop the project at a commission meeting Nov. 13.
The developer, however, says it would be a $33.5 million gift to the city, updating and upgrading its current facilities. In return, Pointe Development Company and Monceau Realty would receive a 99-year lease, allowing the groups to make money through parking, office and retail space.
The proposed development would be built at 9293 Harding Ave. and 269 93rd St., the sites of the current Town Hall, police station and public parking lot located across the street from the community center. That center, which features a swimming pool and other recreational spaces, would remain as is under the plan.
Eliana Salzhauer, a former television news producer, freelance journalist and 13-year resident, said the construction is simply not needed. She created a group called “Surfside Strong” that oppose the project. The group’s signs decorate lawns throughout the town.
“This happens slowly over time but one day you look back and realize how much the town has changed,” she said. “Surfside is a quiet, small town in the middle of an overdeveloped city. People live here because they choose to live here.”
“No one comes to Surfside to stand on a rooftop across the street from the beach,” she said. “People come for the beach, and we already have a beachfront community center.”
Salzhauer said that most residents that come to learn of the proposal oppose it. She says that the cost of running these new, larger facilities will be higher than what the town currently spends, and it will bring additional pollution and traffic.
“’Surfside Strong’ started from three women around a table to an organization that has around 300 residents and continues to grow,” she said. “We made yard signs and [distributed] 200 in 48 hours. We have a waiting list of people that want them.”
The developers argue the plan is designed to meet the residents’ needs as well as the town’s business community. Under the plan, the town would receive a new town hall and police station, costing roughly $15 million, that would be owned by the town.
In return, the developers would build new parking, office, and retail space at a cost of approximately $18.5 million that would be leased to them for a 99-year term. The developers would then pay the town $250,000 per year base rent plus 10 percent of net revenue from the parking. An escalator price for the long-term lease – such as what the developers would pay in, say, 2100 – has not been discussed yet.
Sarah Haccoun, manager of Monceau Realty, said that the current Town Hall and police department needs renovation and that the current community center doesn’t have the amenities that some residents want.
“We are adding things that they don’t have,” she said. “Yes, it will have more events and the town will likely have to pay extra for these events, but the people will also enjoy the events.”
Haccoun said that there are misconceptions surrounding the proposal and that the developers have scheduled four question-and-answer sessions to answer residents’ concerns. The developers state on their website, http://surfsidetowncenter.com, that Surfside taxpayers will not be responsible for any costs related to construction of the project.
Surfside Mayor Daniel Dietch said he wants to hear residents’ opinions before making a decision.
“With regards to the [public private partnership], what has been most concerning to me is the divisiveness that has emerged – that has pitted neighbor against neighbor, friend against friend – oftentimes predicated on incomplete information about this concept,” he said. “This is exactly why at the first public discussion, I advocated for a 30-day period to allow for thoughtful conversations about the concept before making a determination whether the project was worth considering further.”
Developers will be hosting the first of four scheduled sessions on Nov. 8 at the Grand Beach Hotel, 9449 Collins Ave., from 6 to 7 p.m.
The Surfside Town Commission has scheduled a vote on whether to move forward on the project on Nov. 13 at 7 p.m. in the commission chambers, 9293 Harding Ave.