BY BUDDY NEVINS
Broward School Superintendent Robert Runcie‘s staff is secretly negotiating to move the system’s headquarters out of downtown to the Cypress Creek area, according to several well-placed sources.
The deal reportedly involves trading the building for another building and maybe some cash, the sources say.
On the other side of the deal is a large banking corporation, BankAtlantic. The South Florida Business Journal identifies the building as its 180,000 square-foot headquarters.
This is an ominous development for one reason: Runcie is doing all this behind-the-scenes.
“I was told this was just exploratory. They have nothing to bring the Board yet,” said a Board member.
Doesn’t Runcie know that a move such as this is a political hot potato, especially given the School Board’s miserable record of misspending on land negotiations?
K.C. Wright is a symbol of the school system. It is politically foolish and just plain wrong to talk to anybody about getting replacing it without going public first.
“I was told they are looking at it. Nothing will be done before the Board hears all the details,” said one Board member who learned about the idea from Browardbeat.com.
No property could be sold or bought without a vote of the School Board. But the Board has a dismal history of accepting what the administration recommends almost without question, which is what made me suspicious.
Is Runcie just going to present the Board with a plan and ask for a vote? Don’t laugh. It’s been done repeatedly in the past on land deals.
Back room dealing might be the way they do business in Chicago, where Runcie worked before coming to Broward. Here we are suspicious that there has been no public discussion about the wisdom of this deal.
Some School Board members have been briefed before my report, I was told. Others were kept in the dark. Is Runcie playing favorites?
The K. C. Wright Building, a.k.a. The Crystal Palace, has been a public relations disaster since it was purchased in an elaborate land swab that enriched some of this community’s most well-placed insiders.
The deal in the early 1990s was another the Board’s great deals. It purchased property just west of downtown Fort Lauderdale, spending millions before discovering the property couldn’t be used as the headquarters.
So the Board traded the land in a tangled swap with some connected investors and bought the property now used as the headquarters for $23.3 million. Then they needed to spend $6 million more to renovate it.
Surprise, surprise. All the Board’s promises were lies.
After spending all that money, only 600 of the system’s 1,200 administrators and support staff could fit in it. So they had to spend another $10 million to renovate another building to house all those other administrators.
So it is no wonder I am skeptical about any land deal the Board proposes, especially one done in secret.
Runcie needs to reveal immediately and publicly:
- How this deal got on his radar, i.e., who are the insiders who brought this deal to the Board.
- Who are the brokers on the deal?
- Who is doing the appraisals?
- Why no other property has been publicly considered?
- The names of every person who will earn money on it. There should be no secret participants, and that includes those the bank is paying.
- Exactly what benefits the public gets out of trading valuable downtown property for a building in Cypress Creek?
Let me guess your answer to number 6, Runcie. It’s going to save money.
The question, of course, is how much money it’s going to make for others.
My guess is that Runcie is looking for any way to save money. He is examining ways to consolidate all the leased property and the downtown HQ plans might be wrapped up in that proposal.
Runcie’s spokesperson did not return a call or e-mail.
It is interesting that this deal surfaced just when a downtown Fort Lauderdale transit system is getting traction, which no doubt will make any property downtown more valuable.
Frankly I don’t trust the School Board. They have a terrible record on land deals, buying among other things swamp land and the current K. C. Wright.
I don’t trust deals that are planned and shaped in private.
And neither should be the public.
Me, I’m going to get a Dramamine. Because I know I’ll get queasy when Runcie starts to spin us in the next few days.
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