Update: School Superintendent Secretly Negotiating to Dump Crystal Palace HQ

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.

K.C. Wright

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.

Duh.

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:

  1. How this deal got on his radar, i.e., who are the insiders who brought this deal to the Board.
  2. Who are the brokers on the deal?
  3. Who is doing the appraisals?
  4. Why no other property has been publicly considered?
  5. 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.
  6. 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.




20 Responses to “Update: School Superintendent Secretly Negotiating to Dump Crystal Palace HQ”

  1. Barack Obama says:

    Keep up the strong reporting, buddy!

  2. Charles says:

    I agree with the President, Great Story Buddy!

  3. Sidelines says:

    Wow! Another coup for Buddy! So where on Cypress Creek? Just west of Andrews/north of Cypress in the ‘office park’? Tri-Rail Station is conveniently located there. Further west near Kaplan? Further west near Bank Atlantic headquarters? Parking is an issue and the parking variance is not transferable. Any further and you are inNorth Lauderdale. Keep digging Buddy and keep us posted!

  4. Smart Move says:

    Apart from the details, this concept seems to me as being a very, very smart move. The school district owns a lot of land that they should be looking to unload but nothing more appealing that their glass tower.

    Hopefully they will replace KC Wright with a much smaller building. The smaller their headquarters, the fewer the bureaucrats they can have, the better off education for children will be throughout the system.

    They have no need for posh addresses in Fort Lauderdale. They belong in the neighborhoods they serve and the money they will make can be used more intelligently. Slowly I am regaining some hope for the school district and that is saying a lot because I had totally written them off as hopeless.

    Smart move. Long overdue.

  5. Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    I’ve asked the Board and Sup’t. to comment/respond to this very interesting report. I’ll be looking forward to any responses I get.

    It’s crucial to build trust with the electorate, especially after the Grand Jury Report, and when Mr. Runcie’s talking about asking for a vote on a tax increase.

    If this is as reported, and right now I have no reason to doubt it, it’s not how to gain that trust.

  6. Taxpayer says:

    I can hear the Ft Ldle City Comm lamenting downtown’s loss of the SBBC, just like the FAU occupied tower. Does SBBC not want to be in the heart of the 3 year construction mess of the courthouse?
    Maybe KC Wright will bring a good price as the glazing was replaced after Wilma damage. courthouse people could relocate there for the duration of the construction ?

  7. Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    So far, Robin Barleman and Nora Rupert have told me via email they know nothing about it. They’re going to make inquiries.

  8. Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    In reply to Smart Move: When they run out of space for administrators, they just lease or buy more space. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work as you’ve described it should.

    The details are crucial. We need to know what they are.

  9. Becky Blackwood says:

    The glazing on the KC Wright building was replaced with the same type of glazing it had prior to Hurricane Wilma’s damage, not missile impact glass. When considering the sale of the KC Wright building, I hope someone estimated how much it will cost to adapt the new headquarters to the requirements of the intended District departments, as well as the costs and delay of servics due to the move.

  10. Jeanne says:

    Is it the Board doing this or is this Mr. Runcie? You seem to being saying both and yet, Robin Bartleman and Nora Rupert do not know anything about it and there hasn’t been anything approved by the School Board. Before you begin the finger pointing make sure those on the receiving end of the index finger deserve it.

  11. Jeanne says:

    What I do agree with Buddy is this should be out in the open.

  12. S only says:

    This is alarming. How much is owed on kcw and at what rate? They already have satellite administrative properties that they rent (which is wasteful since there are so many under enrolled schools with free space). I always thought having a downtown address was a good thing about the school system. It is time for admin to severely DOWNSIZE since 30,000 students have fled to charters. Buddy, you are right to bring this out into the open. Thanks.

  13. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    First Mr.Runcie has to deal w/ cutting rotten trees down,(Ft>lau High) to the dismay of some sex shop owner(yes) to now having to get “Charlotte Greenbarg”(notice how she goes to Memeber Rupert)permission to “explore” the idea of moving headquaters to Cyprees Creek I mean lets see what he is proposing before you put him down. Th e cheap shots concerning the “Grand Jury” assessment-that was way before he got here. “That was then, this is now”. Do an interview w/ the Paper Mr.Runcie to address these concerns. And to some “others” Mr.runcie is doing a god job, if not w/ some of you and your “gotcha” mentality I would have heard about it.Even so keep us informed Buddy…

  14. Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    I’ll ignore any crazed rantings aimed at me and cut to the chase on this.

    Robin Bartleman and Katie Leach told me there would be a workshop if there is anything solid to discuss. According to them, the question was raised some months ago to the Sup’t. but nothing since.

    FROM BUDDY:
    I personally believe that this will come up in a general discussion of leased and surplus property, probably as part of the budget debate.

    It is telling that Runcie’s spokesperson has never answered my detailed questions on this.

  15. Smart Move 2 says:

    No need in having a meeting until the asset has been acquired by the seller.

    http://www.bizjournals.com/southflorida/news/2012/07/10/broward-public-schools-approached-to.html

  16. don't have a cowan says:

    Hey Buddy, isn’t Neil Sterling on the board at Bank Atlantic?

    FROM BUDDY: Not according to Businessweek.

  17. Louis says:

    So far, Robin Barleman and Nora Rupert have told me via email they know nothing about it. They’re going to make inquiries.

    THEY NEW ABOUT THE DEAL SINCE THE FIRST MOMENT…..

  18. Antarctictoothfish says:

    Love your questions. I think you need to add; who owns the property?

  19. Charlotte Greenbarg says:

    Louis, if you know how they knew, please tell us, but without compromising honest people, and I know that’s not easy to do.

    Who really knew what and when they knew it can probably only be answered by someone who was there.

    I’m betting the facts will come out bit by bit. I’m especially interested in the players involved and having the Chief Auditor look at the numbers.

  20. Nick Sakhnovsky says:

    Thx for the Business Journal link, Smart Move 2. The critical point is “swap.” Unlike a purchase, a public hearing is not required for a swap.

    FROM BUDDY:

    Even I am not cynical enough to believe the School Board would allow a swap without a public hearing. This is valuable property in downtown.

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