BY BUDDY NEVINS
The federal courthouse in downtown Fort Lauderdale has been an out-of-date security nightmare that has been falling apart for years.
Replacing that courthouse would mean a lot of money to a select few plugged-in insiders.
When it opened in 1978, the building was designed with open patios and the latest energy saving ideas.
It also was constructed before federal guidelines requiring a 100-foot setback were instituted in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing in the mid-1990s. And it was built before the Internet and wireless computers transformed offices.
What worked 35 years ago — the building’s opening was covered by yours truly — won’t work today.
So the irrepressible County Commissioner Marty Kiar is prodding the feds to rebuild their courthouse.
Show Me The Money
The biggest roadblock to getting anything done will be the same one that has plagued proposals in the past: No money.
“Its difficult to get money for projects like this,” Kiar admitted. ”It’s a very heavy lift.”
None of that deters Kiar, who ardently agreed to be the commission’s representative on a new courthouse task force appointed by Chief Judge Federico Moreno of the Florida Southern District U. S. District Court.
He is joined on the committee by former Commissioner Ilene Lieberman, who has a law office in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
An active champion of a new federal courthouse for years, Lieberman will steer the committee away from moves that have already failed.
All types of ideas have been floated, including building at the site of Southside School (The city chose to build a park instead.) or tearing down the 110 Tower on Southeast Sixth Street to make room for a new courthouse.
Something needs to be done or Broward folks could end up traveling farther to go to court. Federal judges more than once threatened to move all their cases to West Palm Beach or Miami to get away from the crumbling building.
Kiar’s first step is to invite key members of Congress to Fort Lauderdale to tour the aging courthouse and see how outmoded it is.
He even has an idea to save some money – a public/private partnership involving swapping land.
If an owner of land near the current county judicial complex could be convinced to trade for other property somewhere else, it could save the project millions. Perhaps a sweetener would be added, like offering the owner relaxed zoning on the new property.
Public/private partnership usually mean somebody is already lining up to make a small fortune.
A new courthouse involving valuable downtown Fort Lauderdale land and a huge construction budget involves so much money it will surely have the good ol’ boys salivating.
Not only land owners, but lawyers, lobbyists and contractors stand to make money. Lots of it.
Cobbling together a deal has always been difficult, which is why it hasn’t been done despite decades of debate. Now there is a new roadblock — the feds are mandated to cut the budget. That makes it tougher to come up with the hard cash needed.
Project estimates have been wildly varied over the years, but they fall roughly between $250-500 million.
Right now Fort Lauderdale is eighth on the list for a new courthouse. And there is little or no money for the courthouses one-through-seven.
“There are difficulties,” Kiar said.
Even the über-enthusiastic Kiar conceded nothing will be done overnight.
Still, Kiar said he is in it for the long haul.
He said, “This is very much worth working on.”
And working on. And working on. And working on.