Fort Lauderdale’s police headquarters, home base for the men and women charged with keeping the city safe, has clearly seen better days.
The 65-year-old building has a leaky roof, an ancient air-conditioning system and elevators you can’t trust. The basement floods when it rains and so does the parking lot. And when a big, bad hurricane is on the way, the whole building has to shut down.
Residents embraced the idea of building a new headquarters years ago, heading to the polls in March 2019 to say yes to borrowing $100 million to pay for the new station.
More than four years later, the city is finally ready to break ground on a three-story building for a department with more than 750 employees. The new 196,000-square-foot headquarters will be built right next door to the old building and is expected to open in summer 2025.
The current headquarters will be torn down after the new one opens. The new station will boast cutting-edge technology and include a high-security parking garage, firearms training center and community center.
A groundbreaking ceremony is planned for 10 a.m. Thursday at 1201 SW First Street.
City officials were initially hoping the new headquarters would cost less than $100 million, but the price has gone the other way, all the way up to $140 million.
Rising labor and construction costs are to blame for the hike in price, City Manager Greg Chavarria says. The city is taking out a five-year line of credit to borrow the extra $40 million.
A bit more drama
Commissioner Steve Glassman praised the look of the new station, saying it will bring a bit more drama than the current eyesore at 1300 West Broward Blvd.
“I’m very pleased about what’s happening on Broward Boulevard,” Glassman said. “It’s the gateway to our city and this is an important piece of the puzzle in the renaissance coming to Broward Boulevard. This is a building not just for today but for the future of Fort Lauderdale.”
The new station will be large enough to accommodate the city’s police force and civilian support staff now and into the future, Chavarria said. The department’s 199 civilian workers and 550 officers are now working in a cramped building with only 85,000 square feet.
The department’s rank and file are eagerly awaiting the opening of their new headquarters, said Scott Moseley, president of the police union.
“This state-of-the-art facility marks a significant milestone, one that reflects our commitment to progress, professionalism and enhanced public safety,” Moseley said. “This modern facility will provide our hardworking men and women in blue with the resources, technology and infrastructure they need to carry out their duties effectively and efficiently.”
A long time coming
Resident Ralph Zeltman plans to attend the groundbreaking ceremony, saying it’s been a long time coming.
“I’ve been pushing for a new headquarters since I did my walkthrough in 2018,” Zeltman said. “Had I been a code inspector, I would have condemned that building. I’m ecstatic that they’re finally going to have a groundbreaking.”
Zeltman, a civil engineer and member of Fort Lauderdale’s Infrastructure Task Force, sent several letters to City Hall that year listing the many problems with the current police station.
He’s seen a rendering of the new headquarters and had questions about that too.
“I think it’s too many windows,” said Zeltman, whose father was a police officer in Maryland. “You don’t want people looking in and seeing police officers. We have a lot of nuts roaming around. You don’t want the nuts to be able to see in there. We don’t want anyone being shot. It would be good if the police can see out but the public can’t see in. It’s a safety issue.”
Zeltman also wondered if the windows were bullet-resistant or, even better, bulletproof.
Chavarria says the building’s windows are not bulletproof. But the reception desk and lobby are fortified by bullet-resistant glass.
“We have architectural design and elements that will protect our officers throughout the building,” he said. “The furniture will be positioned in a way to protect the workers.”
Why the long delay?
Initially, city officials were hoping the new station would open by 2021. But they ran into one very big problem.
A rental property with an appraised value of $900,000 sat in the footprint of the new headquarters.
The owner at first refused to sell, then came back and named an astronomical price, Mayor Dean Trantalis said.
The city used eminent domain to seize the property, paying $2.1 million for the four-unit property at 1201 and 1205 SW First St.
Commissioners approved the court settlement on Dec. 21, 2021.
“We were trying to build the project on the existing site so we would not have to displace the current operations of the police department,” Trantalis said. “To do that we needed a strip of land on the east side of the police station. We took it to court and then agreed on an amount. In the end, we’re going to have a first-class facility that will withstand a Category 5 hurricane and offer facilities that are state-of-the-art and can serve a community that continues to grow.”
The new headquarters can’t open fast enough, Commissioner John Herbst said.
Those who work in the current building have been forced to put up with all its quirks and kinks for years. And they’ll be there for two more.
“We have water penetrating into that building,” Herbst said. “When it rains it leaks. That’s been an ongoing problem for years. And you can guarantee there’s going to be mold in the walls and ceilings and air-conditioning ducts. They just want it done. They want a functional building that doesn’t have leaks. And they want it as soon as possible.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @Susannah_Bryan