FORT LAUDERDALE — A modern new police headquarters is on the way to the tune of $140 million, but for now the Fort Lauderdale department is without a home.
That means Fort Lauderdale needs to lease temporary office space for at least two years — an unexpected cost of $3 million. Taxpayers will pick up the bill.
On Tuesday night, commissioners accepted an offer to lease the first and second floors of the Kaplan University building at 1515 W. Cypress Creek Road in northern Fort Lauderdale. The deal will not become final until commissioners approve the lease at their next meeting on Sept. 5.
At the Kaplan building, the police would have 46,591 square feet of space on the first and second floor, with a two-year lease costing $1.48 million the first year, or $31 gross rate per square foot.
Some outstanding questions still need to be answered, Mayor Dean Trantalis told the South Florida Sun Sentinel on Wednesday.
One potential conflict: Sheldon Gross, the owner of the Kaplan building, says he is using Colliers International to negotiate the lease. Fort Lauderdale used the same company to search for space to lease.
Interim City Attorney D’Wayne Spence is now looking into the matter at the request of Commissioner Steve Glassman, who voted against the deal Tuesday night.
Glassman also had questions about the fact that the owner of the Kaplan building is not getting a property tax bill due to an education exemption.
“This needs to be investigated and factored into any lease that you draft as there is the possibility that if taxes are levied then the city’s cost to occupy the site may be increased significantly,” Glassman wrote in a memo to Spence on Wednesday.
Trantalis says he plans to examine the lease closely as soon as it’s drawn up.
“All the basic terms of the lease have to be scrutinized and agreed upon,” Trantalis said. “At the beginning his terms were all unacceptable — the square feet he was requiring, the three-year lease term he insisted on, the need for 24/7 security. He kept changing his terms as the deal was slipping through his fingers.”
Hunt for new digs
A month ago, Fort Lauderdale officials began hunting for a building that could serve as a temporary home until the new police station gets built.
Commissioner John Herbst, eager to find a tenant for the nearly empty Kaplan building in his district, said he had just the place. He’d taken a tour in March with lobbyist Judy Stern, who says she has known the building’s owner for decades.
At first, Gross insisted the city lease two floors when the city was only asking for one, City Manager Greg Chavarria told commissioners Tuesday night. Gross also insisted on a three-year lease when the city wanted only a two-year lease, Chavarria added.
On Aug. 13, Chavarria sent an email to Glassman with details that concerned him. He shared those details with the commission Tuesday night. The email stated:
• “On July 25, 2023, Mr. Gross sent the attached email stating that Kaplan rejected that the City could utilize 21k SF for PD, and that the minimum space that was available was 47,387 square feet (2 floors) at a gross rent year one cost of $1,598,691.”
• “On August 2, 2023, Jeffrey Elie, VP of (real estate at) Kaplan, sent the attached email sharing Kaplan was never presented with or rejected any deal.”
• “On August 4, 2023, we asked Mr. Gross, through our agent, if there would be any ability to minimize the term to two years. This was denied by Mr. Gross and his offer remained at a minimum of 47,387 sq feet for 38 months (which is greater than the needs of PD), at a gross rent year one cost of $1,598,691.”
Instead of going with Kaplan, city officials kept looking for other options and found one nearby.
A better deal?
On Tuesday night, city staff recommended the commission lease space from the Cypress Corporate Center at 1901 W. Cypress Creek Road, saying it was a better deal.
The two-year lease would cost taxpayers $715,000 a year ($27.75 gross rate per square foot) and give the police department 25,775 square feet of space on the sixth floor, with an option for a one-year renewal.
But in the end, commissioners tentatively approved a deal with the owner of the Kaplan building. The vote was 4-1, with Glassman casting the lone no vote.
Before Tuesday night’s vote, Glassman raised several concerns from the dais, including Gross making last-minute changes to the deal he’d offered the city.
“In the last 24 hours, people are changing their minds,” Glassman said. “There’s a lot of moving parts. This makes me a little nervous. I don’t know what [we] have in writing.”
Glassman also had questions for Gross.
“I read in the Sun Sentinel that you were giving tours of your building as early as March,” he said. “Is anyone working on your behalf? Are you connected with any lobbyists? Are you doing all this on your own?”
‘We are the right choice’
Gross said he has no lobbyist but is working with Colliers.
“We are the right choice,” Gross said. “We have the capacity. We have the layout. And we’re ready to go.”
Glassman said he was concerned that both Gross and the city were working with the same company.
He then asked Gross if he paid property taxes on the building.
“We purchased our building in 2019,” Gross said. “We have an exemption. We’ve never paid property taxes. I have nothing to do with the exemption. It was in place when we bought the building.”
On Tuesday night, Police Chief Patrick Lynn told commissioners he’d toured both buildings twice and felt the Kaplan site would be a better fit.
“To go from 85,000 square feet to 40,000 is not going to be adequate for our needs,” Lynn said.
More space, higher price
The Kaplan deal is pricier but does give the department more space, Trantalis said.
“What swayed me was the fact that his building has impact windows,” he told the Sun Sentinel. “While it costs a little more per square foot, I feel it’s justified because we have a more secure environment for our police department. We want to make sure our police personnel are in a safe environment. We’re trying to find an appropriate place for them.”
Commissioner Warren Sturman also liked the idea of the hurricane impact windows.
“It’s hurricane proof,” Sturman said of the Kaplan building. “If you have a hurricane, you don’t want your police out of commission.”
Herbst asked whether the department’s detectives were going to have to keep working from home if the city went with the building recommended by staff.
The answer: Yes.
“That is unacceptable,” Herbst said.
On Wednesday, Herbst told the Sun Sentinel it was an absolute necessity to make sure the police department had sufficient space to work.
“I don’t think we can go from an 80,000-square-foot station to a 25,000-square-foot space,” he said. “All the police should be in the same building, whether it’s the 1901 building or the 1515 building.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan