Fort Lauderdale’s police department finally has a temporary home for the next two years until its new $140 million headquarters opens in 2025.
The $1.48 million-a-year lease has been signed and the department has started to move into the first two floors of a four-story building once fully occupied by Kaplan University, City Manager Greg Chavarria told the South Florida Sun Sentinel.
Construction got underway on the new police headquarters in July.
Commissioner John Herbst championed the Kaplan building all along, saying he was trying to help a business owner in his district fill vacant space.
“We really want to get the cops in there,” Herbst said this week. “They’re very happy that we’ve settled on a long-term solution, but they just want to get in there. I’m glad we were finally able to come to terms.”
In a recent meeting that had Mayor Dean Trantalis trying to negotiate a better deal from the dais, commissioners voted 4-1 to lease space from the Kaplan building at 1515 W. Cypress Creek Road.
The first year of rent will cost taxpayers nearly $1.5 million plus nearly $130,000 in property taxes if the building loses its tax-exempt status. A nearby building would have cost only $895,000 a year, but had less space available.
Commissioner Steve Glassman, who cast the lone dissenting vote, noted taxpayers will be paying nearly $600,000 per year in rent for an extra 10,500 square feet of space on a building that sits on city-owned land.
Fort Lauderdale might end up paying property taxes too — another reason Glassman voted against the deal.
“Is that customary to pay property taxes on a property that we already own?” he said in protest before the vote. “I find this highly unusual.”
The Kaplan building is currently tax exempt, but that could soon change.
After getting an inquiry from the South Florida Sun Sentinel last month, the Broward Property Appraiser’s Office began looking into whether the building should be on the tax rolls and whether back taxes are owed. The investigative review has not yet been completed, Property Appraiser Marty Kiar said this week.
Going with the ‘Cadillac version’
The property is owned by the city but leased to Sheldon Gross, who bought the lease in 2019. As a subtenant, the city has agreed to pay taxes if Gross ever does get a tax bill.
Gross told commissioners the city would have to pay 48% of the property tax bill if the building loses its tax-exempt status — close to $170,000.
Trantalis urged him to lower the city’s portion of the tax bill and cap it at 24%.
“At this point, there’s no doubt in my mind that you have the Cadillac version of what we can provide the police department,” the mayor told Gross. “Now with taxes, we’re moving into the range of Bentley.”
Gross told the mayor he doubted the building would wind up on the tax rolls.
Trantalis told Gross he thinks there’s a good chance it might.
“I’m looking for the best value now for the people of this city,” Trantalis said. “We have to be careful about the money we spend. I’d like to put a cap on the amount (of property taxes) we’d be responsible for.”
The mayor and Gross negotiated back and forth until finally settling on a deal that will have Fort Lauderdale paying 36% of what could be a $350,000 tax bill if the building loses its tax-exempt status. The city’s portion of the tax bill would come to less than $130,000.
Before the commission vote, Glassman explained why he was voting no.
“I so sincerely hope that this works out,” he said. “I so sincerely hope we provide the best possible space for the police. But I just do not feel comfortable. Although I hope this moves forward in the best possible way for the police department, I feel that the cost is just way too excessive. Although I’m so hopeful this does work out, I just don’t have the comfort level that it will work out, so I’m going to vote no.”
‘I don’t want to be railroaded’
Early in the meeting, Herbst said he objected to the commission considering two competing leases, one for the Kaplan building and another for a building nearby. The commission had already voted 4-1 on Aug. 22 to approve lease terms at the Kaplan building, Herbst noted.
Trantalis said the commission only approved the terms, not the lease because it wasn’t even drafted yet.
“We asked the city attorney to bring forward two leases,” Trantalis said. “We’re trying to save money for the city. I don’t want to be railroaded on this decision.”
“We didn’t have a lease,” he said. “How can you vote on a lease that you don’t have?”
Trantalis told Herbst it was important to consider both buildings in an effort to get the best deal for the taxpayers.
“The two buildings have a difference in price,” he said. “I think the 1515 building is the superior building. My real concern now is cost. We are still talking about taxpayers having to foot the bill.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow me on X @Susannah_Bryan