“Sitting on Our Assets” in Miami

David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse (Photo: Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division)

House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) took his ongoing “Sitting on Our Assets” campaign to Florida this week (Monday, August 6), holding a hearing at the long-vacant David W. Dyer Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse in Miami. “I am continuing to call attention to the outrageous losses on federally owned assets with incredible but squandered potential to generate revenue,” said Mica. “Today’s hearing in an empty federal building in Florida continues our year-and-a-half campaign to turn federally owned properties, sitting idle for years and bleeding the taxpayers by the millions, into productive assets.” The committee already has held hearings in the Old Post Office, the Cotton Annex and the Georgetown West Heating Plant, all of which spurred GSA to action. Last Wednesday (August 1), GSA preemptively issued a request for information (RFI) seeking ideas from members of the development community interested in redeveloping and preserving the Miami property, saying it looks forward “to receiving solid ideas from the development community.”

The 166,577-square-foot Dyer Courthouse, located at 300 N.E. First Avenue, was built in 1933 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places 50 years later. It was vacated in 2008, after GSA completed a new, $163 million courthouse nearby. Mica claims that the Wilkie D. Ferguson, Jr., U.S. Courthouse was overbuilt by hundreds of thousands of square feet, at an excess cost of $49 million, in addition to $3.8 million in annual costs for maintenance and operation. He also notes that the new structure was built to accommodate nearly 20% more judges than it currently houses. Frank Hull, a circuit judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh District—and a representative to the Judicial Conference’s Space and Facilities Committee—testified at the hearing that the new facility was planned to accommodate both the current needs of the Miami Division of the Southern District of Florida—one of the busiest federal trial courts in the nation—and its future growth, noting that the building was designed to meet the division’s space needs for ten years. He added in his written testimony that “the court has now been in the Ferguson Courthouse for four years and the building is full, with the exception of one district court’s courtroom and two shelled courtroom spaces.”

Regarding GSA’s potential disposition of the Dyer Building, GSA Regional Commissioner John Smith noted in his written testimony that GSA initially had planned to renovate the structure for use by other court programs and federal agencies, but that the high cost of renovation (estimated at approximately $60 million), the limited GSA capital program and other competing needs resulted in “no clear timeline for being able to move forward with a renovation.” He added that “GSA intends to reposition this property in the near future.” Hull noted that the Miami court has two concerns regarding the potential sale of the Dyer Building, which is attached to another structure (the C. Clyde Atkins U.S. Courthouse) that is still in use. Because the buildings share a physical plant located in the Dyer Building, GSA would need to separate those functions and construct a new plant for the Atkins Courthouse—at a cost that Smith estimated to be “in excess of $10 million.” In addition, closing the Dyer Building would affect the perimeter security of the Atkins Courthouse, since they share a courtyard. The Dyer Building’s persistent mold problem also presents challenges to its redevelopment.

“If we have to have a hearing at every empty building in the country in order to get GSA to stop wasting money, we will do so,” Mica said at the hearing. We’re therefore confident in predicting that this won’t be the last of these hearings.