Justice’s Golden Mile move still cloudy

Sánchez Betances said the agency is awaiting an estimate on the cost of work still pending at World Plaza more than a year after it was acquired by the government.

“We have to determine if we can afford it. If not we’re going to have to unload the building,” the Justice chief said, adding that he has asked architects and contractors to revise original plans that he says were too expensive.

“Whether we move or not depends on the renovation costs and our budget,” he said.

The previous administration of former Gov. Luis Fortuño bought the 22-story World Plaza for the Justice Department in March 2012 from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC), which took over the office tower in the heart of Hato Rey’s Golden Mile after it seized Westernbank in April 2010 and auctioned off most of the failed financial company’s assets.

The Justice Department has long sought to move out of its cramped and outdated Miramar headquarters and looked at some 16 proposals – with price tags reaching $350 million – for a new base before deciding on World Plaza.

Westernbank had acquired the former Banco de Ponce Building (aka Hato Rey Tower) in 2002 and poured more than $18 million into renovations as part of the Mayagüez-based bank’s push to become a big player on the Golden Mile.

After Westernbank crumbled in 2010, Popular Inc. picked up most of its assets, but not World Plaza. The FDIC also kept nearly a dozen other Westernbank offices and branches.

The acquisition for the Justice Department was carried out through the island government’s Infrastructure Financing Authority (AFI by its Spanish initials).

The Government Development Bank had approved a $35 million line of credit for the Justice Department, which employs some 2,100 people, to make a move. The agency was to use that to pay back AFI and cover maintenance work.

Former Justice Secretary Guillermo Somoza Colombani said in March 2012 that renovations were expected to take roughly 12 months. He said the agency may seek another credit line of up to $50 million.

The building sits within a mile of the San Juan Judicial Center, the federal courthouse and a range of other local government agencies including the Labor Department and Comptroller’s Office.

The building, which was built in 1990 and totals some 32,330 square meters of floor space, was expected to fetch between $25 million and $30 million. Its sale was handled by Cushman & Wakefield and Property Concepts Commercial (PPC).

The FDIC had listed the World Plaza property in 2010 at $40.5 million, or $117 per square foot. The tower has commercial space and a 1,370 vehicle parking lot.

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