Doral booming on its 10th birthday

 

jflechas@MiamiHerald.com

Minurka Bolaños watched her 2-year-old son toddle around the playhouse that hides in the shade of sails stretched over Downtown Doral Park.

It’s part of her daily routine to bring little Elijah Martinez to the park, which was built last year and lies a minute’s walk away from Doral City Hall. As Elijah ran around the playground, Bolaños said she prefers the quieter late mornings to the kid-filled afternoons.

“There’s no one ever here,” she said Tuesday morning.

Less than a quarter-mile away, in a third-floor chamber that crowns a City Hall completed last year, city commissioners discussed proposed ordinances and strategic planning for the future. Not too far from there, behind the walls of the Doral Golf Resort and Spa, construction continues on the Blue Monster — the famed golf course that’s getting a facelift as part of a $200 million resort renovation bankrolled by Donald Trump, who bought the property last year.

The signs of a growing suburban community are everywhere in one of Miami-Dade’s youngest cities, which turned 10 on Monday, marking a decade since Doral’s incorporation. Its proximity to Miami International Airport and two major highways — SR 826 and SR 836 — have made it a magnet for businesses. Large businesses, small exporters, and restaurants and retailers have found a home in Doral.

But with growth comes traffic. The city is contending with how to alleviate its clogged arteries, particularly Northwest 25th and 36th streets and 87th and 107th avenues. It also has faced political growing pains, with a recent council member recall effort (it failed), the abrupt departure of a veteran interim city manager, and the hiring of a new manager with a volatile history.

Richard Kuper, executive director of the Miami-Dade County League of Cities, said that he has noted positive responses to surveys administered by Doral officials during its first decade as a city.

Overall, he said, cityhood has been good for Doral.

“The incorporation of Doral has been a very positive thing for the residents themselves and for the business community,” he said.

City officials plan to recognize the milestone at this year’s July Fourth festivities at J.C. Bermudez Park, at 3000 NW 87th Ave. A more formal celebration of the 10-year anniversary will take place on Oct. 5 at Doral Meadow Park, 11555 NW 58th St.

J.C. Bermudez, a leading figure in the incorporation effort and the city’s mayor for its first eight years, said that he is proud to have helped lead the city during its infancy.

“I think we’ve built one of the best places in South Florida,” he said. “One of the best places in the country.”

Bermudez pointed to a growing list of companies that have chosen to make Doral home — Carnival Cruise Lines, Perry Ellis International and Univision. Last month, the Miami Herald Media Company moved its headquarters to Doral, settling on 33rd Street — next to a recently built U.S. Southern Command headquarters and across the way from the Miami branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

The preadolescent city has made several strides during the past decade. The Doral Police Department was established in 2008, and 94 officers now patrol the city. Six parks have sprouted with summer programs. The area around city hall, off of 87th Avenue and 58th Street, continues to be developed. According to the U.S. Census, Doral’s population has grown from about 20,400 in 2000 — three years before incorporation — to an estimated 48,134 in 2012.

The Hispanic community has accounted for much of the growth. About 67 percent of the population was Hispanic in 2000, Census figures show. By 2010, 79.5 percent claimed the same heritage.

Mayor Luigi Boria, who was born in Venezuela and has lived in the area for 24 years, noted the growing diversity.

Now, there are many more Colombians, Venezuelans, Cubans and Brazilians, he said.

The growth has led to bigger budgets. In its first fiscal year, Doral’s general-fund budget totaled a little more than $23 million. This year, the city council had $58 million to work with — enough to prompt City Manager Joe Carollo to propose cuts and hint at a smaller budget next year.

Carollo’s appointment in January surprised many and marked the return of the former Miami mayor and political firebrand to public service. Interim city manager Merrett Stierheim, who had been hired to guide the city in finding a new manager, resigned a few hours before the council hired Carollo. After his resignation, Stierheim said the hiring of Carollo was “a terrible decision” by the council.

At the time, Carollo — a friend and political adviser to Boria — said he regretted recommending Stierheim to the mayor. On Thursday, Carollo said he had moved on from the public tiff.

“I’m just focused now on what I need to do as city manager,” he said.

In another episode, political activist Vanessa Brito led a failed attempt to recall Councilwoman Bettina Rodriguez-Aguilera. Rumors ran wild about who may have instigated the recall, which fizzled in April after too few signatures were submitted.

Regarding the city’s purse, Carollo said that Doral’s finances are strong, particularly after the council approved his recommendation to reduce the current fiscal year’s budget from $58 million to $41.5 million and pump up the city’s reserves to about $40.6 million.

He said that a new city needs an especially strong reserve fund because of expected infrastructure and capital-improvement needs that come with growth.

“It looks like we’re loaded with money,” he said. “But we have to be very savvy and financially responsible in how we spend it because if not, it could turn around really quick.”

Boria said he remembers narrower roads and farms when he first arrived. Now, he has said that improving traffic congestion has to be a priority for the council.

Resident Robert Vos agreed, saying that increased traffic is the biggest change he’s seen in the 14 years he’s lived in Doral.

“There are times when it’s almost gridlock,” he said.

Besides current and planned road improvements, Boria said that expanding the city’s free trolley service and extending Metrorail might be worth pursuing.

“We might want to look at mass transportation,” he said.

Robert Uria, who moved to Doral with his wife in 2000, said the quality of life has improved since the community became a city.

“There are spectacular holiday events that my young boys enjoy,” he said. “The parks are run efficiently and proactively like none I have ever seen. I actually see our police officers on a regular basis. Fantastic restaurants. Great people. I cannot ask for a better place to live.”

For 20-year-old Luis Camejo, who coaches the sons of some family friends in various sports during the summer, the city’s parks are high points for him.

As he taught two boys how to swing a golf club at Bermudez Park on Tuesday, he said he likes the services that come with being a city.

“There are more police, more parks,” he said. “I like it more now.”

This article includes comments from the Public Insight Network, an online community of people who have agreed to share their opinions with The Miami Herald.

Follow @joeflech on Twitter.

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