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Coral Gables

Coral Gables business group is studying downtown rules

Coral Gables’ Business Improvement District has hired an independent consultant to study downtown and Miracle Mile to find out what restrictions can be loosened up.

The BID hired the consultant, Jaime Correra & Associates, to determine what changes can be made to the city’s zoning laws to allow for different types of businesses in the district, and for businesses already there to be able to operate differently.

The BID is an independent taxing agency in downtown Coral Gables.

Its decision to undertake the study has sparked an exchange of letters to the editor in Neighbors between former mayor Don Slesnick and others, who worry about the prospect of South Beach-style night clubs coming to town, and members of City Manager Pat Salerno’s administrative team, who say such fears are unfounded.

The BID’s executive director agreed, saying Tuesday that her members are not looking to bring night clubs to downtown.

Asked about the BID’s plans on Tuesday, Salerno noted that the BID doesn’t answer to him.

“They’re allowed to study and propose whatever they want as an independent entity,” Salerno said. “But I haven’t seen one word of the proposal.”

BID executive director Mari Gallet said she has a draft proposal but refused to discuss details or provide a copy on Tuesday.

Before anything is presented to the City Commission, the BID board must first approve the consultant’s proposal and a draft of how new text in the city’s zoning laws will read, according to Gallet, who stressed there is nothing formalized for this project.

“It’s called a ‘study’ for a reason,” she said. “We’re still in the discussion phase.”

Gallet said the BID plans on hosting public meetings to involve residents in the project. Public meetings will take place in early 2014, after the BID’s board approves the proposal, but before the BID submits it to City Hall, she said.

The consultant was hired after BID members, which include every business and property owner in the area, identified several issues that make bringing in new business difficult.

The issues include signage rules, what restaurants are able to do and display in their storefronts and a rule which states 50 percent of profits must come from the sale of food.

Hours of operation are a point in the study, but residents’ concerns have made it a minor one.

“We’ve talked about hours of operation but we’re not pushing hard on that,” Gallet said.

The types of businesses will be ones that support the district’s 88 restaurants.

“We want to bring things that are supportive of our restaurant community,” Gallet said.

As an example she mentioned several vacant 1,000-square-foot spaces on Giralda Avenue — also known as “Restaurant Row” because of the 14 restaurants there — which could be ideal for bars, retailers, arts or cultural businesses, but not nightclubs.

“We have no desire to bring nightclubs to Coral Gables,” Gallet said. “We don’t know where that started.”

If there are changes, they will not affect the entire city but rather only the 12-city block area that makes up the BID: Giralda Avenue in the north, Andalusia Avenue in the south, Le Jeune Road in the west and Douglas Road in the east.

The project, called the “Downtown Overlay Study,” started in March 2012 with a volunteer committee made up of zoning lawyers, urban planners and several BID members who all wanted to do the proposal.

The BID wants Coral Gables to grow and be able to attract not only Coral Gables residents, but the growing population of millennials, according to Gallet. But changing Coral Gables’ identity is not a part of their plans.

“We don’t want to be South Beach,” Gallet said. “We want to grow and be relevant but we want to protect the sophisticated tone of our district.”

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