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Coral Gables

Coral Gables approves name change for Merrick Park mall

Architect Robert Behar, of Behar, Font and Partners, listens as colleagues address the Coral Gables Commission Tuesday morning concerning approval of a public art project at the Gables Ponce Project. The work, on the corner of Le Jeune Road and Ponce de Leon, was created by artist Carlos Navarro.
Architect Robert Behar, of Behar, Font and Partners, listens as colleagues address the Coral Gables Commission Tuesday morning concerning approval of a public art project at the Gables Ponce Project. The work, on the corner of Le Jeune Road and Ponce de Leon, was created by artist Carlos Navarro.
HOWARD COHEN / Miami Herald Staff

Coral Gables commissioners touted the city’s recognition in an international United Nations-sanctioned contest that looks for the most livable cities in the world. But first the five-member group agreed that the Village of Merrick Park, the city’s large, open-air mall, could better brand itself with a new name.

“Village,” the mall’s general manager Chris Molho said, can lead to confusion among non-locals. “Is it a town?”

The new name will be Shops at Merrick Park.

“With this name change, it will help us capture those who might not be familiar with Merrick Park. I know Bal Harbour Shops is a shopping center, or Dadeland Mall.”

The mall’s studies revealed that only 38 percent of respondents could similarly identify that the Village of Merrick Park contained a shopping component.

“Those coming from out of town, South America, Brazil, when they see ‘Shops’ they will know who we are. We don’t want to lose the equity of ‘Merrick Park,’” Molho said.

The name change won’t be immediate, however. Before it can happen, the mall must submit a comprehensive signage master plan to the city for review and approval.

In addition, the mall has contracts dating to the initial agreement for construction in 2000, mandating that the mall operate under the ‘Village’ name, and any alterations must be approved by its two anchor stores, Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus.

The commission on Tuesday also approved the concept for a work of public art at its Gables Ponce Project on the corner of Le Jeune Road and Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The residential 10-story, 367-unit, mixed-use project serves as a gateway to the city, said its architect Robert Behar of Behar, Font & Partners. Developers have secured the services of Cuban-born artist Carlos Navarro, known for his “Pop Suave” style.

The concept is inspired by the labyrinths of gothic European cathedrals with natural stones and a metal rose at the top of the piece, a signature of Navarro’s work. Elements of Moorish design are also incorporated.

Navarro said he wanted to create something Gables founder George Merrick would approve of “I didn’t want to create something like a red nose on a clown. Altogether, we created something that works.”

The 10,000-square-foot plaza will also make use of a new Epicure Gourmet Market that is coming to the Gables in mid-November which will have an outside seating element, Behar said.

Navarro’s art piece cost $244,130, less than the 1-percent required of the building’s $38 million cost. LG Coral Gables LLC, the developer, will pay the remaining $136,480 toward the city’s Art in Public Spaces Fund.

In other business, Mayor Jim Cason and City Manager Pat Salerno reported that the city is a finalist in an awards competition run by LivCom, a London-based non-profit organization that recognizes cities for livability. LivCom’s international jury looks at areas like enhancement of natural and built environments, arts, culture and heritage, community participation and empowerment and healthy lifestyle. Coral Gables is the only city in the United States in its population category (20,000 to 75,000) and is competing against 13 other municipalities from around the world, including cities in Austria, Greece, Korea, Malaysia, Hungary, France, Lithuania and the Czech Republic.

“Regardless of whether we win overall, we are the most livable small town in the United States which is a great honor,” said Cason, who thinks the Gables’ chances are enhanced by its diverse population.

The United Nations-endorsed award program will announce its winners on Dec. 2.

The city is currently working with the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce on a presentation to the jury.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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