Coral Gables

Coral Gables

UM, Coral Gables tout partnership at annual meeting

Traffic calming, new beautification projects on the University of Miami campus and in the city of Coral Gables, the opening of a $46.5 million Student Activities Center … and the demise of onion rings at the new Rat.

These were some of the issues on the table at the third annual UM-Coral Gables development agreement meeting Tuesday morning at the university’s new Student Activities Center.

Three years ago, UM and the Gables entered into a comprehensive 20-year development agreement that serves as a blueprint for improvements on campus and offers cultural and athletic amenities for city residents, including a limited number of free tickets to major sporting events and concerts for city residents.

Last year, for instance, 3,138 tickets were distributed to Gables residents, including 1,000 apiece for baseball and basketball games and 138 for the UM vs. North Carolina State football game in September.

As part of the agreement, the Coral Gables Commission and UM Board of Trustees agreed to meet annually to exchange information on how the program is proceeding and to enumerate advancements on campus and in the city and to discuss future plans and potential obstacles.

UM President Donna Shalala called the partnership “critical to our community” and that the ongoing arrangement “continues to thrive and benefits the university and residents tremendously.” She singled out Coral Gables City Manager Pat Salerno and City Attorney Craig Leen for their efforts in 2013, which have included laying the groundwork for the county’s acceptance of the building of a pedestrian bridge across U.S. 1 on Mariposa Court within the next two years. “That was a long discussion and we couldn’t have gotten it done without you,” Shalala said. “All of us are much safer once this process is completed.”

Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason echoed the sentiment. “Great cities partner with great universities,” he said.

Both sides listed a number of accomplishments since the 2012 meeting. Among the notable changes, Joe Natoli, the school’s senior vice president for business and finance, noted that UM’s Mobility Plan found that traffic in the residential areas bordering the campus is down by 28 percent in the last two years thanks to the programming of more events on campus.

Nearly 30 percent of the school’s full-time students live on campus and the 2,000 freshman residents are not permitted to have cars on campus. There were 1,100 new bike registrations last year and Coral Gables is currently seeking input from residents to develop a biking master plan for the city which lacks bike lanes on its major roads.

Traffic circles on bordering streets like Miller Road and San Amaro Drive and a campus-wide 15 mph speed limit have also been instituted. The latter change drew chuckles when Shalala noted that her 102-year-old mother recently admonished her for “creeping along” while driving slowly through the campus.

UM also touted its new Student Activities Center, designed by Arquitectonica and built by Fort Lauderdale-based Moss & Associates. The lakefront building features programming by students. The school has also undergone renovations to its Herbert Wellness Center, University Center and poolside patio.

Salerno discussed some of the city’s improvements, which included a boost in its general fund reserves of $9 million to $21 million, the addition of seven police officers and renovations of numerous roads throughout the Gables. The city is also a finalist in the United Nations-endorsed LivCom Awards in which it is competing against 13 other cities outside of the United States for the title, Most Livable City, based on areas such as community involvement, environmental practices and strategic planning.

The manager listed his sole complaint, and addressed it to Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs and a guiding force behind the new SAC and its rebuilt Rathskeller. “Those delicious onion rings that sustained me through my college days are no longer on the menu,” he said. Salerno was a UM student in the 1970s when the old Rat was a hub of activity and for gastronomical pursuits.

Shalala laughed, suggesting she’d look into the omission.

Follow @HowardCohen on Twitter.

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