Coral Gables proposes splitting costs of Miracle Mile makeover with business owners

As the long-awaited and much-discussed beautification of Miracle Mile and Giralda Avenue approaches, Coral Gables officials have proposed to split the costs down the middle with local business owners.

Through a special-assessment tax, half of the the estimated $17 million cost would be paid by businesses that are determined to benefit from the project, which aims to widen sidewalks, plant trees and generally make the two streets more pedestrian-friendly.

The improvements would be made along Miracle Mile and Giralda Avenue, which is known as the city’s “restaurant row.” With the project, which has not been designed and is still in the planning stages, businesses hope to attract people to shop, dine and lounge in downtown Coral Gables, similar to other local leisure destinations like Lincoln Road in Miami Beach and Mary Brickell Village in Miami.

At a recent meeting, City Manager Pat Salerno presented the financing proposal to the City Commission and about 25 members of the Business Improvement District that covers Miracle Mile. The plan will be heard at four public hearings in the coming months.

According to the proposal, properties directly on the Mile and Giralda would bear 35 percent of the total cost, and adjacent properties would pay 15 percent.

Mari Gallet, spokeswoman and former executive director of the improvement district, said many business owners are fine with paying their half but suggest the city gives them a one-year grace period to recover from the lost business during construction. That year, she said, would give proprietors enough time to bounce back and hopefully see business grow before the higher tax bills come in.

“Our goal as property owners and business owners, is to have a small number on our property tax bills that’ll be easy to absorb because of our success,” she said.

Salerno said the city has already factored in a two-year grace period into the plan, adding that is rare for a city do so.

“Normally, there isn’t one,” he said.

Abe Ng, owner of the Sushi Maki chain of restaurants, has worked through street improvements in front of hos location on Sunset Drive in South Miami back in 1998.

He said business will decrease for places like his Sushi Maki at 2334 Ponce de Leon Blvd., located just north of Miracle Mile since 1983. But he welcomes the planned improvements, and he hopes the city will help let drivers know that they are still open.

“Signage is very important,” he said. “Signage provided by the city that says the businesses are still open.”

City staff were asked to prepare a timeline for the financing, hearings and construction of the streetscaping, as well as a time frame for renovation of two city parking garages on Andalusia Avenue. The garages project is still in its planning stages.

Burton Hersh, an architect and president of the improvement district’s board of directors, said many people are nervous about the garage redevelopment. He noted that during the construction of The Palace at Coral Gables, a luxury senior living community in downtown, five businesses did not survive.

“It’s very important that the city stages the construction in a staggered way,” he said.

Salerno said the city will address the timing of those projects later on, as the City Commission would have to give necessary approvals for projects to go forward.

“At some point down that road we will take a look between the relationship between the two projects,” he said.

Business owners like Jose Bolado, owner of Bolado Clothiers at 314 Miracle Mile, have emphasized that they could take a huge hit if they had to contend with construction along the street and behind their buildings.

“We need as much help as we can get from the back if they start working in the front,” Bolado said.

Bolado’s family business has been on the Mile since 1975, and he said downtown Coral Gables has long needed a facelift.

“I believe it’s long overdue,” he said. “We need to keep up with the times.”