Miami-Dade County

Business owners fight plan to ban storefront security shutters in downtown Miami, Coconut Grove

To most business owners in downtown Miami and Coconut Grove, security shutters are a necessary precaution.

But to the Miami City Commission, the shutters are an eyesore.

On Thursday, commissioners will decide whether to ban metal security screens from the two business districts. If the measure passes, two semi-autonomous business-development agencies will help businesses pay the removal costs, Commission Chairman Marc Sarnoff said. Both also will offer incentives for business owners to install impact-resistant glass.

Sarnoff says the move will make the shopping districts safer and more pedestrian-friendly.

“There will be more eyes and ears on the street, and more indirect light from the shops, restaurants and offices,” said Sarnoff, who represents both downtown Miami and Coconut Grove, and chairs the Downtown Development Authority.

But some retailers and restaurateurs have decried the proposal, saying the thick metal screens deter burglars.

“We need the protection,” said Gilberto Buitrago, who manages Optimystik Eyewear, 110 E. Flagler St. “With the shutters, nobody can see into the store at night. Nobody can break in.”

Said Danny Lovett, of Revolution Bicycle Services in Coconut Grove: “Who is going to pay for my products when they get stolen?”

Metal security shutters have become a hallmark of downtown and Coconut Grove.

At the end of the business day, store owners in both neighborhoods roll thick sheets of aluminum over their windows and doors. The screens are often weatherworn and covered with graffiti.

Newer, see-through shutters resemble latticework or storm grates. Still, Sarnoff says, they make the retail districts less appealing to pedestrians after dark.

The proposed shutter legislation has already won tentative approval from the commission. If it wins final support Thursday, business owners would have two years to remove their solid security screens and three years to take down any see-through screens.

Some decorative shutters would still be allowed, as would hurricane shutters when necessary. But business owners would be encouraged to use impact glass, which is said to be shatterproof and hurricane-resistant.

Impact glass usually costs $35 to $150 per square foot, depending on quality, said Yussef Saieh, of Impact Glass Service in Opa-locka. The company recently installed impact glass for a downtown business for $50,000.

In Coconut Grove, the Business Improvement District, a quasi-public agency, is offering 50-50 matching grants to help business owners replace their shutters with impact glass, Sarnoff said.

The DDA has a grant program that covers the full cost of shutter removal — and 75 percent of the cost of impact-glass installation — for downtown businesses.

But DDA board member Jose Goyanes said the DDA has not taken a formal vote on the proposed city ordinance to ban security screens, and fears that the DDA’s budget for shutter removal isn’t enough to cover all downtown businesses.

“If this ordinance passes, the people that are going to foot the bill are the mom-and-pop business owners,” he said.

Sarnoff contends that business owners would see savings regardless. Impact-glass windows are energy-efficient, he said, and often result in lower air-conditioning bills.

Allison Strongin said installing impact glass has made an aesthetic difference at Kirk Jewelers, 142 E. Flagler St.

“We did it when we moved locations about three years ago,” she said. “It was a priority for us. It makes all the difference in the look of the store.”

Still, other downtown retailers said they would be uneasy about making the change.

Ely Gomez, whose family has owned Express Optical at 48 E. Flagler St. for 25 years, said she swapped solid security shutters for see-through shutters five years ago.

“But to go completely naked?” she said. “That would make us feel vulnerable.”

The DDA’s Goyanes, who owns Metro Beauty Center, Churchill’s Barbershop and Tre Italian Bistro downtown, feels similarly.

“If downtown Miami was Walt Disney World, I would be in favor of it,” Goyanes said. “But there aren’t enough police in Miami to stop the crime that would go on if the shutters were removed.