Coral Gables

Merchants ‘barely hanging on’ as work on Coral Gables streetscape drags

Streetscape construction continues on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables.
Streetscape construction continues on Miracle Mile in Coral Gables.

The road that serves as one of the cornerstones of Coral Gables is still caught in ongoing construction, and now city leaders are putting the contractor’s feet to the fire.

The Miracle Mile/Giralda Avenue streetscape project is months behind schedule and the city has threatened to declare a default in the contract with Ric-Man International, which could lead to the contractor losing the job or a lawsuit from the city.

Businesspeople along the torn-up streets say the work is dragging because workers aren’t out there enough and complain they are losing customers.

“I think when it’s done it’s going to be really nice, but all of us, our business is down 50 to 60 percent,” said Eddie Snow of Snow’s Jewelers on the Mile. “I hope it’s not too little too late because we’re barely hanging on here.”

The vision for Miracle Mile is to add wider sidewalks, new trees, new streetlights and parallel parking that will replace the current angled parking. It also calls for a revamp of the “restaurant row” on Giralda by catering to pedestrians and limiting automotive traffic. The modernization is the area’s first significant revamp in many years.

The entire project is now on track to be completed in October 2017 — the initial estimate was August 2017 — and the work on Giralda is set to be done by April when it was initially set to finish last month.

The construction along the Mile is happening in phases and one lane is closed eastbound from Salzedo Street to Galiano Street. Giralda Avenue is closed from Ponce de Leon Boulevard to Galiano. Paver installation has started on the 200 block of Miracle Mile and is expected to start on Giralda soon. Ric-Man is allowed to work on weekends and at night but city officials and merchants say they haven’t seen many workers.

The city and Ric-Man have gotten closer to a resolution, and are planning a meeting to discuss speeding up the work. “We’re happy Ric-Man is committed to accelerating the process. We’re seeing some progress that we like,” City Attorney Craig Leen said.

The latest developments started when Ric-Man sent a letter to the city on Oct. 14 identifying issues that the company said caused delays. The letter pointed to discrepancies in the project’s design, as prepared by architectural firm Cooper Robertson, and said the city had either not replied with enough information or had not responded at all to some requests.

City officials said that Ric-Man should have identified the issues in the project’s design earlier as the company serves as both the project’s construction manager and the preconstruction service contractor.

“Time is and remains of the essence. This letter is not a waiver of Ric-Man’s untimely performance or other breaches of the agreement,” the city said in a Dec. 13 letter.

Ric-Man asked for additional money and an extended deadline but the city argued that it had not been provided with a detailed plan and updated schedule.

“We’ve helped them out on various issues and we think we’ve cut off time on the project and we want that reflected on the schedule,” said Peter Iglesias, assistant city manager.

But in the mind of merchants like Jeffrey Wolfe, of Wolfe’s Wine Shoppe, the damage is already done.

“We, the merchants, all knew that they weren’t going to meet their goals,” Wolfe said. “I don’t see anybody working in front of the store.”

Construction started in the summer first on Giralda and then on the Mile. Businesses started feeling the impact after just a few weeks and pleaded for more work to be done. Shoppers on the two streets can still view many of the storefronts and signs but they walk along tighter sidewalks next to barricades and with bulldozers a few feet away.

For merchants like Lilly Gandara, the events director for La Dorada restaurant, the work on Giralda has been particularly rough, and she hopes the city will find a way to compensate businesses for lost business. The restaurant estimates losses of about $700,000 since construction began.

“We are losing customers, customers cancel their reservations at the restaurant and some people think the businesses are closed because of the street,” Gandara said. “We don’t understand why they are so indifferent to what is happening to us.”

Vice Mayor Frank Quesada said that tension over the lack of progress was palpable in City Hall and he spent late nights on Giralda watching the lack of work and talking to merchants. He said that the design issues have been identified and cleared up and the project is on the right track, but work has to move faster.

“Our goal is to get it completed just because of the impact to the merchants and the businesses. It’s unfortunate that we had a bit of a slowdown,” Quesada said.

The city has provided more signs to direct customers to stores and to nearby parking. It has also created programming like Wellness Wednesdays and is negotiating a partnership with Uber to draw shoppers.

While some merchants have been supportive of the streetscape project, many think the construction timeline could have been clearer and wonder if businesses will make it through the holiday season — a season when many merchants see their highest profit.

Gail Ackerman, who owns four properties on Giralda, said she’s disappointed that promises that the construction would be done by November have not been kept. The annual Giralda Under the Stars event was canceled because of the construction delays.

“I’m watching my tenants flounder. I’d be surprised if 100 percent of them make it out on the other end of this,” Ackerman said.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3