Coral Gables

Gables commissioners approve downtown ‘streetscape’ plan

The Coral Gables City Commission has approved a long-awaited streetscape projects for Miracle Mile and Giralda Avenue in downtown.

The lengthy discussion at last week’s commission meeting lasted nearly five hours, as developers, business owners and commissioners went back and forth on whether or not the $18.8 million plan was fair and appropriate for property owners on the block.

Commissioners approved a general concept for the streetscape project, but city staff will return later with detailed drawings.

Jorge Besu, president if 10 Aragon Condominiums, located near the Mile, objected to the project.

“We ask that you take us out of the special tax assessment. I bring a formal petition by the owners, for you to exclude us,” Besu said.

“It looks unfair, feels unfair and it is unfair. It is an extra burden for our building. Please do not tax our residents out of Coral Gables.”

The city approved going 50/50 with property owners on and around the Mile to fund the project. Besu’s condominium project will be included in the district.

The property owners in the Business Improvement District of Coral Gables will split their half, to be paid through a special assessment tax, depending on their location — 35 percent would be paid by properties directly on Mile and Giralda and 15 percent by adjacent properties.

The city agreed to pay interest for the first two years so that property owners won’t be assessed until construction ends and business speeds up again. The city is also looking into increasing parking meter rates by up to 50 cents per hour to help reduce the fee paid by property owners for downtown parking.

For more than a decade, city leaders have wanted to make the Mile a lively, pedestrian-friendly area in hopes of attracting new and diverse businesses.

The future design of the Mile and Giralda would feature wider sidewalks, public art displays and open plaza areas along Miracle Mile, all of which will encourage foot traffic.

“This is an opportunity to move forward. It’s been a long time coming,” the BID’s executive director, Marina Foglia said. “This is a growing city and we have to go through our growing pains together. However the return on investment is going to be incredible.”

Construction is expected to take 18 months and will be phased one block at a time, depending on business owners’ needs and peak times for business, according to a memo from city staff outlining the final project.

Nighttime construction — aimed at expediting the length of construction — is still being considered.

The renovated areas will include new street lighting, tree grates, benches, better signage for businesses and parking garages, more welcoming connections to garages and alleyways, and permanent valet stations.

Restaurant Row on Giralda Avenue will undergo the same aesthetic transformation.

Some BID members had asked whether there will be sufficient parking. According to the BID, under the current project plan 116 street parking spots will be lost. However about 400 parking spots will be added to the garage behind the Miracle Theater on 245 Andalusia Ave., which now has 300 spots.

The city decided that the use of the centralized valet parking system will be expanded; allowing visitors to drop off their car at any of the valet stations within the Business Improvement District and retrieve the car from the station of their choice.

The project will include covered valet stations that will shelter drivers when it rains. Raised sidewalks and the drainage of storm water also will be improved.

Developers are aiming for Miracle Mile to be a popular destination similar to Mary Brickell Village in Miami, Lincoln Road in Miami Beach and the Center Grove in Coconut Grove.

“Miracle Mile has never lived up to its potential and it’s in dire need of addressing both its physical condition as well as its position with regard to other competitive sub-markets…” the staff memo said. “Coral Gables needs to be the city of choice. To achieve this, creating a vibrant main street is the key.”

However, Besu disagrees.

“I love Coral Gables but there is something wrong in this special assessment fees in regards to the residential owners. You cannot overburden the residents with taxation”