Coral Gables

Early obstacles pop up but Miracle Mile revamp continues

Construction workers on Miracle Mile. The first phase of roadway construction is underway on the road in Coral Gables and has already experienced delays and impacted businesses.
Construction workers on Miracle Mile. The first phase of roadway construction is underway on the road in Coral Gables and has already experienced delays and impacted businesses.

When the Miracle Mile and Giralda Avenue streetscape project broke ground back in April, city officials, merchants and architects posed for photos in anticipation of the $21 million dollar project getting started.

Now, about a month into major road work on the Mile, there have been leadership changes on the construction team and delays in work caused by drainage issues. And some merchants are wondering if their businesses will survive the access problems created by the construction. Some street parking has been eliminated, and customers who used to park right in front of a business now have to park on side streets and in nearby parking garages.

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 Giralda Avenue’s restaurant row by catering to pedestrians and limiting automotive traffic.

The modernization will be the area’s first significant revamp in many years. But it has had a rough start.

The project’s manager, Victor Menocal, left Ric-Man International — the construction contractor — shortly after work began last month. Although Menocal has been replaced, the new manager, Guillermo Yunez, immediately had to deal with unexpected drainage issues caused by bouts of heavy rain.

Peter Iglesias, assistant city manager, said he hopes Yunez will be able to keep things on schedule moving forward.

“Once the new project manager gets his sea legs on the project, I’ll have a better idea of where we’re at,” Iglesias said. “It’s the beginning of the project. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re going to be working to keep things going on time.”

The project is scheduled to be completed in late 2017.

The construction along the Mile is happening in phases. Currently one lane is closed eastbound from Salzedo Street to Galiano Street as tourists and residents walk past bulldozers and construction barricades. Despite the dirt and demolition, businesses and storefronts are still easy to make out, but cyclists and families with strollers occasionally have to huddle a little closer on crowded sidewalks.

Merchants and owners say they’ve seen mixed results since the work kicked off. Some say walk-in appointments have slowed while others say customers pay more attention to the storefront displays as they walk from nearby parking garages, passing businesses they might not have noticed before.

Rick Alberty is general manager of The Well-Groomed Gentleman, a salon that’s been on the Mile for about 17 months. He said he’s fine with the vision and idea of streetscape but he’s concerned about the slow progress of the work.

“There are some concerns for our clients and local business people on where this is going to go,” Alberty said.

Owners like Jeffrey Wolfe, of Wolfe’s Wine Shoppe, say they haven’t seen much progress on construction but they have seen an impact on business in the last month. Wolfe’s store has been on the Mile for about 16 years.

“I know that in the end it’s going to be good but I think people are gonna lose jobs, I think businesses are gonna leave,” Wolfe said, estimating that his store has seen about a 50 percent decline in business in the past month.

Quentin Garrigou, owner of Janette & Co., a French bakery that’s been on the Mile for about two years, says patience is necessary.

“I’m happy that it’s starting now because this is a slow season,” Garrigou said. “We’re not complaining because it has to get done.”

Javier Betancourt, the city’s economic development director, said business has definitely been affected and that his office and the business improvement district will continue working with merchants to minimize construction’s impact.

“This is supposed to be a project that will benefit them, but we know there will be short-term pain for a long-term gain,” Betancourt said.

He is challenging merchants to reach out to their more loyal customers and to try new approaches to attract business.

“You can’t really conduct business as usual — you have to try something different,” Betancourt said. “Hopefully they’ve prepared, knowing how this will impact their business.”

Meanwhile, Carlos and Jose Bolado of the 47-year mainstay Bolado Clothiers say they haven’t seen much of a decline in business. In fact, they say, they’ve seen an increase.

“Our numbers are actually up, so bring on the bulldozers,” Jose Bolado said.

Mark Trowbridge, president of the city’s chamber of commerce, said he continues to stress to merchants and customers that the city will work to keep storefronts clear and accessible.

“A little bit of construction shouldn’t dissuade folks from doing what they normally do, which is shopping in Coral Gables,” Trowbridge said.

The status of the construction is being updated at The city and the business improvement district plan to have block parties and small business summer days to keep visitors involved and give merchants publicity.

“Hopefully we’ll survive the storm,” Alberty said.

Lance Dixon: 305-376-3708, @LDixon_3