River Cities

New hotel on the way at old Cisco's site in Virginia Gardens

Wilfredo Perez of HMD Group Architects, left, and former Miami Springs councilman Dan Espino, an attorney for the firm representing the company, have spent many hours going over the plans for the new Candlewood Suites Hotel, which will go up on the old Cisco’s site in Virginia Gardens.
Wilfredo Perez of HMD Group Architects, left, and former Miami Springs councilman Dan Espino, an attorney for the firm representing the company, have spent many hours going over the plans for the new Candlewood Suites Hotel, which will go up on the old Cisco’s site in Virginia Gardens. River Cities Gazette Photo

Back in the day, it was the centerpiece of action in Virginia Gardens.

Cisco’s Cafe was considered one of the top Mexican restaurants in Miami-Dade County. On a Friday or Saturday night, forget it. You planned on waiting 30 minutes for a table.

But 10 years ago, all of that ended when Cisco’s closed its doors for good. Two years later, when no suitable buyers showed any interest, the building itself was bulldozed.

And there it has sat. For the last eight years the vacant lot at 5911 NW 36th St. became an eyesore with overgrowing vegetation.

But that’s all over now.

Thanks to a new buyer, Waterstone Capital Airport, two brand new adjoining hotels, the Candlewood Suites, will soon occupy the property.

It was just over a year ago that the Virginia Gardens Village Council and Mayor Fred “Spencer” Deno IV were approached by Waterstone about the plans.

And with local residents Wilfredo Perez and former Miami Springs councilman Dan Espino leading the charge, final approval, including a series of variances surrounding the construction of the building, got the final go-ahead green light.

“Everything approved and the final plans now being done,” said Perez, who works for HMD Group Architects and is the lead architect on the project. “We anticipate it will take three or four months for everything to be finalized and are hoping to break ground sometime in October or November. Once construction starts, we’re thinking 10 months to a year for the completion.”

According to Perez, Candlewood Suites Hotel will be six stories high with a total of 130 units, all with their own kitchenettes.

“It’s being set up with the idea of executives coming from the airport who stay during the week,” said Perez, who along with his wife Ursula has been a long-time Springs resident living on Hunting Lodge Drive. “There are a lot of things going on in terms of airline activities and simulators and a lot of people that come for two or three days. The hotel will be set up for that and then on weekends for anybody visiting the area as well.”

Espino, who served as a Miami Springs councilman from 2009-12 before vacating his seat early to run unsuccessfully for a School Board 5 District seat, is still a Springs resident and attorney for the Coral Gables-based firm Weiss Serota Helfman Cole & Bierman. The firm was hired by Waterstone to handle all the legalities and variance requests.

“We’ve got a two-tower hotel, each one will have a different flag or brand hotel if you will with a joint lobby and joint common spaces,” Espino said. “There will be amenities for the community which is a slot for a restaurant; we’re in talks with Basilico (Basilico Ristorante a few blocks away) but not sure where that is now. It’s a wonderful project and a site that’s been undeveloped since Cisco’s came down, which means it increased the taxes for the community. Not to mention there’s going to be a beautification of the area and also a barrier between the sound of the airport and cars of 36th Street with the community behind it.”

We mentioned the past connection between Perez and Espino? It was actually Perez’s wife, Ursula. Not long after the two started working together did they find out that there was a connection neither knew about.

“When I went home one night to start telling my wife about what was going on and mentioned Dan’s name, Ursula responded with, ‘Is that little Danny?’ ” Perez said. “As it turns out, she was a teacher at Blessed Trinity Catholic School in VG when Dan was one of her students back in second or third grade.”

Back when she was Ursula Melder, she was also a graduate of Miami Springs High School from the ’70s.

“That was really something when I found out about that,” Espino said. “I guess the world gets smaller every day.”

But Espino also said the convenience of the two living just a mile from each other has been important in the process as well.

“He lives literally on the other side of town, so if I ever had to, I was able to pick up plans at his house. Wilfredo is a consummate professional and very good at what he does. It’s also great that we both have a good understanding of what the community wanted and what the community wanted to see out of this project. It made it easier for us to relay that information to the client with the understanding that we’re both coming from a similar point of reference.”

Variance requests approved for the project included asking for six stories in height where currently three stories is permitted.

In addition:

▪ Provide a rear setback of 12 feet, where currently 25 is required.

▪ Provide parking spaces of 8.5 feet by 18 feet instead of the 81⁄2 by 19 feet that is currently required.

▪ Construct driveways that are 22 feet wide (in accordance with Miami-Dade County standards), instead of the 24 feet that is currently required.

▪ Construct 132 parking spaces, 28 less than required.

“I’m looking forward to the groundbreaking for the Candlewood Suites Hotel in Virginia Gardens,” said Deno. “There has been a lot of negotiations and compromises on both sides. There had been a few projects planned for the lot in the past five years but nothing ever panned out. I think this time the investors are ready to move forward and it will be a win-win situation for the Village and the developers.”