Founder & Editor
For residents in the North Gables, Phillips Park has become a neglected eyesore in much need of repairs and serious TLC (tender love and care). For years, staff efforts to maintain the park have been non-existent, leading to the dire condition the park is in today. Renovating the park was a key element in the failed efforts to hold a referendum for the Parks Master Plan.
This week, the City will be holding a meeting to discuss a potential application for a state grant to secure funding for its renovations, but this is not the only effort to find funding.
July 25th Commission Meeting Deferrals
At the July 25th City Commission meeting, the Commission deferred items F-14 and G-7, two items related to finding such funds. It seemed like just another deferral to clear the packed agenda.
However, behind the scenes, a major storm was brewing. At issue, the funding source.
The items being considered proposed selling the Transfer of Development Rights (TDRs) of the Coral Gables Museum, to developers, in order to secure funds for the renovations of Phillips Park. It also opened the door to selling other City owned property TDRs to developers in order to aid in financing projects. F-14 stated it was “revising the purpose and process for the City to transfer unused development rights.”
Museum Not Informed
In a pre-Gables Insider era, these items may have made their way through the Commission without many knowing. Gables Insider has given residents and stakeholders a new way to follow what goes on at City Hall. That is precisely what happened in this case.
The storm began when the Executive Director and Board of the Coral Gables Museum found out about the proposal from reading it on Gables Insider.
In a letter to the Commission the morning of the meeting, the Museum Chairman, Jose Valdes-Fauli, and Executive Director, Elvis Fuentes, stated: “We are writing to respectfully plead that the proceeds obtained from the sale of the museum’s unused development rights stay with the museum, to be used on the continued maintenance and repairs that are needed in the museum’s historic buildings. The building is city property, and the funds would be used for the upkeep of city property.” The letter continues, “the Zoning Code was established to preserve historic buildings in perpetuity by guaranteeing that any future incomes from the sale of development rights stay with the monument. We refer to the Current Zoning Code, Section 8-114, and Section 14-204, regarding the Transfer of Development Rights, which requires the approval of maintenance/preservation plan of the property by the Historic Preservation Board before any transfer takes place.”
At the June 10th Planning and Zoning Board meeting, the City’s Development Services Director, Suramy Cabrera, rushed the item in at the last minute to ensure the board voted on it that day, as no July meeting was planned at the time.
Lack Of Maintenance
As Gables Insider has reported many times, the issue of maintenance of City buildings and infrastructure is one of the largest issues facing Coral Gables. As you will recall, the Gondola Building at The Biltmore Hotel fell last year due to neglect and lack of maintenance by staff. The cost of rebuilding or repairing the collapsed building is now a much larger amount than the cost of fixing the structure prior to its collapse. It will cost Coral Gables taxpayers $750,000 thanks in part to matching $750,000 from the State.
Currently, the City’s historic Water Tower on Alhambra is in need of an estimated $1.75 million renovation. The project is currently not budgeted for, leaving the tower in disrepair for the time being.
A search of the City’s Asset Manager, Zeida Sardina’s calendar shows she only visited five properties during the span of 12-months. One of them, for an event. It is hard to monitor and maintain, when staff is not even making routine visits.
But the buck stops with the City Manager, Peter Iglesias. Iglesias, who on September 30th will complete his management of a fourth City budget, presented a plan at Mayor Vince Lago’s request at the June 28th Commission meeting. The recommendation to request the plan had been made to Lago by Gables Insider‘s Ariel Fernandez, who suggested the Commission require quarterly visits/inspections by Sardinas to each City owned property.
Iglesias’ plan: “Customer Experience Inspection by Asset Manager” every six months. It then lists 17 properties with comments such as the Biltmore Hotel’s, “Property Condition Report using Architect/Engineer Consultants to establish Baseline is Recommended.” This begs the question, if the suggestion for this plan had not been made by Fernandez to Lago, would this recommendation even be in consideration?
Iglesias’ Growing Neglect
Under Iglesias’ watch, the Gondola building has collapsed, the Water Tower has remained closed to visitors without attention, City Hall has become mold infested, the annex building at the City Hall complex has developed cracks, the Coral Gables Country Club has required over $1 million in repairs, now we learn of the Museum issues. Although not entirely his responsibility, the Parks Master Plan’s $160 million cost is partly due to his neglect. The issue of mismanagement and lack of oversight have continued to compound, with taxpayers having to foot the bill.
Museum Letter Requests Regular Maintenance Plan
The Museum letter follows this same thought process, “The Coral Gables Museum’s core structure at 285 Aragon Avenue was originally built in 1939, then renovated in 2011, when the museum opened with a new gallery added. After eleven years of continued use, we need a lot of work to be done, upgrades to the HVAC system in compliance with museum’s standards, new energy-efficient features and LED lighting, and general maintenance and repairs for which we do not have the funds.”
It also adds a request for a “regular maintenance plan.” It reads, “therefore, we request that a regular maintenance plan is developed and the proceeds from the sale of the unused development rights of the museum be earmarked for the implementation of said maintenance plan.”
The Museum letter also included the following images of all the necessary repairs.
Selling Of TDRs
Not to be lost in the important maintenance issue, is the fact that the City would sell the TDRs to increase revenue. In a year where the budget increases by $7 million, the City would need to sell TDRs to perform the necessary repairs at the park.
The items are expected to be considered at the August 24th City Commission meeting.