On Thursday, September 23rd, Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago delivered his first State of the City Address. Below you will find the text of the Mayor’s speech.
You can also watch the speech on the City’s Facebook page, by clicking here.
“Recently while watching the Olympics, I saw a commercial featuring high jumper Dick Fosbury. In the 1968 Mexico City Olympics in addition to winning the gold medal Fosbury revolutionized the sport with a back-first technique which is the standard by almost all high jumpers today. He reimagined the sport and by doing so he not only achieved success, but he also literally set the bar higher for all those that followed.
The City of Coral Gables is the result of our founder George Merrick reimagining 160-acres of what was an orange grove at the edge of the new City of Miami into The City Beautiful. One of Florida’s first planned communities and an international city.
Five months ago, I had the privilege of being elected by the citizens of this great city I am fortunate to call home. When thinking of the future, I looked to reimagine what our city can become.
I started off with a 100-day listening tour. More than 1,000 people participated and shared their thoughts. And those numbers don’t reflect the countless others that I met with such as this chamber, the Good Government Committee, and Coral Gables team members amongst others to hear what was on their mind, what they care about, what were their priorities, and how could our city government work to better serve them.
One thing that I heard loud and clear is the need for greater civility and transparency in the city. This is something I am passionate about. Since first being elected commissioner more than eight years ago, I instituted and continue to maintain Open Door Fridays. Anyone seeking to speak to me is welcome to stop by — no appointment is necessary. We also hold bi-annual town halls, as a matter of fact – my first one since the election is tonight at the Adult Activity Center – hope you can join us.
Even before the pandemic, and here I must credit my colleague Commissioner Jorge Fors, we were already providing the ability for residents to participate by Zoom. We also established a Strategic Plan, our process of defining our strategy and direction over the next two years so we can make decisions and allocate resources to pursue our plan. It is also another way to be held accountable and measure success. And, while I know our meetings are taking longer – everyone is welcome to speak.
One of the ways we are reimagining our city is through technology, and this is a space where we really shine. Our IT Director and Chief Innovation Officer Raimundo Rodulfo has done a spectacular job of positioning Coral Gables as a Smart City. We recently installed a Smart City Pole on the median on Alhambra just across from the Chamber office which consolidates traffic analysis, city planning, environmental assessment, and public safety data into one. Giving us next-generation data analysis capabilities to improve city planning, traffic and enforcement, public safety, environmental protection, and more.
Our efforts in this arena are well-recognized since I know that at almost every Commission meeting, we recognize Raimundo on receiving another accolade. Thanks, Raimundo for all you do.
Many people ask if you are on the cutting edge of technology why don’t you have a better website. I am happy to report that we are currently in the process of replacing our website to one that will not only be more pleasing visually but one that is easier to navigate so that our residents and businesses can find the information they need readily as well as promoting our city as the ideal place to live, work, learn and play. Our goals are simple. We want a website that is informational and promotional.
And, as we work to become a smarter, safer city we are also looking to provide our residents with greater access to parks and programming, something that really makes a difference to the quality of life and an item that was highlighted as important in the survey. I know our team is always looking for new innovative programming to engage residents of all ages and abilities.
In 2018 I introduced an ordinance that sets aside money for park acquisitions which has helped us continue to grow our parks. Today we have some 260-acres in the system and are well on our way to meeting our goal of a park or open space within a 10-minute walk of anywhere in our city.
In 2019 we purchased three parcels on the corner of Toledo and Alava to provide that community with a neighborhood park. In the last two years we opened five new neighborhood parks and refurbished three of our larger regional parks. In the coming year we will commence construction on two new parks and the renovation of Pierce Park.
Additionally, three of the 10 miles of the Underline are in Coral Gables. While the Underline is dog friendly what is especially exciting is that will also feature a dog park in the Gables Station portion, a first for our city. It will be a great addition and we thank Meg Daly for this labor of love. Meg is truly a person that reimagined what could be.
And we are not only building and refurbishing parks, but we are also building and expanding our infrastructure to better serve the people of Coral Gables. Since you heard from former Mayor Valdes-Fauli last September, and thank you Mayor for joining us today, we completed the total refurbishment and addition of Fire Station 2, a new Trolley Depot, opened our new Police and Fire Headquarters, and began the refurbishment n the Fink Studio – the future home of our Economic Development Department and our Development Services Center, our one-stop shop for building and zoning, code enforcement, the Board of Architects and planning.
As the past 18-months have proven, technology is key to doing business so, it is only fitting that our services continue to evolve. We know how inconvenient it was for residents, businesses, and developers to have to come in-person to submit or check the status of permits, and I am proud to say the city has heard you and responded. With our new electronic platform, tasks can be taken care of online and from the comfort of your home or office and with a quicker response time.
And while technology is a great resource, we also need to take care of the must vulnerable. We have a unique service that provides mobile permitting to the elderly, where we bring you the permit!
We are using technology to make our government more efficient, transparent, accountable, effective while focusing on the customer experience.
We will soon be breaking ground on the Minorca Parking Garage and are in the design phase for the Mobility hub. We are reimagining and looking to the future. Our mobility hub will not only provide smart parking but be a connection point for Freebee and mobility as a service with 20 percent of the spaces outfitted for electric vehicle charging. As we build to the future, we are also planning on adding a rooftop recreation area, providing much needed open space in our city’s central core.
And speaking of mobility, I have been a strong proponent of expanding our trolley service and am happy to announce that next month we will be starting Saturday service. This free service attracts more than 1 million riders annually. We also implemented a pilot program for electric scooters and introduced the Freebie Ride Service. A great way to get around our downtown area.
The Central Business District is vitally important and although small in area provides 27 percent of our ad valorem taxes. And we are especially fortunate that despite the pandemic, we have seen new restaurants and stores move into the area. Reflecting the increased popularity of our downtown, in May we had the best month ever for on-street parking.
As your Chamber President Mark Trowbridge and Aura Reinhardt from the Business Improvement District know well, one of my pet peeves has been the condition of our downtown. I have seen weeds growing, gum on the sidewalks, alleys that are not in the best conditions. It’s not welcoming and simply doesn’t represent our city well.
While we have a Block-by-Block program led by our parking department——that cleans the sidewalks on Miracle Mile and Giralda we need to do more. I have challenged our team to work together with Mark and Aura to spruce-up our downtown. However, it all begins with you, the store owners, restauranteurs, and businesses in the area. Everyone needs to take personal pride and responsibility. Just look at the great example of Mercedes Benz of Coral Gables, they do a magnificent job of keeping the area in front of their dealership in great shape. That is why we are working in close cooperation in Taking Care of Business, our campaign to jointly address these issues. We need to have a pristine downtown that makes everyone not only feel welcome but eager to return.
Culture has always defined our city. So, as we reimagine our future and look to attract more visitors, we will be launching a new initiative. Beginning in 2022 working in partnerships with our consulates and foreign government offices, we will host five cultural events to bring art, food, and music to our downtown. Our goal is simple, to bring people to our downtown with high quality cultural events that showcase our international partnerships.
I appreciate how our businesses are also reimagining what the city of Coral Gables can become. Nick Sharpe is a great example. He established Bay13 a brewery earlier this year. A first in the area.
We also recently welcomed our first rooftop restaurant, Cebada on Giralda, a street that is thriving with the addition of new restaurants like Luca. I salute the work of Marc Schwarzberg and Pepe Ortega. They you see, also reimagined. Instead of leasing the entire space to one vendor they opted for several restaurants and concepts. Their imagination has led to a street that is now booming. I can’t wait to see what Marc and Pepe will do with the refurbishment of La Palma, one of our city’s historic jewels.
We are also fortunate to count with major corporations that call our city home such as Bacardi and Fresh Del Monte and are thrilled that others such as ACI Worldwide, a global software company and Friesland-Campina, the Dutch dairy, are joining our multinational ranks.
We are also seeing local businesses like Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables and The Collection growing their presence in our city. It’s great to see that they are bullish on the Gables.
The work you do as a chamber working in close cooperation with our Economic Development Department will help keep this momentum going.
I know that I have spoken lots about our downtown. I do so because I think its vitality is of upmost importance to our future. What I envision is a downtown that is bustling, where people come and ride the trolley or our Freebee system – a place that is a destination with cultural amenities and events.
And its not only about downtown, at the August commission meeting I introduced an item to start a Farmers and Crafts market in the North Ponce area.
Of course, regardless of the many projects on the horizon to thrive as a city, we must remain sustainable. I am proud to say that the city is ahead of the curve in recognizing that sustainability and resiliency must be a key focus in devising policies and delivering services to its residents, businesses, and visitors. Stepping up to the challenge, we greatly accelerated efforts six years ago and adopted a Sustainability Management Plan that establishes goals for reducing energy and water consumption, fuel usage, and overall greenhouse gas emissions over a ten-year timeframe.
Here are some key initiatives that will keep Coral Gables environmentally friendly and committed to ambitious sustainability and resiliency goals:
We currently operate 65 electric vehicles, one of the largest electric fleets in Florida representing 12 percent of our cars, and the city ranks near the top of the list for electric fleets in the nation. To facilitate the operation of electric vehicles, the city has installed 32 public/private charging points with plans to grow that number to provide even greater access to the public to charge their electric vehicles.
Green Construction remains key. As I mentioned earlier, we completed a new state-of-the-art public safety building constructed to LEED Silver Green Construction practices. And because of my legislation, we require all future buildings larger than 20,000 square feet be built to this standard. This ensures that large developments are energy and water efficient, reduce waste, and incorporate additional resiliency and sustainability measures.
Two years ago, we launched a Green Business Certification program together with the chamber. To date seven business have been certified including our largest employer, the University of Miami. I urge others to come aboard.
To incentivize residents to adopt environmentally friendly measures, under a program I sponsored, all permit fees for solar installations and other energy and water efficiency projects are waived. We have 11 solar powered charging benches in city parks. Residents and visitors can charge their electronic devices in these public spaces year-round, an asset during hurricane emergencies when electrical power is down. And, as our parks grow so too will this program.
One of the things that clearly sets Coral Gables apart is our extensive canopy of more than 39,000 trees and we have been recognized as Tree City USA. I know that when you cross our borders to the east, west or north you can certainly tell the difference — you are no longer in Coral Gables.
Last year we joined the Keep America Beautiful Program with a Keep Coral Gables Beautiful Program. This program coordinates coastal cleanups and hosts bi-annual Household Hazardous Waste collection drives. As a result, we have collected almost 300,000 pounds of hazardous waste and electronics which are recycled and diverted from landfills.
Last, but not least, Coral Gables is focused on climate resiliency and addressing the future potential impacts of sea level rise. We have allocated more than $6 million to a sea level rise mitigation fund. The goal is to set aside $100 million by 2040.
This is all good news! We’ve made significant progress towards reaching our sustainability goals but know the journey has just begun. I urge your businesses to join ongoing efforts to create a more resilient and sustainable City Beautiful, not only today but for generations to come.
As we look to the future, we also need to respect and preserve our past. We have a renown Historic Preservation program and director that keeps our city focused on preserving our historic structures which sets us apart. In March we inaugurated the two Arcadian lights in front of the Country Club and brought back a piece of lost history to Coral Gables’ first public building. And the good news is that we have more on the way of these beautiful White Way streetlights which at one time in our city’s history illuminated our plazas, boulevards, and avenues.
And while we work on these projects that will position our city as the ideal place, we need to remain vigilant of our finances. I salute the administration’s conservative fiscal approach which is recognized by the triple-A bond rating we have received from the three major credit rating agencies, S & P, Moody’s, and Fitch.
Finally, I would like to recognize my Commission colleagues, our Vice Mayor Mike Mena, who unfortunately is out of town and couldn’t join us today and Commissioners Jorge Fors, Rhonda Anderson, and Kirk Menendez. It is a privilege to serve with this team of dedicated and committed public servants. While we may not always agree, I am especially pleased that we can work together in a collegial and respectful manner. As a result, we are working together to make our city more open, resilient, technologically savvy, efficient, transparent, and civil – looking to the future while respecting and protecting our past. My colleagues and I are fortunate to work with an amazing team of professionals. Thank you, Peter Iglesias our City Manager. Thanks to our legal eagle our City Attorney Miriam Soler Ramos, and lastly our City Clerk Billy Urquia. We count on their leadership and expertise to lead the way and work our vision.
I would like to conclude today’s presentation by saluting Mark Trowbridge for his 15- years of dedicated service to our chamber and city. Mark, with his larger-than-life personality is not only a great leader who is committed to providing our businesses with opportunities, he is also a tireless cheerleader for Coral Gables. So, thank you Mark for all you do. If all of you can join me in giving Mr. Trowbridge a standing ovation. Thanks everyone for joining us this morning. As President Ronald Reagan said, “There are no great limits to growth because there are no limits of human intelligence, imagination, and wonder.” As we look to celebrate our city and this chamber’s centennial, I hope we will continue working in close collaboration to imagine an even brighter more prosperous future. As has been said, “the best way to predict the future is to create it.” So, let’s create a better future for Coral Gables together.”