By: Coral Gables Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli
Since the outbreak of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) in our community, the City of Coral Gables has been focused on the well-being of our more than 50,000 residents and our more than 800 team members as they deliver essential services such as law enforcement, fire and rescue service and garbage and trash pick-up. Throughout it all, our other departments, albeit with many working from home have been operating to meet the needs of our residents.
Historic preservation is an issue that is important to many of us personally. Additionally, the protection and safeguarding of our structures gives our city its unique character. In light of the scheduled discussions scheduled for our May 12 City Commission meeting, I wanted to take this opportunity to address this issue.
The City of Coral Gables is committed to the preservation of our rich history, and architecture. In the last three years the City has expended more than $7 million, restoring and acquiring historic properties. Examples of this are: the $2 million restoration of the Biltmore Golf Course Bridges; $530,000 for the Biltmore Gondola Building; the $2 million acquisition of the Denman Fink Studio on Ponce de Leon Boulevard; the $1.8 million restoration of the Merrick House on Coral Way, George Merrick’s first home; and $800,000 for our continued commitment to the preservation of the Biltmore Hotel. In total this represents a major commitment on the part of our city and this administration. This list doesn’t include the $7 million spent in 2010 to restore the Coral Gables Museum’s historic building.
In the last 10-years of the 85 applications reviewed for historic designation by the Historic Preservation Board, 79 were designated as local historic landmarks and the Coral Way historic district was also designated. In sum, only four applications for historic designation were denied by the Board and one application approved by the Board (229 Ridgewood Road) was overturned by the City Commission. This is an approval rate of more than 90 percent and evidence that members of both our Historic Board and the City Commission are extremely conscientious of the role we play in preserving our history and irreplaceable structures.
Historic Designation sometimes can sometimes have an adverse impact on a property. As the proud owner of a 1925 home that is designated and one in which I have live in for more than 45-years, I understand this issue well. What is especially curious is that some of our City’s strongest preservation proponents fail to seek designation of their own properties.
The City Commission must represent and balance Historic Preservation with the rights of homeowners and take a sensible approach to preserve our rich history as we look to maintain Coral Gables’ distinctive atmosphere and charm.