By: Dr. Karelia Martinez Carbonell
One keeps hearing that Miracle Mile is “sick.”
But is it? Or is Miracle Mile suffering from Munchausen’s Syndrome– a malady where powers that be pretend to “sickness” or deliberately produce symptoms of sickness in order to attract attention. The sicker they claim Miracle Mile is, the more attention Miracle Mile receives.
Yet what exactly has been gnawing Miracle Mile? In a recent article in Gables Insider, several reasons are outlined, but in my opinion, the top reason is the total disregard for its heritage. The area has been the victim of poor stewardship and its original purpose forgotten.
Miracle Mile, according to the historical marker erected a few years ago is “composed of small boutiques in the heart of the Central Business District and is one of the few remaining developments of its type that has maintained its original purpose and significance in the continental United States.” Sadly, the area’s historical value has been at best largely misunderstood or at worst completely ignored. Either way, it has been a missed economic gain for the City of Coral Gables.
A study commissioned by the U.S Chamber of Commerce found that American towns that make historic preservation a priority enjoy an economic dividend to the local economy. Additionally, heritage tourism has a greater impact on a local economy with heritage tourists spending 15% more than non-heritage tourists. Small and local businesses often show a preference for locating in historic commercial areas. In study after study, the rate of value increase in historic districts outperforms the market as a whole. Finally, that built history in a community is not nostalgia – it is a proven economic asset.
What I am getting at is that our city government continues to try and fix what is not broken. The most recent experiment was spending millions of tax-payer dollars in a streetscape project that failed to revitalize the commercial district. Now, a proposed zoning change will irreparably change the historical integrity of the downtown community. Commissioners must not approve the remote parking option that will allow developers to build up to seven stories on the Mile. George Merrick designed the Mile as a business district not a residential strip.
Years of closed streets have only led to closed shops. Whoever proposed aesthetics over assets missed the big picture and did not understand the economic value of a historic Miracle Mile. Dollars spent removing parking [ironic], widening sidewalks, and adding new paving, did not draw the economic relief so heralded. Neither will a zoning change to allow taller buildings. A mixed-use component has not succeeded in stimulating retail to the area nor will it draw retailers. There is a concept in economics called “revealed preference” – consumers reveal their preference through their economic decisions. According to the U.S. Chamber study, “in cities large and small, consumers prefer living, shopping, visiting, and locating their businesses in historic neighborhoods. That built history in your community is not nostalgia – it is an economic asset.”
Miracle Mile enjoyed its heyday after World War II as a unique shopping destination that is “one of a few still remaining in the continental United States.” This economic asset has been ignored. Today elected officials, city administrators, and business leaders “say the Mile is in desperate need of modernization.” This misaligned thinking goes in contrast to the U.S. Chamber’s study that supports making historic preservation an economic priority. Historic Miracle Mile is not “sick.” It is misrepresented. Reimagining the Mile as a historic commercial district offering a unique boutique shopping experience will be good for business. Studies support that historic districts outperform the market as a whole. And Miracle Mile can thrive if its heritage is preserved and promoted.