There is no doubt that the vacancies on Miracle Mile have been an issue that has affected the downtown of Coral Gables for many years, but to blame the vacancies and lack of interest on the need for re-development is simply a way of drawing attention away from the facts.
Let’s take a look at these in chronological order.
Competing Against Ourselves
In 2002, the Shops at Merrick Park opened in Coral Gables. A beautiful new outdoor mall with dining, shopping, entertainment. What more could a Gables resident ask for? It provided ample parking, easy access through several main arteries. A Mediterranean oasis, just 20 blocks from Miracle Mile, in a City of lush green trees.
What some argued at the time has grown into today’s dilemma. What would the impact of this development be on Miracle Mile? The Commission at the time of approval of the project, did not see this as an issue. They wanted a new development in this area, and a way to attract new business to the City. (Over 730,000 square feet of retail space).
Even prior to COVID-19, those that frequent The Shops at Merrick Park know it’s been on a downward decline. Shops have been leaving to other areas such as Miami Design District. Even seen a mattress store tried to open its doors at the high-end mall. Until late 2019, the large restaurant footprint, now Perry’s Steakhouse was vacant for a considerable amount of time.
In 2015, Mediterranean Village (now known as The Plaza) was approved by the Commission. This project, to the east of Ponce Circle Park, has been rising quickly since its groundbreaking and is projected to bring additional retail, restaurants and entertainment just 5 blocks from the heart of Miracle Mile. This one, will also have ample parking. (161,000 square feet of retail space).
Gables Station is also coming along rapidly. This project, just a block away from Merrick Park, will bring an additional 90,000 square feet of retail, adding more competition to the “aging” Miracle Mile. This project is expected to open in February.
In essence, in these three projects alone, the City has approved over 1 million square feet of retail to compete with Miracle Mile.
Miracle Mile Streetscape
Enter Miracle Mile Streetscape. The City’s solution to helping Miracle Mile at a cost of $24 million dollars.
Streetscape was a great concept. They would widen sidewalks to increase pedestrian traffic, allow for some outdoor dining at restaurants, as well as enhance the look of Miracle Mile.
But before long, it turned into a fiasco for businesses.
Landlords on Miracle Mile, who were forced to pay a special assessment for the project, front loaded the cost to tenants who were hit with sky high rent.
The project called for a staged approach, closing off single blocks at a time.
Unfortunately, someone purchased the incorrect size of underground pipes, which led to months of delays for businesses without parking on most of Miracle Mile. Construction barricades, holes on the street and mountains of dust and dirt entered shops and restaurants every day.
Knowing the project would reduce parking on the Mile, City staff decided to simultaneously renovate City parking garages, further reducing the amount of parking for the struggling businesses. Everyone avoided Miracle Mile.
But Streetscape, wasn’t done “helping” Miracle Mile. Part of the project also called for a similar renovation on neighboring Giralda Avenue. The Giralda portion also brought the closure of Giralda Avenue to vehicular traffic, making it a more lucrative option to pedestrians and helping restaurants like Clutch Burger grow to receive national attention.
Giralda is successful for many reasons. It features one very attracting thing – restaurants. In Contrast, Miracle Mile has become a great wedding dress destination, Tuxedo Rentals and a few remaining jewelers. Some barber shops and salons co-exist as well.
However, after hours, Miracle Mile becomes spotty. You head to your favorite restaurant, you dine and either you visit Barnes and Nobles, get a delicious paleta at Paletas Morelia or leave. There are few retail shops open for a true walkable night-life retail experience.
Lack Of Support For Small Businesses
Gables Insider has reported before about the issues with the City’s communications department. For years, City of Coral Gables Television and social media accounts seemed to focus on their favorite businesses and restaurants and neglect those they did not frequent.
Restaurants such as Bellmont Spanish Restaurant, a family-owned restaurant next to Seasons 52 received the short end of the stick from the City, who would create glowing video features on Seasons 52 (a national chain), but would not feature the small business next door.
In 2015 and 2016, a Turkish bakery and a French bistro on the south side of Miracle Mile both struggled to find support in the City on issues affecting their individual shops. Both eventually closed down.
These issues have since been addressed with the hiring of a new professional Communications Director, formerly at American Airlines, who is making significant strides to change the bad decisions made by her predecessor.
Lack of Parking
For most residents, finding an angled parking spot in front of Hillstone’s or your other favorite restaurant was like hitting the lottery. The city took a gamble on eliminating over 50% of parking on Miracle Mile calling for a design that works in Europe and other cities where public transportation actually works.
The valet service has been plagued with issues over the years. From poor management to damaging vehicles and not taking responsibility, the City’s valet service has left a lot to be desired.
The Commission, however, has been proposed projects with less parking or in some cases, as 220 Miracle Mile, a hotel without parking. An effort by developers to maximize on their profits and place the parking problem in the City’s hands.
Unfortunately, the Commission is being advised by staff in all different departments from Public Works to Planning and Zoning; with a concept that if you build less parking, people will not buy cars. Mind you, many of these individuals have car allowances paid by taxpayers. As novel as this concept may be, is it practical for a City like Coral Gables? Side note: The Collection is expanding to a new showroom to debut in 2021 including new lines such as Land Rover/Range Rover.
Developer Driven Vacancies
We have heard about the growing number of vacancies on Miracle Mile, but some of these are not exactly unplanned.
John Martin’s Irish Pub was a staple on Miracle Mile. It was common place to sit and enjoy a drink after work by many, and the place to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in Coral Gables. Articles on John Martin’s closing explained how COVID-19 ended the pub’s over 30 year run prematurely. The more interesting fact was that the property was purchased by a developer just months before for $3.7M.
A similar story can be said about what happened to the Navarro Pharmacy that used to be on Miracle Mile. The property was purchased by a developer, the pharmacy left and everyone is pending this famous zoning change in the works for over three years that’s just about finished cooking.
So are the vacancies due to a fledgling Miracle Mile or are developers taking a calculated ‘financial hit’ of loss rent, in order to force the City to make zoning changes and maximize their projects?
Investing in Coral Gables doesn’t come with profit guarantees. For the most part the very fight of keeping a strict zoning code is what brings value to The City Beautiful and what helps keep its charm and uniqueness.
Lastly, the effects of COVID-19 on businesses throughout the world have been significant. Corporations that have existed for decades have been forced to shut their doors. Some businesses on Miracle Mile have not been spared.
However, the pandemic will end and businesses will return to Miracle Mile. The question is, will zoning changes and taller buildings fix today’s problem?
A City At A Crossroad
There have been campaigns and outcries on over-development. Many at the time were in design and in-paper. Fast forward a few years, they are built or going up and their size is mammoth. Everyone uses the US-1 development, Gables Station as the shock-and-awe project.
Where is the economic development study to back up how to heal Miracle Mile? Where are the experts? We’re not. But one thing is for sure, the fate of our city’s main street is in the hands of the commissioners.
Email all five together here: [email protected]
The virtual Sunshine Meeting regarding the rezoning of Miracle Mile will take place on Monday, November 30, 2020, beginning at 5:00 p.m. Residents can attend via zoom through: https://zoom.us/j/3054466800 or by phone through: (305) 461-6769 with Meeting ID: 305 446 6800.