What Has Really Happened To Miracle Mile?

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.

COVID-19

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.

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13 thoughts on “What Has Really Happened To Miracle Mile?

  1. The article and letters are all right on. The entrenched bureaucrats whose high salaries and benefits we pay, and our elected officials think what they want is more important than what we, the taxpayers want. And they have always counted on the apathy of the taxpayers to get things approved that have been disastrous for our city and our budget. The residents/taxpayers need to get informed and make their voices heard. For starters, request the list of pension payments being made to the retired city staff. It is public record and they MUST provide it. Send an email to https://www.coralgables.com/send-a-request It will blow your mind. Look at the age of retirement and the annual payments. And keep in mind they get free health care for life paid for by you, the taxpayer.

  2. Where are the traffic studies that show us what will happen when all of the currently approved developments are fully operational. I have lived in Coral Gables for over 30 years. We all know that under normal circumstances, traffic on Ponce de Leon and Lejeune Road is very busy during peak hours. These roads all surround and lead to Miracle Mile (and all of the new upcoming developments are on these roads). I cannot imagine what traffic will be like when the new developments are fully operational.

    So, the idea of more density on Miracle Mile and no Parking is ludicrous. This will only make the traffic problem worse. Miracle Mile needs more shade for it to be a walking street. Miami is very hot and it rains for about nine months every year. So, the redesign of Miracle Mile was beautiful, but not practical as a walking street without shade. Perhaps, we should address some of these woes by adding shade?

    The commissioners Job is not just to bring in more revenues to the city, but also to provide a quality of life for the residents. This includes manageable traffic, a small city environment, and an environment where they do not approve so much retail space that It cannot be easily absorbed and results in large vacancies. We do not want Coral Gables to look like a ghost town.

  3. It is the height (nadir?) of arrogance for our feckless, lame duck Mayor and a couple of minions to push through these major zoning changes during a pandemic and under false pretenses. We were told at the outset this was just a semantic overhaul for the sake of consistency. It turns out they want to upzone duplexes in the ancient Crafts section to mixed commercial! While the commercial vacancy rate skyrockets in Coral Gables. It is as if they planned it during a time when the same powers are keeping from flooding City Hall with hundreds of bodies agains this travesty.
    This is a particular affront to those of us who have raised families in the Crafts neighborhood and our adult children also settled in the area.
    I pray decency prevail and a decision is postponed until the pandemic is over.

  4. It is a shame that existing businesses in “The Mile” were not given a rent break by greedy landlords that were not going to take a hit on their pockets and rather see long-standing restaurants and shops leave than share some of the losses. These plans to over-build in the City Beautiful will only bring future problems for retailers with expensive rents and consumers that will not face parking chaos. Maybe Freebee should expand their radius and using Uber will be a solution to get there, just like in cities like NYC. I still miss Orthanique in The Mile. Keep it small and people will come…

  5. Excellent piece! It has been said that it’s ok to make a mistake in life and learn from it.. the bad thing is to continue to make the same mistake.

    One point I’ll add on: Now the City is pushing a plan to upzone part of the Crafts Section, which would add yet MORE competition to the businesses that are struggling. During a pandemic! Does the right hand know what the left hand is doing around here?

  6. It is not the job of the City to protect Miracle Mile. It is the job of the City to bring in new revenues and make the lives of its residents better. By and large, we have voted with our feet to not go to Miracle Mile. I don’t think it’s a parking issue (there is plenty of parking in the block just south) so much as it is a relevance issue. Most of the stores in MM are just not that relevant to my daily life. But it transcends even that… most of the stores are just not that great. There is really not much of an incentive to go there vs., for example, Merrick Park. The biggest obstacles have not been parking, or location, or even the total lack of a coherent architectural vision. The biggest obstacles have been the owners themselves who really have not stepped up their game.

  7. THANK YOU Gables Insider. This article is right on! Miracle Mile is not sick — current and recent past commissioners (and no doubt our self-serving mayor R Valdes Fauli) and the legal staff and related internal departments allowing the city to get to the mess they are in are the ones who have made it sick due to their bad and short sighted decisions, conflicts of interest, the disaster of that streetscape project, removing parking, not listening to residents, having builders/developers/attorneys/realtors etc on boards and all else you cited. It is no mystery how we got here — you spoke the truth. Time to start anew with ALL and clean house — all in power now share blame. Great idea to NOT vote on this confusing zoning code that will highly affect us with the existing commission — let’s wait till after the upcoming election. The only ones in a rush are those trying to push this through. There is too much at stake — let’s stop it now!

  8. If a business I want to visit has a Coral Gables address I immediately look for another location because I know that parking in CG is impossible.

  9. Well said but let’s not forget the excessive rent rates mostly in Merrick Park but I also hear that in Miracle Mile. How can a small business make it. Parking has been a big issue. Plus the limited space is used by irresponsible valet parking services. Most people I know will not go to miracle mile because they don’t want to valet.

  10. Thanks for explaining how we got where we are! Sometimes I wonder why our elected officials and staff can’t see what appears obvious to us. How many times are we, the people, going to have to tell our elected officials and our city staffers that the bottom line is NOT what they think is best for our City, but what we want our City Beautiful to be! Now is the time to remind them by participating in this ZOOM meeting this afternoon and speaking up! George Merrick would have expected us to speak up!

  11. Everything you have written about the zoning rewrite is absolutely correct. The Commissioners could care less about the residents’ interests when those interests conflict with the desires are their main clients – the developers. They know that supporting the developers over the residents will have no consequences because we, the voters, keep electing these folks. We have to elect Commissioners who will unambiguously stand for the residents. It is the single most important issue and should be the litmus test in our decision making.

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