To the Editor:
Recently the Gables News published two articles praising the $21 million Coral Gables Streetscape project, which widens sidewalks and improves drainage and landscaping, to allow sidewalk cafes. Because I am a property owner impacted by Streetscape, including the prolonged-beyond-promised-times construction, allow me to present a dissenting view on the value of the concept, and of the implementation, of this project.
My family may be the oldest property owning family on Miracle Mile; my grandfather, Roy “Rip” VanDevere was an acquaintance of city founder George Merrick and received advice from him as to which property to buy circa 1929. I ran unsuccessfully for city commissioner three times, but am not running now. My website is www.ripholmes.com.
Did you know that the Streetscape Project requires replacement of the present angle parking — presently providing 180 parking spaces on Miracle Mile — with parallel parking, which only provides 120 parking spaces on Miracle Mile? That is a net loss of one-third of the on-street parking.
I believe that in Miami-Dade County, we are stuck with a need for cars, and consequently need for parking. Because of the coral rock foundation, and surrounding sea level, we cannot build an underground subway or metro system in Miami-Dade County, such as exists in major cities like New York, Paris, and London. Likewise, because the county and cities lack right-of-ways, and don’t want to get into prolongued legal battles taking people’s property away from them for public good, the present MetroRail system cannot be significantly expanded (except to the deep south, running it further down US 1 from Dadeland to Homestead, which is planned). So we will continue to be dependent on our cars for the foreseeable future, and we will therefore continue to need parking in order to shop in the Coral Gables downtown.
More than 70 percent of downtown merchants are not restaurants, and therefore will not be able to make money from sidewalk cafes. The ones I talk to tell me, consistently over the years, that the Streetscape Project is “a bad deal,” giving up higher priority needed parking, for lower priority expanded sidewalks. I agree with them, and submit for your consideration my belief that the city tax base will suffer decreased revenue, because of Streetscape taking away parking. I submit people do not want to park blocks away from retail stores, and walk through the sometimes sweat-causing heat, to make a purchase, which will further strain the tax burden for everyone else in the city.
Unlike with the Brickell City Center project in Miami, where contractors were required to work 24 hours a day, seven days a week on street improvements there, the City of Coral Gables failed to require this, and the contractor refuses to work nights and weekends.
The contractor(s) in public statements and press releases estimated for the public that no store would be subject to construction and/or street closure for more than 4-6 months.
However, as those of you who frequent the Coral Gables downtown may know, Giralda Avenue 100 block has been largely closed to traffic since May 1, 2016, and the 100 and 200 blocks on the south side of Miracle Mile have been partly closed due to street construction — e.g. no street parking available, one of the two lanes impassible -— since July 6, 2016.
The contractor now publicly estimates construction ending on Apr. 15, 11 months for Giralda Restaurant Row, and nine months for the affected blocks of Miracle Mile, including the all-important Christmas/Hanukkah Season, and even this date is not a firm promise.
Part of the reason for this is defective planning and/or construction of the replacement Master Drains for each street. The city suggests this was contractor error, although it is possible the city was involved in managing construction, and also failed to notify the manufacturer of the Master Drain of the specifications for the new Master Drain. In either event, public and private officials indicate this slowed the project by four months.
Longstanding successful downtown business owners, with decades on Miracle Mile, have stated publicly that their revenues are down by 50 perent or more during these months, causing horrendous financial losses, and imperiling the survival of businesses on Giralda’s Restaurant Row and in the 100 and 200 blocks, southside, of Miracle Mile.
I thank you, the reader, for considering my concern, as to whether the $21 million Streetscape Project was properly conceived, given it permanently sacrifices one-third of our on-street parking, and as to whether the construction is being properly implemented.
Jackson Rip Holmes
Owner, 256 Miracle Mile