No intellectually honest person can maintain that the existing conditions of the U.S. 1 corridor are acceptable. They are not. It is an ugly place to drive. The sidewalk conditions make it an unsafe place to walk. Virtually nothing new has been built since the post-war automobile-dependent strip malls spawned up and down the highway, with seas of asphalt parking and row-upon-row of low rise retailers. The time for change is now.
Fortunately, this area received a long hard look recently due to plans for a proposed redevelopment of the existing Holiday Inn site in Coral Gables. No intellectually honest person can be opposed to the redevelopment of this property, which includes a new hotel, something desperately needed.
A developer, NP International, has proposed a fresh idea for the property that strategically seeks to shift away from automobile centered developments to a much needed, mixed-use development that connects to transit via the long-overdue pedestrian overpass bridge. The proposed development, called Paseo de La Riviera, is poised to benefit, as well as help energize the Underline by emphasizing U.S. 1 as a wonderful place to live, work, and recreate.
People can live at Paseo de la Riviera and work almost anywhere because of the access to Metrorail. Isn’t that why we built the Metrorail? The best scholars tell us that transit won’t work if it is difficult to drive to transit. Paseo is designed so that people can live in Coral Gables and work downtown without having to spend a good chunk of their life on U.S. 1. Makes sense to me.
The design for Paseo De La Riviera comes from UM Professor and architect Jorge Hernandez. It seeks to inject a long overdue shot of connectivity and design sensibility into the arm of U.S. 1. The design includes an unprecedented commitment to public realm improvements including its namesake – a public ‘paseo’ that is the cornerstone for placemaking that this project is all about. The project includes a robust amount of arcaded space for people to walk. And most importantly, the project proposes to vastly improve the pedestrian experience by creating pedestrian-friendly pathways along U.S. 1 that far exceed anything that any other developer has either proposed or realized to improve the walkability of that area.
Objections to the project have turned nasty. Residents who live south of the proposed project complain about its height and its traffic. But the objective evidence suggests that the traffic is insignificant and 100% more traffic would be generated by a box retailer permitted as of right, should the developer choose that option.
The height objection is difficult to understand given the fact that the proposal is adjacent to an existing building that is 142 feet, and the project, as designed, not blocking anyone’s view corridor. It’s almost impossible to see the building from the neighborhood to the south due the lush tree canopy that exists there. This project is on U.S. 1. The height objection rings hallow in light of the many pluses it brings to the area.
The project was the subject of a professional peer review that found the buildings to be exemplary. The City of Coral Gables professional staff recommended approval of the project, and, the Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board recently gave the project two positive recommendations and two neutral recommendations, defined as such because of a tie in the voting. Even an opponent of the building – Mr. Tom Levinson – told the City Commission that the project is a nice project.
The developer envisions cafes, art shows in the public areas and a direct connection from the project’s common areas to nearby Jaycee Park, and through that park, a direct connection from the Riviera neighborhood to U.S. 1, providing the type of walkability that is not remotely possible today.
If we are to begin to address needed changes along U.S. 1, we need to change our paradigm of current zoning, which allows a big-box structure for a site like the Holiday Inn. Land is a huge issue in South Florida, with so little developable land remaining, particularly within a quickly growing community such as Coral Gables. To not maximize its potential by thinking outside the box is something that will haunt our communities for generations to come.
Are the plans for Paseo de la Riviera flawless? Of course not, but they are a huge step toward the type of thinking – and developments – Coral Gables should embrace. We strongly recommend that the City approve the Paseo de La Riviera. A contrary position is simply not intellectually honest.