In the 1920’s founder George Merrick included commercial use in his vision for the City of Coral Gables in his Master Plan including the four mile stretch on Coral Way between Douglas and LeJeune. In the 1940’s developers led by George Zain saw the potential for the four-blocks of undeveloped commercial property and began working to develop a ‘miracle mile.’ They looked to attract retailers such as Al Friedman with ROAL Shop, his high-end women’s clothing store.
After the lackluster years of the Great Depression and World War II investors and developers rebranded the area and in 1956 the four-block strip was renamed Miracle Mile.
During its height, the Coral Gables central shopping district included three movie theaters and well-known local retailers such as Carroll’s Jewelers, J. Baldi, Jahn’s Ice Cream and Biscayne Cafeteria among others, that attracted foot traffic to the area. I believe from that era we only have Jae’s Jewelers remaining. Miracle Mile was one of the few shopping areas in South Florida and competed with Flagler Street and the downtown shopping district and Lincoln Road. At that time there was no other place to shop if you lived in or around Coral Gables as there was limited development and no shopping areas west or north of Coral Gables. It was not till 1962 that Dadeland was developed as an open-air mall.
Throughout the years there have been many attempts to help rebrand and improve the Mile, although outside factors such as the advent of multiplex movie theaters, economic slumps and competing shopping areas have taken a toll. We saw a small improvement when the former bus depot was redeveloped into a mixed-used building with residential apartments but, it is not enough.
Our residents have a plethora of options including Merrick Park, Brickell City Center, the Design District, Aventura and others, not to mention on-line shopping on Amazon. Miracle Mile is on a downward spiral. Just recently I drove the four- block stretch and was shocked to count 40 empty storefronts. Our leadership is required to ensure that this spiral doesn’t become permanent. Miracle Mile needs to be revitalized.
I believe that the best way to bring this four-block stretch back to life is by bringing back foot traffic to enjoy amenities. While we work with the Business Improvement District (BID) on projects such as Murals on the Mile that we hope will help bring foot traffic, it is by having multi-use development including residences that will ultimately revitalize Miracle Mile. We need to attract residents to the Mile; not only to patronize our shops and restaurants but to live in our city center as well.
While we are proud of our history, our history and our city are ever evolving. More than two decades ago Merrick Park was literally the City’s dump truck depot. Just like we had to reimagine this area that we now call the Design and Innovation District so too must we reimagine Miracle Mile. To thrive, Miracle Mile needs to adapt. I am also opposed to a Miracle Mile canyon with tall buildings bordering the street, but we need to attract residents, even if with low- rise buildings.
Finally, I want to address the issue of public participation in the City’s zoning code process. Since the Development Services Department Planning Division began working with renowned architect and urban planner Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk four years ago on updating the code there have been many meetings to receive community input. Citizen participation has been welcomed and encouraged.