April Talk of the Town: Camp Mahachee Dedication, Ken Griffin’s Big Gift, and More

A Native Forest for Girl Scouts

Last month, the Girl Scouts of Tropical Florida were joined by volunteers and VIPs to dedicate the restoration of the original hardwood hammock at the entrance to Camp Mahachee. The 11.5-acre property on Old Cutler Road opposite Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden has been home to the Tropical troop since 1948. Recognizing that it was being overrun by invasive species, the Coral Gables Garden Club initiated the restoration of its entranceway in June
of 2022, at the suggestion of club member and Girl Scout mom Lynn Kerdyk. Since, then, 1,100 trees have been planted and a butterfly garden, three coral rock benches, and a coral rock bridge were also installed.

To restore the original hammock, $90,000 in cash was raised ($25,000 from the Garden Club), along with more than $60,000 of in-kind services. Among those at the ceremony were Gables Vice Mayor Rhonda Anderson (volunteer and club member), Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, Garden Club President Susan Rodriguez, Community Foundation CEO Mary Snow ($10,000 contributed), Tropical troop CEO Chelsea Wilkerson, and, of course, Lynn Kerdyk. Even more exciting – the Girl Scouts just got a $450,000 federal grant to restore the rest of Camp Mahachee.

RELATED Bringing Camp Mahachee Back to Life

Ken Griffin’s Big Gift

Ever since billionaire Ken Griffin moved his Citadel corporation from Chicago to Miami last year, he has become increasingly active as a local philanthropist, donating $25 million to Gables-adjacent Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, $20 million to Miami Dade College, $50 million to Baptist Health, and $5 million to the U.S Soccer Foundation to create 50 new mini-pitches in Miami-Dade County. Now, he has topped them all with a “transformational gift” of $50 million to the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

April Talk of the Town: Ken Griffin
Philanthropist Ken Griffin has continueously given back to the local community since moving his Citadel corporation to Miami.

The donation will double Sylvester’s research “footprint” to develop better cancer therapies at its new 12-story, 244,000-square-foot facility, due to open next year. “Sylvester’s team of physicians, scientists, and healthcare professionals plays a leading role in our community’s efforts to defeat cancer,” said Griffin when the gift was announced. “Our” community? Welcome home, Mr. Griffin. Maybe we should name the research building after him. Wait a minute – it will be. And deservedly so.

From the Tide to the Gables

Maybe it comes down to the winning ways of Nick Saban. As the coach of the famous Alabama Crimson Tide football team from 2007 until he retired earlier this year, Saban is widely recognized as one of the greatest football coaches in history (292 wins vs 71 losses, with six national championships). He also coached the Dolphins for two years before joining ‘Bama. Now, as one of the owners of Dream Motor Group – which last year purchased Mercedes-Benz of Coral Gables and of Cutler Bay – he’s winning again.

April Talk of the Town: Ken Griffin

This time, it’s for the prestigious Mercedes-Benz “Best of the Best Dealer Recognition Award” based on outstanding performance in 2023 out of all its dealerships. “With roots in this community going back to 1957, it is an honor to be able to bring the best Mercedes-Benz has to offer going on seven decades,” said Greg Barnes, president of both the Gables and Cutler Ridge locations.

GableStage’s “Fat Ham”

In a unique regional partnership, our own GableStage, along with Broward County’s Island City Stage and Brévo Theatre, have been awarded a $250,000 grant from the Warten Foundation to produce “Fat Ham,” a 2022 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by James Ijames. 

This first-time collaboration among leading theater groups in the two counties is a South Florida premiere for this witty interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” that tackles identity, race, and family issues. “Fat Ham” will premiere as part of the companies’ 2024-25 seasons. “The Warten Foundation is pleased to fund this historic collaboration,” said Clifford J. Cideko, chairman of the Boca Raton Warten Foundation.

April Talk of the Town: Ken Griffin

“Fat Ham” transforms Shakespeare’s Hamlet into an over-the-top tale set in a North Carolina BBQ pit: the Danish castle becomes a Southern backyard barbecue, while Prince Hamlet becomes Juicy, a Black, gay southern kid who navigates a ghostly demand for vengeance. Shakespeare might be turning over in his grave, but presumably with a sense of humor.

Charter Review Committee

Every 10 years, the City of Coral Gables convenes a Charter Review Committee to receive recommendations from qualified individuals on possible amendments or revisions. In 2023, the City Commission voted 3-2 to move this up two years due to unresolved issues amongst a divided Commission. Normally, the committee consists of seven members, but the same 3-2 majority (Commissioners Menendez, Fernandez, and Castro) eliminated the positions traditionally appointed by the city attorney and the city manager, so that only five committee members – one appointed by each Commissioner – could recommend changes to the city’s charter.

The first town hall meeting was convened on March 21 to allow residents to provide public input on the issues that affect them. Former mayor Don Slesnick led the meeting as Mayor Vince Lago’s appointee and said the result, “whether it be firm recommendations or firm denials of recommendations” had not yet been discussed. “Our role is advisory; we do not make any final decisions,” he added.

The hour-long meeting mostly consisted of public comment from residents. The most interesting and favored recommendation was that of hiring an inspector general, who would act as a watchdog for potential corruption. Other suggestions included publishing any revisions made to the official city budget and making commissioners’ terms part of mayoral term limits (meaning mayors that were former commissioners would have less time to serve); and reducing the threshold for recalls, which currently requires at least 10 percent of residents’ signatures. This latter item was shot down by the city attorney, who pointed out that state law precludes any city from changing recall requirements. A second town hall meeting will be held within the month, after which the committee will present its recommendations to the Commission during a joint sunshine meeting. 

Quicker Response Times in South Gables

After nearly a decade-long effort to build a new firehouse to provide quicker response times to the southern half of Coral Gables, Fire House 4 is now underway. The new facility, located next to the Riviera Presbyterian Church on Sunset Drive, will significantly cut the time of emergency rescue units.

Time is a critical when it comes to saving the lives of people who suffer life threatening events such as heart attacks or strokes. The groundbreaking was celebrated in February by the full City Commission, along with officers of the Coral Gables Fire Department. The City Commission adopted its resolution to build a new firehouse in 2018, but its initial location near Cartagena Circle was opposed by residents. “We’ve continued to maintain our mission to have the best response times in Miami-Dade County,” said Mayor Vince Lago, an early proponent of the firehouse, who also thanked former City Manager Peter Iglesias for overseeing the project.