The City Decides to Run the Coral Gables Country Club and Return it to its Past Role
At one time, the Coral Gables Country Club on the Granada Golf Course was the center of all social activity in the city. It was where every social event was held. It was the place you went to dine, dance, meet friends, swim, play golf, or simply hang out.
This vision of the past was brought to life by former mayor Dorothy Thomson, who extolled the club’s historic importance in a recent address to the City Commission. “It was always such an important part of our lives,” said the 90-year- old Thomson, who moved to the Gables in 1953. “It was so familiar to us all. We would look forward to all kinds of events… Now it is cold. We don’t do anything with it.”
Well, not quite anything, but close. Under the management of Canadian company Liberty Entertainment, the club has offered a small café, a gym, and a place to hold special events, but little else.
Now, that is all about to change. With the Liberty lease set to expire April 1, the city is taking over management of the facility, determined to remake the Country Club in its original mold. “It’s not just a gym, it’s not just an event center,” said City Manager Peter Iglesias. “The new vision is really the old vision, what it used to be, and that’s what we want to bring back.”
Iglesias said the current plan is to hand the reins to the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, which now manages the War Memorial Youth Center and the Venetian Pool. Fred Couceyro, director of the department, along with assistant director Carolina Vester, outlined the city’s plans for the reborn facility.
“We are going to look at this as a public facility, accessible to the public,” said Vester. “We really want to provide a world class country club for our community to gather, grow, and call home.”
The new plan is for an affordable country club that offers a “social lifestyle fitness membership” for 2,000 members (single and family), which will include a fitness center, steam room, smoothie bar, pool, pool-side bites, kids club, and tennis courts. There would also be tennis and pickleball memberships, and golf course memberships, each limited to 200 family or individual members.
Mayor Vince Lago made a special point of insisting that all memberships go first to city residents. “If we exclude non-residents, I am fine with that,” he said. “I want this to be a community haven.”
The mayor’s other worry was for a smooth transition at the Liberty Café and the fitness club. “My only concern is what is happening on April 1. Is your staff ready to pick up the baton?” he asked Couceyro.
That depends, said Couceyro, on the commission voting to begin the process of hiring a team that will eventually include 10 fulltime and 36 part-time employees. They voted unanimously to do so.
The next step is funding. The city had hoped to attract a private bidder willing to invest about $5 million into the facility. One such bid was made but withdrawn after residents opposed it, fearing it would shut the facility down for an extended period and make it too expensive.
How the makeover will be funded is the subject of the March City Commission meeting; the city has already spent $2.4 million repairing the roof and the AC system. Vester said any investment would be recouped within five years, after which the facility would be profitable.
“I just want to assure residents that you will have a quality product,” said Commissioner Kirk Menendez, an advocate for the city to run the country club, who invited former mayor Thomson to address the commission.