December Talk of the Town

At the Town Hall

Twice a Year, the Mayor Opens the Floor to Citizen Concerns – and Complaints 

At Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago’s biannual town hall meeting last month, residents were invited to the Adult Community Center to share their questions and concerns. Mayor Lago and City Manager Peter Iglesias opened the proceedings with an update on city projects and goals, including the trolley service (soon to add Sundays), the city’s new mobile app, and the push to add and renovate more parks. Other topics included an update on the controversial mobility hub (plans have been completed), the restoration of City Hall (ongoing), and the plans for Firehouse 4 on Sunset.

Resident questions were then taken. One Gableite voiced concern about the historically unenforced restriction on bicycles on the sidewalks of Miracle Mile. The mayor responded by outlining his plan to add 15 new police officers dedicated to the downtown area over the next three years. Another resident brought up long hold times for calls to City Hall, which Mayor Lago seemed surprised by and vowed to fix, saying there is “no excuse” for the lack of communication.

There was also a lively discussion about the lack of benches at bus stops and sidewalks. Attendees were informed that the city spent over $1 million this year on sidewalks, currently replacing and extending the walkways on Ferdinand Street and University Drive. Unfortunately, it seems the lack of bus stop benches will need to be dealt with at a county level, which Mayor Lago said he would address.

Perhaps most controversially, a homeowner who lives on Venetia Terrace sought clarity on the city’s decision to serve her and her neighbors’ citations for overgrown shrubbery along their street. The resident said the city gave them only 10 days to clean up the foliage, “Not many people realize how much work it takes to build a hotel of this size and quality,” said Carlos Beckmann, managing director of Agave Holdings, the company behind The Plaza Coral Gables, the largest development in the city’s history ($700 million). “It’s been six years in the making.”

Beckmann and co-managing director Jose Antonio Perez welcomed a crowd of local notables last month to the official opening of the new Loews Hotel, one of the last elements in The Plaza project, which includes 455,000 square feet of office space in two towers, 137,000 square feet of retail, a 200-unit luxury apartment building, and a 242-key Loews Hotel crowned with an Old Spain-style bell tower. All now rise in majestic Mediterranean style on the east side of Ponce Circle.

Beckmann recalled some of the challenges, including the COVID shutdown, labor shortages, supply chain issues, and two hurricanes. (“They missed us, but it was still a little bit scary,” he quipped.) Nonetheless, the hotel opened two weeks ahead of schedule.

On hand for the ceremonial ribbon cutting was Jonathan Tisch, CEO and chairman of Loews Hotels, along with Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago and City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. “The Agave family acquired this property in distress,” said Mayor Lago. “And what you see today is a labor of love. Thank you for investing in us.”—JP Faber

The Feel-Good Story of the Month

Helping Dogs for an Eagle Badge 

December Talk of the Town

After working on it for the past two and a half years, Gables resident Mae Lynn Wensing, a sophomore at Terra Environmental Research Academy, is finally ready to present her Eagle Project to the Miami-Dade Animal Services Pet Adoption & Protection Center.

Wensing is one of the founding girls of George Merrick Troop 719 and has climbed the Girl Scout ranks over the past four years. For her project, she fundraised to buy 20 Kuranda beds and collected used towels, pet blankets, toys, and other items the shelter needed. As a bonus, she was also able to donate a used washer and dryer.

“I don’t want it to be a one-time thing and that’s it,” says the 16-year-old. “Even though I will have completed Eagle, there’s always more to accomplish.”

Wensing says she wants to continue doing at least one good thing per day, and wants to encourage kids her age to continue donating to the shelter. She is currently looking at colleges with pre-veterinary programs in the hopes of becoming a veterinarian. —Gabrielle Lord 

Tiaras and Treasures

Leveraging the Bridgerton Brand at the New Country

December Talk of the Town

The historic Coral Gables Country Club, now coming back to life as a city-run facility, was the place. The event was a “Tiaras and Treasures” soirée devoted to women’s empowerment. Leveraging the imagery of the uber-popular “Bridgerton” Netflix series, the event last month was hosted by Maria Elena Headpieces and Miami Women Who Rock (MWWR).

Upon arrival, guests were greeted by a real-life horse and carriage decked in 1800s-style class. Dressed in period pieces, guests were serenaded by a string quartet playing songs from the “Bridgerton” soundtrack. The menu included salmon canapes, cucumber tea sandwiches, and blinis with crème Fraiche and caviar.

The glamorous occasion was a celebration to kick off the first endowment fund for the organization’s Young Professional Philanthropists. Maria Elena tiaras, worn by celebrities such as Paris Hilton, were sold for the radically reduced rate of $100 prior to the event. Proceeds went to the endowment fund, which goes to charities of the organization’s choice.

“We raised money from the sale of tiaras, celebrated a wonderful occasion, and embraced the spirit of volunteerism,” said Meghan Maloof Berdellans, president of the Young Professional Philanthropists Circle. Emily Zubi, CEO and founder of MWWR, expounded on the event, saying, “Coming out of the pandemic, it’s about connectivity. Women are so happy to feel valued and be a part of something bigger than themselves.” —Amy Poliakoff