Goings on Around Town

April 2020

Waiting for the End of the Plague

The big story of the month, of course, is that we have entered a surreal landscape, with the city shut down in the face of the coronavirus. Miracle Mile is quiet: the photos above and below were taken on a Saturday afternoon, usually one of the busiest shopping days. The Shops at Merrick Park are a ghost town, even the Biltmore is closed. During the day there is still some activity downtown, with the occasional shop still open – a florist here, a wine merchant there. Most of the restaurants, as of this printing, are offering takeout food. Even Caffe Abbracci, which initially refused, gave in to popular demand for a limited takeout menu. The real question is whether the small businesses of the Gables can survive, and what will happen to employees in the food and hospitality sectors. Lawyers can keep lawyering, but waiters are just out of luck. The city has responded admirably, first declaring an emergency Mar. 12, then ordering a comprehensive shutdown Mar. 17. To keep up with the latest closings – which now include even the public parks – go to the city’s website www.coralgables.com.

Exclusive UM

We all knew that the University of Miami was the best college in Florida. That goes without saying. So, it’s good to see that confirmed in a report by 247wallst.com, which listed the hardest colleges to gain admittance to in each state in the country. The admission rate for UM is less than one in three applications. Not as tough as Harvard, mind you, which accepts only one in 20, but still…

Must Eat There

As long as we are talking about rankings, we note that the Palm Beach Post, the voice of that uber affluent community, has named 12 must-eat “bucket list” restaurants in Florida. Joining iconic places like Joe’s Stone Crab on Miami Beach and Bern’s Steak House in Tampa is the Palme d’Or at the Biltmore. Perhaps more surprising is the recent Yelp list of the top 100 places to eat in the U.S. Only one Gables restaurant made it. At number 6 out of 100: Fratellino on Miracle Mile. Can’t wait till they all reopen!

The Next Church of the Arts

Local preservation hero and patron of the arts Mike Eidson is continuing his campaign to save the city’s historic buildings. Eidson is the man who restored the building where Books & Books now resides. He also tried to save the LaSalle Cleaners building – home to city founder George Merrick’s development company – after the city voted it was too far gone to warrant historic preservation. Eidson was willing to put down $5 million to buy it, but owner Mirella LaSalle wanted more and bulldozed it. Next, Eidson formed Sanctuary of the Arts, and took a very long lease on the Church of Christ Scientist buildings across from City Hall, turning the historic structure into a venue for performing arts. Now he has purchased St. Mary’s First Missionary Baptist Church building on Frow Avenue, for $550,000. The building had been ordered shut by the city in October, so he may have acted just in time. He and Sanctuary CEO Olga Granda plan to renovate the 4,000-square foot church on the edge of Coconut Grove for an arts theater with 100-125 seats.

And the Rents are Down

When we last reported on the cost of renting an apartment in Coral Gables, it was rated the most expensive city in Miami-Dade County. A new survey from nationwide apartment listing company Zumper says that prize now goes to Sunny Isles, followed by Miami. The Gables, where prices have dropped 4 percent, is now at number three. Homestead remains at the bottom, the least expensive.

Hang Up on the PD?

Even in a state where con men run amok, it was a nervy move: Last month scammers were calling residents with a technology that changed their Caller ID to that of the Coral Gables Police Department. People who picked up were threatened with arrest if they didn’t pay a fee using a credit card. The CGPD asked anyone getting such a call to hang up and dial the real police at 305.442.1600. The techno-breach permitting the calls has since been fixed.

How They See Us

Last month the Washington Times ran a blistering article about how Big Brother was growing alarmingly bigger “one automated license plate reader at a time.” The article was about the plate-reading technology that Coral Gables uses to track cars that enter and leave the city. It’s called the “geo-fence” program, designed to keep citizens safe from known criminals. The article was based on an interview with the attorney for local resident Raul Mas Canosa, who is suing the city for violating his constitutional rights with the plate readers. The article alleged the technology could tell when a person drove to the doctor, or to a bar, or when they went on vacation. Absurd, say city officials. All they can do is record who enters and leaves; so far it has helped them nab several criminals with outstanding warrants.