People in the News in June

On to the County

City Commissioner Jorge Fors Jr. Throws His Hat into the Ring

With just under a year left in his four-year term, City Commissioner Jorge Fors Jr. has announced he will run for a seat in the County Commission this fall. He will seek to fill the shoes of District 6 County Commissioner Rebeca Sosa, whose term ends this year (she has endorsed him). 

Fors decided to run when State Representative Bryan Avila dropped his candidacy to compete for a state senate seat instead. “Sometimes we are faced with an open door, where we feel we are the best man for the job,” said Fors, motivated by the same reason he ran for city commission – a love of public service. “You are in a position to make change happen,” he says. 

Fors says he’s grown frustrated by what can be accomplished on a city level. “One of the biggest surprises, when I became city commissioner, was how many scenarios there were where you ran into a wall with the county,” he says. “By moving to the county I’ll continue to represent a large portion of the Gables and will be in a position to accomplish more things for the city and the municipalities surrounding it.” 

Among his priorities will be to curtail the county’s development of high rises along the Metrorail transportation corridor and to respect the county’s urban/rural boundary. As for the question of the Gables annexing adjacent county neighborhoods, which he famously opposed when taking office (after visiting some 7,000 households), he wants to leave that up to voters – not only in the areas to be annexed, but “the people who are in the city doing the annexing.” 

A Homecoming, Of Sorts

Architect Willy Bermello Relocates to the Gables 

“This is a coup for the city,” says head of economic development Julian Perez. “A real win.” What Perez is referring to is the relocation by Bermello Ajamil & Partners, the prestigious architecture and engineering firm that’s been in Coconut Grove for more than three decades. “For me personally, it’s a coming home,” says Gables resident and company chairman Willy Bermello, who started his first professional practice in the Gables in the 1970s. 

There were other, compelling reasons for the move as well. The new digs across from Havana Harry’s on Le Jeune will be substantially less expensive than water-front offices in the Grove. Just as importantly, the entire firm will now be sharing one floor, rather than spread across three floors as they were. “The ability to move laterally and manage by walking around is so important. It gets people moving and energized,” says Bermello. The new space also “provides naming rights, parking, and is much more affordable… and, frankly, Coral Gables is hot right now. It offers a better quality of life.” The move is expected to be completed this month. 

And the Winner Is 

Alirio Torrealba Receives the Chamber’s Business Leader of the Year Award 

People in the News in June
Alirio Torrealba (Center) With Chamber Ceo Mark Trowbridge (Right), Chamber Senior Vp Patrick O’Connell, and Chamber Chair Ana Chaoui

Since arriving in Coral Gables in 2014, Alirio Torrealba has been the city’s most active residential real estate developer. As CEO of MG Developer, he has completed four (soon to be five) luxury townhome projects for his master-planned Biltmore Square com- munity just off downtown. Besides embracing a low-rise approach in his classically designed Gables developments, Torrealba has been a generous supporter of the arts, commissioning the “Midsummer Night’s Dream” stone couch sculpture in Balboa Park, and presenting several pop-up galleries in the downtown. He is a philanthropic member of the Coral Gables Museum board of directors and a patron of the Coral Gables Community Foundation. 

With that (and more) in mind, the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce presented Alirio its 2022 Business Leader of the Year Award last month at its annual Diamond Awards event. “He is truly deserving of this honor,” said Mark Trowbridge, the chamber’s president and CEO. Said Torrealba: “Thank you for this recognition. You are all my source of inspiration to continue to enhance the City Beautiful while honoring the legacy 

Eidson’s Mission 

The Sanctuary of the Arts is Just Part One 

People in the News in June
Mike Eidson (left) Outside the Sanctuary With Principal Managing Director Rafi Maldonado-Lopez

The final weekend of April witnessed the official birth of The Sanctuary of the Arts, a complex for the performing arts in the First Church of Christ Scientist campus across the street from City Hall. In a celebration of music and dance, the opening party lasted three days, featuring ballet, chamber music, operatic ballads, contemporary dance, and even a circus troupe – the last for Sunday’s Family Fun Day. “We had a little bit of everything, but very high quality,” says Mike Eidson, the Gables attorney for whom the Sanctuary is the culmination of decades of involvement with the arts. A preservationist as well as an arts enthusiast, Eidson was either president or chairman of the board for the Miami City Ballet for nine years, as well as Chair of the Arsht Center’s Board of Directors for five years. He also led the struggle to restore the Coconut Grove Playhouse. 

But it has been in Coral Gables, his home for 50 years, where Eidson has made the most impact, first by saving the building where Books & Books is now located, and more recently with his acquisition of three churches for conversion to preforming arts centers. The first church he acquired (via long-term lease) was the large, classical-style 1940 church that fronts Anastasia Avenue opposite City Hall. It is now a theater with a new stage and 330 seats. The second (also via long-term lease) is a small, 1930 Mediterranean style church that is hidden within the First Church of Christ Scientist compound. Eidson bought his third church in 2020 – the 1926 St. Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church, the first African American church in Coral Gables. 

While St. Mary’s is still undergoing renovation to become a performing arts venue – including for nearby Carver and Tucker elementary schools – the other two churches are in business. The smaller church is now a dance studio and musical rehearsal space with wooden sprung floors, used daily. The larger church (both designed by famed architect Phineas Paist) is now a performance space inaugurated earlier this year with a symposium by famed violinist Joshua Bell. During its official April opening, the stage hosted pianist Marina Radiushina, mezzo-soprano Solange Merdinian, Prima Ballerina Mary Carmen Catoya, and American Repertory Ballet’s Hernan Montenegro, among others. Through June 18, the Sanctuary will be presenting the Mainly Mozart Festival, with performances at 4 pm every Saturday. 

“I don’t want credit for this, but I do want people to know what we’re doing so they can help and participate,” says Eidson. “I love the arts and I want to give them more places to create and perform…. I’m willing to put in the hours, and my wife Margaret lets me, because we go to all these things.”