Coral Gables is Now Taking its Measure of Success in Retail and Office Space. And the News is Good
By J.P. Faber
Coral Gables has long prided itself as an exceptional location for businesses, with a winning combination of high-end office space, top-flight restaurants, less dense daytime traffic, and super proximity to Miami International Airport – just some of the reasons that some 150 multinationals locate their regional headquarter offices here.
Now the city’s Economic Development Department has begun to track the metrics of office and retail space occupancy, especially in comparison to the nearby competitive markets of Brickell and Coconut Grove. And the numbers look strong.
With more office and retail than either the Grove or Brickell, Coral Gables is tracking at significantly less vacancy than either – at 8.2 and 4.2 percent, respectively, for office and retail, as compared to 10.3 and 11 percent respectively for Brickell, and 14 and 6.4 percent for the Grove.
“We are clearly doing better as far as retail and office are concerned,” says Belkys Perez, the assistant director of Economic Development, who is now tracking the comparative numbers. “We compare ourselves to them because they are our nearest neighbors with the capability of having the companies [locate and invest] that we are interested in. It’s a healthy thing to do.”
Perez says the numbers are especially welcome since they represent a vindication of the city’s Streetscape project to revitalize the downtown, a multi-year process that tore up the tarmac and hurt traffic for retailers, some of whom closed shop. “We’ve heard from people who were sitting on the sidelines to see how Streetscape would play out,” she says. “Now we are seeing a lot of investment in the city.” Coral Gables is, in fact, undergoing an unprecedented expansion of new mixed-use construction in and around the downtown.The value of new construction currently underway is $308 million, more than double what it was just two years ago.
The new projects under construction – in particular The Plaza, a massive mix of office, hotel and residential near downtown, and Gables Station, a huge residential complex near The Shops at Merrick Park – have come under fire from citizens who are concerned with excessive building. Most city officials, however, are in favor of development, so long as it does not encroach upon existing residential areas.
“We need critical mass in the downtown at least, to keep Miracle Mile and the surrounding streets active and vibrant at all times, not just weekdays,” says Mayor Raúl Valdés-Fauli. “Everything we are doing is within the original master plan for the city. We haven’t changed the basic zoning, or the vision of the founding fathers.”
As for the new attention to comparative figures, Perez says this is part of an effort by Economic Development to build a better database to help “lure people to come to Coral Gables.” Better metrics will also be a useful tool for Julian H. Perez (no relation to Belkys) who was appointed last month as the director of the department, and who expects to bring new energy and focus following the departure of former director Pamela Fuertes, who left in August.
In addition to new residents moving to multi-family housing downtown, Belkys Perez says that the city is also working to make the city’s central core more attractive to its fulltime residents.
“The goal is to not just have the street serve the professional community during the day. It’s there to serve the citizens at night as well,” says Perez. She cites the city’s investment in art installations on Giralda Plaza, as well as permitting for sidewalk dining and street music on Miracle Mile, as examples “of what the city has invested in the downtown to grow the pedestrian experience.”