Talk of the Town in October

And the City is Doing Fine, Thank You

Each year, the Mayor of Coral Gables is invited to address the assembled membership of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce with a State of the City speech. At the request of Mayor Vince Lago, this year the event was open to the public, as well as to chamber members, filling a ballroom at the Biltmore Hotel with some 220 guests. Mayor Lago spent 20 minutes describing why the state of the city is, well, good. He highlighted his campaign to beautify the downtown by requiring businesses to maintain their storefronts and sidewalks. He also gave a nod to the half dozen top chefs planning to start new restaurants here. On the transportation front, the mayor noted that the new trolley service on Saturdays was averaging 1,500 riders, in addition to the 20,000 weekly riders already onboard.

Talk of the Town in October

A big part of Mayor Lago’s State of the City report focused on technological innovation, starting with the QR codes at trolley stops that provide real time information. He pointed to new EV charging stations in city parking lots, soon to reach 70 stations downtown, and new legislation requiring developers to install EV stations in condo and apartment buildings. He also lauded the city’s IT team for installing more than 20 “smart” poles in the city to analyze traffic and pedestrian safety, along with providing free public Wi-Fi. Other technology upgrades noted included the police department’s new drone capabilities and its new mobile command post to help during natural disasters and public events.

Mayor Lago was most proud, however, of a very low-tech agenda he has pushed for years: expanding the city’s network of parks so that all residents are within a short walk of open green space. In the past year, two new parks have opened – Maggiore Park and Lamar Louise Curry Park – with work slated for a new park on Bird Road just east of Granada. More vital for the urban core of the city, the mayor announced a goal of creating up to a dozen new parks in the Central Business District over the next five years. He also highlighted his compact with FPL to underground the city’s power lines, beginning with those that connect homes to power poles. “In Coral Gables, we will move forward keeping innovation in mind,” Mayor Lago told the audience. “Coral Gables is a gem, and we want to continue to make it shine.”

No More On-Street Dining

Talk of the Town in October - Outdoor dining

When the pandemic hit, the City of Coral Gables reacted by allowing restaurants to extend their seating into the street, occupying what were formerly parking spaces and public rights of way. Now that the pandemic has subsided, that permission has been rescinded. As of Sept. 1, restaurants were required to remove these outdoor seating arrangements and return to their former footprints. Restaurants can still provide outdoor dining on city sidewalks by pulling a Sidewalk Café Permit. Bon appétit.

Harvard Calling

Ramon Cernuda, proprietor of the twin building Cernuda Arte gallery on Ponce de Leon Boulevard, has long been regarded locally as a leading expert in Cuban art. Now he’s getting some recognition from the nation’s leading academics. Last month he was asked by Harvard University to be one of a select group of speakers for the opening of “My Own Past,” an exhibition on “Afrodescendant Contributions to Cuban Art.” African descendants have played a major role in Cuban Art, notes Cernuda; the mother of Wifredo Lam, whose canvases are now worth millions of dollars, was born to a Congolese former slave mother and a Cuban mulatto father.

Signs of Life

In May of this year, largely at the insistence of City Manager Peter Iglesias, the city took over management of the historic Coral Gables Country Club – including its popular Liberty Café, a family favorite for ice cream and coffee. What they discovered was a crumbling infrastructure in sore need of repair, and a thoroughly under-used community asset. The city is now busy refurbishing the club, selling new memberships at affordable prices, and getting ready for a relaunch. A first sign of things to come is the reopening of what is now dubbed Le Parc Café. It started with gelato and coffee, and as of this month has a full menu that includes – but goes beyond– noshes like brioches with butter and jam and ham & cheese croissants. So, for all ye who feared the worst, there is light at the end of the country club tunnel.

And it Really Works

One of the great ironies of Coral Gables, which has won numerous awards as a “smart city,” is that the city website has been impossible to navigate. If you wanted to reach a city official – or even find out which city officials oversaw what departments – you would have to Google it; the city’s website took you to obscure lists of news articles. That has now changed, and dramatically, with the city’s new site. Using the same technology as Tesla and NASA, including AI feedback that allows the system to evolve with user input, the site is a delight: clear, clean, and easy to use. From city services to government officials, you can find anything via logical tabs and search bars that actually work. Finally, a smart website for a smart city. Give it a try at

On the Road Again

Each year, the Coral Gables Community Foundation holds a themed ball to raise money for various charities, including student scholarships. Last year’s Greek Odyssey raised nearly $500,000. This year’s theme is “The Road to Rio: A Gala from Ipanema.” While we appreciate their celebrating the “Amazonian deeds” of various pillars of the community (this year’s top award goes to Knight Foundation President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen), we can’t help thinking of the seven “Road” movies made in the 1940s by Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. And yes, there was a “Road to Rio.” This year’s event returns to the Biltmore Hotel after two years of at-home pandemic parties. “This is our most important fundraiser of the year,” says Mary Snow, president and CEO of the Foundation. “We are ecstatic to be returning to an in-person celebration.” Tickets are $750 each, $7,000 for a table. Contact to become a host or join the fun.

Goodbye BID

Halloween on the Mile - Talk of the Town in October

For the last 25 years, property owners in the downtown have contributed to the Business Improvement District to market the area for retailers. Since then, they have sponsored events and promotions to draw more visitors to the area – everything from street corner musicians and outdoor jazz concerts to artisanal markets and the annual Halloween on the Mile.

Last month, the City Commission voted to terminate the BID after a multi-month campaign by two disgruntled property owners who objected to paying the BID’s fees. At issue was representation by commercial condo owners – whether each condo owner should have a vote, or whether it was okay to allow the condo association to vote for them.

In June, the Commission voted to halt the BID’s re-election process, questioning its legality. In August, when the City Attorney declared the election legal, they voted to certify the results. And then last month, when a dozen votes were thrown out due to technicalities – dropping the approval to less than the 50 percent required threshold – the Commission voted to terminate the BID. As of press time, the BID was slated to unwind by October 10, which means no trick or treating on the Mile this year. Also, as of press time, however, negotiations were underway to allow the BID to continue its marketing efforts – including a huge upgrade to downtown lighting – through the end of the year.