Talk of the Town: Groundbreakings and Chamber Guard Changing

Groundbreakings 1: The Underline

Underline Groundbreaking
Friends of The Underline Founder and CEO Meg Daly addressing the crowd during the groundbreaking event on September 12, 2023.

For many who attended the groundbreaking ceremony at the University Metrorail Station last month, the start of Phase 3 of The Underline was a day eagerly awaited. From committed local officials to fervent community supporters and donors, the large crowd cheered on years-worth of work by Coral Gables resident Meg Daly and her team. Finally, the $140 million, 10-mile linear park under the Metrorail has made it to the City Beautiful.

READ MORE: Visions of The Underline

During the opening remarks, various elected officials spoke passionately about the project, recounting memories of being approached by Daly for their support and praising the impact that Phase 3 will have. Mayor Vince Lago thanked Daly for bringing multiple jurisdictions together “to deliver a transformational project of this magnitude.” He also thanked Daly’s late father Parker Thomson, a prominent attorney and community leader who played an instrumental role in realizing the project’s vision.

Underline Groundbreaking
Mayor Vince Lago speaking at The Underline groundbreaking ceremony on September 12, 2023.

“You will offer in our community pickleball, basketball, mini-pitch soccer, microforests, stormwater gardens, and our very own Bark Park,” Lago said, “I’m going to be the beneficiary of it. I live three blocks away on San Amaro. I will cross with my two young daughters … and we will enjoy this wonderful amenity in the City Beautiful.”

Lago also highlighted the contribution made by the City of Coral Gables: $7 million paid by impact fees levied on developments within 1,000 feet of the Metrorail, a funding mechanism championed by the mayor himself.

Daly, who serves as the Friends of The Underline founder and CEO, was greeted on stage with a standing ovation. “Look what we have done!” she shouted. “With the focus on nature, enhanced mobility, and recreation — this truly has something for everyone.”

Groundbreakings 2: The Village at Coral Gables

Regarded by many as the 8th Village of George Merrick’s vision of uniquely designed enclaves around the city (earlier ones include the French Village, Dutch South African, Chinese, and Florida Pioneer), the Village at Coral Gables celebrated its groundbreaking last month. The new village was designed by the Gables-based De La Guardia Victoria Architects & Urbanists, and will reflect the Spanish Mediterranean Revival architecture of Coral Gables itself.

RELATED: Unraveling Merrick’s Villages

Some 600 people attended the groundbreaking, including Coral Gables Mayor Vince Lago, President and CEO of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce Mark Trowbridge, and the founder and CEO of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty, Mayi de la Vega.

Alirio Torrealba, CEO and founder of MG Developer, standing behind a model of The Village at Coral Gables.

“I’m beyond words today. I feel truly proud to be able to celebrate the groundbreaking of The Village at Coral Gables with all of you,” Alirio Torrealba, CEO and Founder of MG Developer, told the audience. “It’s been a true labor of love for me, and for everyone at MG Developer, my family, our partners, our investors, the entire community. They have all entrusted us to build a beautiful enclave that is part of the vision George Merrick had when he founded Coral Gables in 1925.”

READ MORE: The 8th Village

Unlike many other developers pushing high-rise projects, Torrealba has focused on low-rise townhouses within walking distance of the Gables downtown. The groundbreaking ceremony was followed by a Village Harvest Festival with a farmer’s market and carnival activities.

Changing of the Chamber Guard

Each year, the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce holds an annual meeting at the Biltmore Hotel to swear in its new board of directors and to pass the leadership baton to a new Chair. It has also been the traditional time for the mayor to give his State of the City Address, summarizing the city’s recent accomplishments. In addition to the Chamber membership, the event was attended by numerous city officials, including Vice Mayor Rhonda Anderson, City Commissioner Melissa Castro, City Manager Peter Iglesias, and Economic Development Director Belkys Perez.

This year saw the induction of Sara M. Hernandez, Senior VP of First Citizens Bank, as the Chair of the Board, replacing last year’s chair Thad W. Adams, Managing Director at The Allen Morris Company.

Mayor Lago and Sara M. Hernandez, the new chair of the board of the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce.

In his speech to the audience of more than 200 business leaders, Mayor Vince Lago addressed the question of how Coral Gables could retain its character while continuing to grow. “Our city is changing. Change is inevitable. Growth is desirable, yet not at the expense of losing the character of our community,” said Lago. “The question I pose to you today is not whether Coral Gables is going to keep evolving, but how?”

RELATED: 2023-2024 The City Beautiful: The Complete Guide to Doing Business in Coral Gables

Lago touted the three constants that make Coral Gables one of the most desirable cities in Florida: Public safety, economic strength, and quality of life. “And yes, importantly,” he added, “Can you find a place to park?” Among the city’s recent achievements, he touted the new process of undergrounding powerlines, 22 new traffic calming devices installed this year, the welcoming of three new foreign consulates, the addition of five new police officers — and, appealing to the business audience, the city’s maintenance of its AAA Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s, and Fitch Ratings.

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