At its first meeting in May, the City Commission:
Discussed the Fate of the Proposed Mobility Hub
The futuristic-looking hub, designed to replace the aging parking garage behind the Miracle Theatre, has engendered considerable controversy. Newly elected Commissioner Ariel Fernandez, who sponsored the discussion, said “The two concerns that most residents have about the Mobility Hub are the design and the size… obviously, the price as well. Nobody wants to spend $63 million on a garage.”
When first proposed, the Mobility Hub had a projected cost of $42 million. Fernandez suggested a smaller scale with a different design.
Civic activist Dr. Gordon Sokoloff, who used the existing garage for 23 years for his Coral Gables Dentistry staff, echoed the complaints of citizens who objected to the modern look of the proposed building. “The original drawing and photo for the Mobility Hub as presented was really offensive. It did not fit in at all with the neighborhood,” he told the Commission, calling it a “giant white monstrosity.”
As for cost, the Commission entertained several options, including lowering the height by reducing the size of each floor — currently 12 feet, which allows for adaptive re-use as an office or apartment building in the future. Also discussed was the elimination of the rooftop park, which would save $6 to $8 million.
Most importantly — and with the strong endorsement of Commissioner Rhonda Anderson, who opposed the original design — the Commission agreed to ask the original architecture firm of Gensler to provide alternative looks to the “shell,” ranging from Art Deco to Mediterranean to one that included greenery.
The Commission decided to hold a Sunshine meeting for residents to provide more input. Mayor Vince Lago, who has championed the idea of the Mobility Hub, agreed that “we need a conversation on the aesthetic appeal of the building,” but was pleased “that we agree that we need to build a [new] parking garage,” pointing out that between 27 and 30 percent of the city’s taxes are paid by commercial tenants in the downtown, which require parking. He also pointed out that the cost of the new garage would ultimately be paid by parking fees and rents from ground level retail.
Voted 3-2 to Retain Peter Iglesias as City Manager
The termination of Iglesias was one of the campaign priorities of newly elected Commissioner Ariel Fernandez, and the Commission listened for close to three hours to residents opine on the issue. The argument for his termination was succinctly expressed by Coral Gables Neighbors Association president Sue Kawalerski, who said the recent election of Fernandez and Commissioner Melissa Castro “was about the establishment. The voters said we don’t want the establishment in there anymore… Unfortunately, our current city manager is part of the establishment.”
Most of the residents who addressed the Commission, however, were in favor of retaining the city manager — even some who had voted for Fernandez. Joe Martucci, a city resident for 40 years, said he saw no evidence that Fernandez was speaking for most residents. “It looks as though it is a small, vocal group of people that just don’t like Peter Iglesias,” he said. “Someday they are not going to like someone else that works here, and I don’t think that’s the standard.”
Commissioner Anderson said the city manager had done a superlative job, especially during COVID. “He kept this city running without losing a single city employee, without raising taxes, and maintaining a level of service that our residences expected. I can’t say that for other cities,” she said.
As expected, Fernandez voted to terminate Iglesias, while Lago, Anderson, and Menendez voted to retain. Commissioner Castro apologetically voted to oust Iglesias, saying “It breaks my heart,” but that she had to follow the will of her voters. However, Castro then joined Lago, Anderson, and Menendez in a 4 to 1 vote of confidence for Iglesias, saying, “Given that you are going to stay, I am more than willing to work with you.” Only Fernandez voted no.
Listened to an Update on the Progress of Burger Bob’s
Hermes Diaz, the city’s director of public works, said that design work for the neighborhood eatery on the Granada Golf Course was nearly complete. He added that the city could begin construction in three months when the drawings were permitted, assuming that one of the current bids is accepted. Commissioner Fernandez accused the city of dragging its feet.
“The community has been clear, for over a year — almost a year and a half — they want this to be a priority. And here we are,” said Fernandez. “Burger Bob’s closed in February of last year, so it’s been 14 months and we don’t even have a timetable of when we are planning on opening.”
Mayor Lago and Diaz contradicted Fernandez’s declaration that nothing had been done, noting that a new roof had been installed along with impact resistant windows. “I promise you nobody wants this done more than I do,” said the mayor, who also noted that cost escalation had put the price beyond what was budgeted.
Commissioner Menendez added that the current design for the interior was way too slick, and that residents want it redone. “We are looking for a retro kind of experience, not a modern-day Neiman Marcus look.” Commissioner Fernandez suggested that the city create a portal where the progress and status of the project could be transparently monitored. The Commission agreed, with a 5-0 vote in favor.
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