Downtown Coral Gables businesses vote to keep tax as Rouse competitors prepare to open
By Sherri C. Ranta
Miracle Mile property owners will continue a self-imposed tax to finance marketing the Coral Gables shopping area, a decision that comes a month before the opening of its newest competitor, the Village of Merrick Park.
Property owners agreed to fund the city's Business Improvement District for another five years, authorizing a 2.25 mill tax - about a $1,500 tax per average-sized storefront, said Silvia Mestre, executive director. Authorization is needed every five years.
The downtown business district provides joint marketing and advocacy for 370 businesses that lie in the district, which is bounded by Aragon Avenue to the north, Andalusia Avenue to the south, Douglas Road to the east and Lejeune Road to the west.
Ms. Mestre said the group has its eyes focused on the Village of Merrick Park, the Rouse Co.'s new mall opening next month on a 20-acre site between Lejeune Road and Ponce de Leon Boulevard, and just a mile from downtown.
The mall will contain about 435,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space.
In the short run, Village of Merrick Park will be competition for Miracle Mile, she said.
"They haven't announced all their tenants. It will take a year to see what stores will be there in the long run. At that point, we'll see where we compete and where we have synergy," Ms. Mestre said, "In the end, we're downtown, we're not a mall. We're an urban center. It's a different product."
In the long run, Village of Merrick Park will be a tremendous benefit to Coral Gables, she said.
"It will attract tourists and South Americans that would not normally come here. Not only will they go to the mall, but they will take the trolley to Miracle Mile."
Another exciting boost for the district, Ms. Mestre said, is the ongoing and planned residential development in the area that will eventually draw more people to downtown in the evening hours.
"Nationwide, people are moving back to downtown and urban living," she said. "It's one of the things that will help us the most."
The Business Improvement District's two-person office lobbied intensely this year to continue the tax. The group, governed by a board of directors, faced the challenge of a summer vote, a time when many people are traditionally out of town and out of touch. Another hurdle, she said, is the fact that a majority of the district's property owners live out of state.
City commissioners certified the mail-in election Aug. 20, Ms. Mestre said. Of the 158 ballots returned, 89 were in favor - 10 more than was needed - while 21 voted against it.
"I'd say that was a pretty impressive 'yes' vote, considering the economic challenges we're facing," Ms. Mestre said. "Despite that, and maybe because of that, the property owners are willing to continue our organization and services."
Miracle Mile property owners launched the district, a 501(c)6 nonprofit organization, in 1997 by a three-vote margin, Ms. Mestre said. The Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce organized the group, she said, after looking for ways to stimulate downtown redevelopment.