Urging that the City of Coral Gables continue to move forward in bold, new directions, Mayor Vince Lago delivered his second State of the City address listing his priorities for a re-energized city. The mayor called for innovation and the utilization of new technologies to improve how services are delivered to residents while also pledging to support initiatives that ensure Coral Gables maintains its longstanding reputation as City Beautiful.
“What is worth struggling over and fighting over?” asked the mayor, addressing a gathering of civic leaders and residents on Sept. 22. Lago then offered up the things he believes are worth battling for in today’s challenging environment for municipal governance.
“There are many issues I care deeply about,” he said, “but let me highlight one that I believe is certainly worth fighting for -- a cleaner, more welcoming downtown.” Lago said. “While Coral Gables can boast a clean and safe downtown, the city should not rest on its laurels especially in today’s competitive marketplace for new businesses, visitors, and residents.”
Lago called upon all segments of the community to do their part in improving landscaping surrounding properties and keeping sidewalks clean. He also asked that businesses commit to providing excellent customer service.
“It is our goal to create a sense of shared responsibility to build a stronger, reenergized downtown.” Toward that end, the city is stepping up code enforcement to ensure adherence to the city’s standards for appearance and maintenance of commercial properties. The city is partnering with the Keep Coral Gables Beautiful program to conduct quarterly downtown cleanups (the next one is scheduled for Nov. 7). As an incentive for maintaining attractive and well-kept properties, the city has instituted Commercial Beautification Awards; the first awards this year were presented to Bulla Gastrobar, Bachour Bakery and Restaurant, The Globe, and Trend boutique.
“Our Central Business District is vitally important,” said Lago pointing to metrics indicative of a robust downtown. The occupancy rate is 96% for downtown retail shops and 87% for the office market. Last year more than 2 million pedestrians visited Giralda Plaza and some 3.5 million visited Miracle Mile. It's great to see these numbers continue to grow,” Lago said. “If you haven’t visited lately, I think you will be impressed with our dynamic, downtown with its influx of new restaurants, cafes, and retail shops.”
For the first time, the annual State of the City speech held at the Biltmore Hotel was open to the public. The mayor discussed recent accomplishments and priorities, including:
- Transportation and mobility. Downtown access is improving and will continue to do so with expanded trolley service. The trolleys have been a huge success with an average of 1,500 riders each Saturday in addition to the more than 20,000 weekly riders. The trolley system not only provides easy access but by taking people out of cars, it helps reduce emissions on city streets. Another enhancement is the new Minorca Parking Garage which is nearing completion. Once the new facility is operational, the city will have a total of 70 EV charging stations. Parking improvements are in the works along north Ponce de Leon with the removal of parking meters and installation of pay stations south of SW 8th Street.
- New Technology: As part of the artificial intelligence-powered Smart City Pole Project, the city has installed more than 20 smart technology poles that consolidate traffic analysis, city planning, environmental assessment and public safety data, and offer free public WIFI. This innovation provides greater access to next-generation data analysis capabilities to improve city planning, traffic management, public safety, environmental protection, and emergency services.
- Public Safety. The city’s police department, one of the first in the nation to use manned drone technology, premiered the use of manned drones at the city’s annual 4th of July celebration. Another new tool contributing to increased public safety is a mobile command post which provides public safety personnel the ability to go onsite for natural or man-made emergencies, as well as for special events. This state-of-the-art command center provides both police and fire personnel with a hands-on resource at the scene of an emergency. As part of its innovative lifesaving programs, the city’s fire department is working in partnership with Baptist Hospital to better assist heart attack victims. While in
- transport, paramedics can transmit the patient’s EKG and other data directly to the hospital.
- Customer Service. Technology is helping to improve the customer experience. A new electronic permit system is now online along with all plans and signature submissions. It’s now easier to proceed with new construction and remodeling projects. The city recently introduced a more user-friendly website and expects soon to have a mobile app for smartphones that will offer more advanced 311 communications including service request capabilities.
- Environment. Coral Gables continues to be a leader in sustainability achieving LEED Gold Certification under the cities and communities’ program. A project is underway to improve the look of bridges and install traffic calming devices. Maintaining the city’s enviable tree canopy continues to be a priority--in the past year, 500 new trees have been planted.
After his election last year, the mayor embarked on a 100-day listening tour which he used to establish a strategic priorities plan which serves as a blueprint for actionable items. As he approaches his one-year anniversary as mayor, Lago said 90% of the initiatives have been launched. The mayor concluded his remarks by quoting the great Apple innovator: “As Steve Jobs said, ‘We must look at innovation as an opportunity and not as a threat.’”
The Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce hosted the State of the City Address which also serves as the traditional kickoff of the chamber’s new year. The mayor thanked the chamber for its strong partnership with the city.