Coral Gables targets $21 million for historic improvement projects

Coral Gables, dubbed the City Beautiful, takes pride in its historical buildings – so much so the city is considering spending more than $21 million on historic improvement projects over the next five years.

The four most costly out of the 14 projects are the renovations on the City Hall Complex and the Biltmore Hotel, the purchase of four historic homes on Brooker Street that were used for artists’ housing, and assessments on the Fink Studio, a former architectural workplace. Only the work on the Biltmore has started.

Vice Mayor Vince Lago explained that when one thinks about historic preservation in Miami-Dade County, it’s impossible to not include the City of Coral Gables, as it contains many historic buildings.

The projected repairs and renovations on the City Hall Complex — the most expensive project, at more than $11 million — includes the 427 Biltmore Way building, which is considered part of City Hall.The repairs are aimed at preventing water and humidity damage. The City Hall building itself will undergo a full interior and exterior restoration.

Almost $50,000 for the project comes from the state, while the rest comes from local taxpayers.

The Baltimore Hotel.
Photo by Mary Beth Loretta.

The second most costly historic improvement project is the renovation on the Biltmore Hotel. Built in the 1920s, the building is a landmark of Coral Gables and Miami-Dade County.

The city is projected to spend $5 million, while the hotel itself is spending upwards of $24 million. The facility has been under renovation since 2017.

The purchase of four historic houses on Brooker Street that once belonged to artists would cost the city almost $2 million in taxpayer dollars.

Lago says the owners of the houses aren’t willing to sell. “They’re basically decaying,” Lago said of the houses. “It’s not representational of what the City Beautiful stands for.”

Artists’ houses on Brooker Street bordering Coral Gables and the City of Miami near Coconut Grove.
Photo by Mary Beth Loretta.

Lago explained that with the purchase of these historic buildings the city can help revitalize this area while limiting gentrification.

The city’s five-year capital improvement plan projects almost $1.5 million will be spent to purchase the Fink Studio. The Fink building served as an architectural studio for H. George Fink, a cousin of George Merrick — the architectural brains behind the city.

“The city did an assessment of the building. We’re working on obtaining the cost of the tenant building.  Once we have that we’ll need to figure out the terms of a lease,” said Dona Spain, the Historical Resources and Cultural Arts Director.

Fink Studio at 2506 Ponce De Leon Boulevard.
Photo by Mary Beth Loretta.

Serving as a model for the Mediterranean building style that has become a hallmark of Coral Gables architecture, the Fink Studio means a lot to most of the city’s commissioners, especially Vice Mayor Lago and Mayor Raul Valdes-Fauli.

Valdes-Fauli cited the Fink Studio purchase as his top priority on the long list of projected capital improvement projects discussed during the city’s first budget workshop on May 15.

The City Commission is currently in negotiation with the Spanish Cultural Center about having its headquarters housed in this building.

Lago stressed that the projected budget numbers are subject to change according to the commission’s priorities.