The Real Deal Miami

Coral Gables aims to reimagine its downtown into a chic retail destination

Five targets are women’s and men’s apparel, women’s and men’s accessories, athleisure, chef-driven restaurant concepts and home design stores
By Francisco Alvarado | August 14, 2017 02:00PM

Rendering of the Coral Gables streetscape project and Francesca Valdes

Francesca Valdes is on a mission to reshape the retail mix in downtown Coral Gables.

For the past 10 months, the former Tiffany & Co. spokesperson has been scouring across South Florida eyeing potential new tenants that could liven up the offerings on Miracle Mile and surrounding streets such as Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Giralda and Aragon avenues.

“We have five targets,” Valdes told The Real Deal. “Women’s and men’s apparel, women’s and men’s accessories, athleisure, chef-driven restaurant concepts and home design stores. That is the trend successful downtowns are following.”

Although her official title is business development specialist, Valdes’ main focus is creating a retail mix that complements the storefronts that already exist in downtown Coral Gables. Valdes was hired in November, about the same time consulting firm Downtown Works completed a retail study that concluded Coral Gables has an authentic downtown with a good scale for retail.

However, the study identified several weaknesses such as building colonnades that reduce storefront visibility and accessibility and a cluster of bridal stores that do not attract repeat customers and do not serve local customers well. Downtown Works counted 260 storefronts along Miracle Mile and the surrounding streets. Of those, 12 percent were vacant as of June 22, 2016. The study also found that 170 storefronts could be considered actual retailers, but only 14 percent sold apparel, shoes and accessories.

The city is also in the midst of a long-delayed $21 million streetscape project along Miracle Mile and Giralda Avenue. The goal is to create a pedestrian-friendly experience with garden areas, outdoor dining, improved lighting, wayfinding and public art.

The report suggested the city and stakeholder groups like the Coral Gables Chamber of Commerce increase apparel, shoes and accessory retailers to 24 percent, as well as bump up home and gift uses from 8 percent to 15 percent. Downtown Works also warned that downtown Coral Gables faces stiff competition from retail development at the Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami and Coconut Grove’s CocoWalk, owned by Federal Realty Investment Trust, Grass River Property and Comras Company.

Valdes, who was a media relations manager for Tiffany & Co. out of its corporate office in New York City from 2011 to 2015, has been traveling around South Florida to find emerging retailers who are considering opening a second or third location, as well as reaching out to national brands. “We are not trying to steal from other cities,” she said. “But there may be a shop in Delray Beach or Fort Lauderdale that is looking to expand. Their next stop could be Coral Gables.”

Valdes provides guided tours for potential retailers, as well as facilitates meetings with landlords and brokers looking for tenants. She declined to mention which retailers she has approached because no deals have been finalized.

In addition, Coral Gables is also working with existing landlords to develop a retail strategy to create a competitive downtown. “The greater mix we have, the better everyone will do,” Valdes said. “It is a collaborative process.”

Allen Morris, a Coral Gables-based builder whose firm is partnering with the Related Group to develop Coral Gables City Center near downtown, said a retail plan for Miracle Mile and the surrounding streets is long overdue. “It has to be treated seriously,” Morris said. “We really have to be very strategic about the retail experience we want for downtown Coral Gables.”