The Makeover of Giralda Plaza
The makeover of Giralda Avenue in the heart of Downtown Coral Gables serves as a visual example of the power of clustering, complementing uses within a compact urban setting and the quick impact of the revitalization strategy.
Giralda Plaza. (Coral Gables Community Foundation)
The Jaxson has long supported what we call the Clustering of Complementing uses within a Compact setting (CCC) as a key downtown redevelopment tool. CCC is a subliminal key to successful urban revitalization that works by locating people, activities (like special events or outdoor dining), and uses (like restaurant or bars) together in close pedestrian scale proximity, allowing them to feed off one another, which in turn stimulates more market rate growth, activity and economic opportunity. Located in the heart of Downtown Coral Gables, Giralda Plaza is an excellent recently completed example of CCC. In addition to offices, retail boutiques and other businesses, there are more than 15 restaurants, cafes and bars in business along this one-block, 600-foot long section of Giralda Avenue. Utilizing existing buildings, the clustering of complimenting uses, combined with a complimentary streetscape, within a compact one-block area, Giralda Plaza is well on its way to becoming a major South Florida destination.
In 2015, construction began on a streetscape project to transform a faded stretch of Giralda Avenue into a centralized zone of pedestrian centric activity. Prior to this transformation, Giralda Avenue was a two-lane road with parallel parking and narrow sidewalks, limiting the opportunity for outdoor dining and entertainment in a space that had also been coined as “restaurant row”. Despite being marketed as a “restaurant row”, many businesses struggled and even closed before Giralda’s dramatic transformation from a street with narrow, dimly lit sidewalks to one where the activities inside adjacent storefronts are allowed to spill out into the street.
A view of Giralda Avenue, looking west from Ponce de Leon Boulevard in 2009. (Google Streetview)
Due to South Florida having a large number of viable alternatives for residents and visitors, the goal of the project was to transform Giralda Avenue between Ponce de Leon Boulevard and Galiano Street, into a vibrant, competitive dining destination and gathering space. To accomplish this, the City of Coral Gables implemented a redesign by noted New York firm Cooper, Robertson and Partners that called for the creation of a single surface curb-free environment covering the full width of the road from building to building, setting the stage for the incorporation of a cohesive pedestrian-centric experience while also improving drainage. Featuring trees in the middle of the street and colorful granite pavers set in concentric circles to give Giralda the feel of a pedestrian-centric European plaza, movable bollards were also included, allowing the street to either accommodate automobile traffic or be completely closed for pedestrian use and special events. Funding for the $5 million project was obtained through a variety of sources including $4.5 million in Sunshine State Financing, $216k in General Obligation Bonds, $119k through Art in Public Places, $50k in General Capital Improvements and $6k in Special Assessments.
A view of Giralda Avenue, looking west from Ponce de Leon Boulevard in 2019. (Ennis Davis, AICP)
In October 2017, Giralda Plaza reopened as a tree-shaded car-less environment filled with cafe tables for the restaurants, bars and storefronts situated in existing nondescript commercial buildings located along it. While the design places pedestrians as a higher priority than cars, it also allows access for emergency vehicles without sacrificing a sense-of-place that makes Giralda a setting where people go as opposed to a place they simply drive or walk through. Since that time, Giralda Plaza has been heralded as a great success of stimulating pedestrian centric vibrancy in the heart of the city within a relatively short time frame. While patrons have flocked to the revitalized Giralda Plaza for unforgettable musical and culinary experiences, attracting thousands during recent events such as Giralda Under the Stars as the signature event in downtown, the transformation of Giralda is just beginning. In June 2018, the Coral Gables City Commission approved a new zoning overlay for the corridor, encourages balconies overlooking the street, boutique hotels and residential uses on upper floors and removes parking requirements for buildings three stories and under.
Giralda Plaza. (Downtown Coral Gables & Miracle Mile)
Next Page: Additional Before and After Images of Giralda Plaza