Monday, June 29, 2015

Remember the Epicure! how the story of US 1 and LeJeune Road, Coral Gables illuminates the struggle for Ludlum Trail ... by gimleteye

So here is the thing about the closing of the Coral Gables branch of the Miami Beach fixture, Epicure Market: it was a death foretold. Epicure opened its store in the ground floor of a Jeffrey Berkowitz development in 2013, a stone's throw from the Village of Merrick Park.

I've lived nearby -- roughly defined as the intersection of US 1 and Lejeune Road -- for more than twenty years.

Fifteen years ago, I was civically involved in trying to keep the Rouse company from converting the old Coral Gables bus maintenance depot into a major mall. That mall, the Village of Merrick Park, has never found its footing, through some unbalanced combination of high rental rates and low consumer demand.

On August 24th, 1998 at the Omni Collonade in Coral Gables, the Rouse Company offered a public view of its project. The controversial development pitted then Mayor Raul Valdez Fauli, the Latin Builders Association lobby, and the Rouse Company against many, many Gables citizens who mounted a Coral Gables referendum to block the project. When I got up to the podium, lobbyists booed and hissed. Rouse won the referendum in November and measured by cost per vote it was the most expensive in Florida history.

The Miami Herald printed an OPED I wrote in September 1999. I know, it seems a century ago. "There is no hope for improving traffic because the scale of the development absolutely will worsen traffic in adjacent neighborhoods and U.S. 1 intersections."

The whole of South Gables empties out onto US 1 at LeJeune, so from a purely demographic point of view -- which is what retailers and their consultants look at -- the intersection ought to be a winner.

Except that it is defeated by single driver, traffic-driven density.

This is, naturally, the same observation why the FEC railroad right of way must be converted, in its entirety, to a linear public park: because of existing traffic congestion, there is no place to fit commercial building without destroying economic opportunities already in place.

I kept my notes from the 1998 public meeting. "David Plummer, the project’s traffic consultant, began his presentation by describing a “series of meetings held by the developer” which none of the objectors in the audience had received invitations to. Traffic is the Achilles Heel of the Rouse Mall—whose ramifications were ignored by city commissioners last year when Mayor Valdez Fauli bulldozed approvals through the local permitting process without requiring the developer to disclose the devastating traffic impacts. The August 24th meeting verified points raised by citizens a year ago, although it scarcely matters since necessary approvals were issued before the facts were in. The Rouse Mall will worsen, absolutely, traffic in neighborhoods and the intersections on US Route 1 that are already the worst in the area."

Way back in 2013, an owner of Epicure, Jason Starkman, said he wanted to expand to Coral Gables for a long time. "We always knew the Gables was the place for us for year-round business. And I know people in the neighborhood will enjoy shopping here." They did, except for the traffic and that is the best argument for local public officials to deny commercial building permits for what should become Ludlum Trail.

Remember the Epicure!


Anonymous said...

Try finding a parking space on the weekend and then tell me that mall hasn't found its footing.

Anonymous said...

The turnover at the mall is breathtaking. Simon bought it out of bankruptcy.

Anonymous said...

The mall is doing quite well, has done quite well. I remember the doom and gloom predicted when it was planned. I spend a lot of time in the nearby residential neighborhoods and at the H.S. for my kids, and i just don't see much of an effect on anyone's quality of life.

Simon has nothing to do with that mall.

Epicure isn't closing because of too much traffic. It's closing because of not enough traffic. And because there are so many better, cheaper options within 5-7 minutes. Their prices are ABSURD!

the real POTENTIAL threat to that area is the planned development at the car dealership. pretty dense.

Geniusofdespair said...

All you Mall rats, that mall sucks. When I go the stores are empty. The only one making a killing was Yardhouse and the noise there will deafen all who dine there. As far as Epicure is concerned, if Miami Beach residents can afford the prices, Coral Gables can too. If access isn't easy, a store goes under. People are adverse to paying for parking when buying food.

Anonymous said...

Merrick Park is owned by General Growth Properties. No bankruptcy although they came close to losing control after the market collapse in '09.

Not sure about the corollary between traffic congestion, Epicure's Gables failure and prospects for the upzoning of the FEC property aka Ludlam Trail. Epicure's store was to large, poorly merchandized, poorly designed in terms of its orientation to the street and user interfaces, etc..

Anonymous said...

Who closes a food market at 8pm? I tried twice to shop there and it was closed both times. Epicure in Coral Gables lacked the impact that Trader Joe's brought to town yet Trader Joe's has limited parking because its parking lot is usually at capacity.

Anonymous said...

Epicure's merchandising is horrible. In the age of Whole Foods and Trade Joe's, Epicure still sells cookies from Trans Fats!!! They are clueless, they survive on the Beach because they appeal to an certain ethnic group and have limited shopping options for other food stores.
Yes traffic had an impact, look at the demize of the otherwise successful Argentinian grocery/deli in that mall, ground floor.
The Mall is a failure, the third floor is DEAD. Its more than parking and traffic its just poor planning. The only thing keeping that mall alive is the success of the condo developments.

Anonymous said...

My family shopped at the MB Epicure forever. The Coral Gables store was a disaster from day one. Starting with a staff who were not trained properly on food service and had no clue about food they were handling. The check out line was awful, purchases were thrown into the brown paper bags with no regard to the client and the employees conversed amongst each other during the process. My last visit was the last straw. One of the take out items had mold. Lesson to be learned. Don't be in business if you can't put together and supervise a good staff. They will ruin a business more than traffic issues.