Coral Gables looks at leveling oldest downtown building
Written by Katherine Lewin on December 4, 2018
Whether the old LaSalle Cleaners building will be demolished and turned into a 35-space surface parking lot will come back to the Coral Gables City Commission on Dec. 11 for discussion. The commission previously supported the resolution that included demolishing the building and replacing it with the parking lot, which the city would lease for five years from the owner, Mirella LaSalle.
But according to city staff, “things are pending” and “the owners do not want to proceed with negotiations until the demolition permit is issued, and the demolition permit cannot be issued until a demolition plan is submitted.” The city had received no demolition plan as of publication.
In July, commissioners voted unanimously to rescind the resolution they had passed in March that instructed former City Manager Cathy Swanson-Rivenbark to negotiate a temporary lease agreement for the parking lot after demolition. The commission also voted unanimously to instruct Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark and her staff to try to have “good faith” negotiations with Ms. LaSalle to preserve the building instead of demolishing it.
However, there is no way for the commission itself to stop demolition even though it changed its stance on the parking lot after significant public outcry against the deal.
It’s also not possible to try again and designate it a historic landmark. The city historic resource department previously claimed the building is a historic landmark and meets four criteria to be considered historic even though only one is needed for protection. But even with those qualifications, the preservation board for the city didn’t designate it historic. It was after the denial that Ms. LaSalle offered the deal to the city.
A memo from Dr. Karelia Martinez Carbonell, president of the Historic Preservation Association of Coral Gables, said the building being denied a historic designation could be attributed to the Feb. 16, 2017, meeting where the vote by the Historic Preservation Board took place. No preservationists were serving on the nine-member volunteer board – it consisted of five architects, one developer, one lawyer, one designer and one friend of a former mayor, the memo said.
At the July 2018 commission meeting, Ms. LaSalle’s legal counsel told the commission that Ms. LaSalle wanted to move forward with the demolition no matter what, though she was willing to meet with Ms. Swanson-Rivenbark and her staff before demolition.
The two-story Mediterranean building dates to the city’s founding in the early 1920s. In 1924, it became the offices of the construction company of George Merrick, the city’s developer. The building sits opposite City Hall and is the last surviving commercial structure from the original business district of the early 1900s.
The LaSalle building was home to LaSalle Cleaners for over seven decades. This year, LaSalle Cleaners moved across the street.