Don't Harm the Charm

Residents of tiny Miami Springs are doing battle over their town's future

The problem, according to Suco, is that much of the success of revitalization will depend on the city attracting developers to downtown, and developers, he believes, are not going to be interested in building cute little hometown shops. They're going to want to tear down old buildings and erect in their place businesses that appeal to the masses. Suco and others contend that the powers that be -- namely much of the incumbent city council and certain real estate types who support them -- would benefit from such an approach since some of them own property downtown. He asks why the chamber of commerce and city council haven't been more supportive of the small businesses already located downtown. Then he answers his own question. "Instead of marketing the businesses, the chamber tried to crush them, because if they were doing well, they wouldn't be able to complain about how bad the businesses are doing," he grumbles. "They want to do a top-down [revitalization], not a bottom up."

Some other townspeople share Suco's suspicions. "I think they're lining their pockets," cracks Carol Snoke, a Cozy Corner waitress with bright red nails and hair to match. "They don't encourage businesses. They say they do, but they don't make things easy for them." Karen Coons, fellow waitress and daughter of the diner's owner, believes some parts of the revitalization plan would help businesses. She recognizes that Miami Springs isn't what it once was, but that it could still be vital. People are just scared, she reasons, scared they'll lose control of the process and of everything they like about the town. "It's like a self-contained little world here," Coons explains. "Taxes are higher, but services are good and you get a say in what happens."

Assistant City Manager Borgmann acknowledges there's a difference of opinion regarding how much commercial development should be allowed in Miami Springs. But he argues that the city needs more businesses to support a larger share of the tax base, and the only feasible area for commercial growth is downtown and along NE 36th Street. "When you stop and look at the fact that we are landlocked, we don't really have anywhere to go," Borgmann maintains. "I don't think any politician in this town in their right minds would say they were going to bulldoze residential areas."

Downtown Miami Springs: Preserving the village flavor is a hot topic this campaign season
Steve Satterwhite
Downtown Miami Springs: Preserving the village flavor is a hot topic this campaign season

Six-year council member and current mayoral candidate Richard Wheeler thinks the problem with downtown is that businesses are not accommodating the changing needs of consumers, and so residents are going elsewhere to shop. He points to the long tenures of several on the city council as evidence that most in Miami Springs are happy with the city's direction. The unusual number of candidates in this election he attributes to the power vacuum created when term limits prevented current Mayor John Cavalier from running again, and two councilmen -- Wheeler and Eric Elza -- gave up their seats to campaign for mayor. But several slow-growthers running in the election hope voters will side with them. Architect Martin Marquez, a candidate for city council and a vocal opponent of the redevelopment plan, sees the city as a delicate ecosystem that must remain balanced if it is to work. He fears that lots of new apartments and big businesses will ruin Miami Springs. It won't be special anymore. It'll be Hialeah. Says Marquez: "The best thing I can do is try to grab this thing and keep it from going off the cliff."

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