UM and Coral Gables near 20-year development agreement

The administration building now known as the art building is slated for historical renovations. Adrianne D'Angelo // Assistant Photo Editor
The administration building now known as the art building is slated for historical renovations. Adrianne D'Angelo // Assistant Photo Editor

At a campus that has seen enormous growth since it was first imagined 84 years ago in a city that is notoriously difficult to build in, an agreement has been struck that will determine the University of Miami’s future for the decades to come.

On Aug. 11 the Coral Gables Planning and Zoning Board passed a new development initiative that will provide the university with greater clarity as to where they can build and how they can expand over the next 20 years.

The new development agreement will affect multiple projects already proposed on campus and re-zones the campus as a whole.

Major changes will include the approval for an additional 1,830 seats and the sale of alcohol at the BankUnited Center, the re-zoning of the area in front of the BUC, now known as the Serpentine parking lot, for commercial and private development and the five-year postponement of the controversial internal road, originally planned to cut through the Gifford Arboretum.

Between 1943 and 1948 Miami architects Robert Law Weed and Marion I. Manley worked with the first president of the university, Bowman Foster Ashe, to develop a new master plan for the modern and growing university.

“UM was on the cutting edge in the ‘40s,” said Carie Penabad, an associate professor of architecture here at UM. “It promoted a radical modernist agenda.”

Because much of the campus was built during the post-war years when economic feasibility was a major concern, the master plan proposed by Weed and Manley featured stripped down modern architecture aimed at exploring the climate of South Florida.


Named after Coral Gables founder George Merrick and his father Solomon G. Merrick, the Merrick building was completed in 1949 by cladding an existing structural skeleton that had stood for nearly two decades with a modern economical design.


The Jerry Herman Ring Theatre was completed in 1952 and was the first building in the music and fine arts zone.


Originally completed in 1946, the apartment area spanned across 60 acres and consisted of 533 apartments designed by Weed and Manley.

The apartment area was originally designated as housing for married veterans and their families and was financed through the Federal Housing Administration.


Completed in 1948, the University of Miami Student Union, now the University Center, featured a cafeteria, an outdoor patio and overlooked the lake.


Designed by  Manley and completed in 1947, this wooden structure was the university’s first administration building and at one time housed the library and the president’s office. The administration building was completed using war surplus materials and was originally intended as a semi-permanent structure.


The Howard Dooley Memorial Classroom Building was built in 1947 and was the first permanent building on campus.


The university’s 2006 master plan was adopted earlier this month in the development agreement between the city and the university. The 20-year development agreement has been likened to a “renewal of marriage vows” between the city and the university.

The city of Coral Gables has created a new zoning district specifically for the university, called the “university campus,” and is made up of three distinct areas: a buffer zone that is the first outlying 75 feet of campus, a transition zone that includes the buffer and the next 225 feet of campus and the core, the innermost part of campus. These zones are intended to maximize the university’s flexibility within the campus core.


Beginning Jan. 1, the BankUnited Center will be allowed to serve alcoholic beverages and seating will be expanded from 8,000 to 9,380.


The area known as the Serpentine parking lot, adjacent to Ponce De Leon Boulevard, has been rezoned and designated as a “Campus Multi-Use Area.”

This area will be the home to a new health center, that will partner with the UM Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Bascom Palmer Eye Center, and will include sports medicine, diagnostic imaging and other outpatient programs.

“We need to bring all of our tremendous resources at the medical school closer to campus,” said Joseph Natoli, senior vice president of business and finances for the university. “We’re currently thinking about what kind of health center we could build.”

To make up for the parking the university will loose in this area, the city of Coral Gables will require the university to submit a comprehensive mobility plan that will identify how it would reduce vehicular trips inside and outside campus, and promote a more pedestrian-friendly campus.


The historical significance of the apartment area is still being debated.


Though still required by the city, the internal road rumored to cut through the Gifford Arboretum has been placed “on hold” for five years.

“We will further evaluate the road and one of our goals will be to minimize the impact on the arboretum,” Natoli said.


As part of the university’s mobility plan, parking lots like the law school parking lot will be brought up to code with larger spots and better drainage.


The ramshackle art building with a chain-link fence around it has been deemed historically significant and will undergo a renovation process that will fully restore it as an important piece of UM’s history.

“Being in these wooden buildings set against the Gifford Arboretum is kind of magical; it may not seem like it now with a chain-link fence surrounding it, but it is worth preserving,” Penabad said. “They represent a unique moment in our nation’s history.”

According to Natoli, the other wooden art buildings will eventually be torn down.


Construction on the new university center, and other new buildings in the core area of campus, will remain under suspension until the university has the funds to continue their plans.

Laura Edwins may be contacted at