Palm trees planted down Ponce

Ponce de Leon Boulevard is returning to its roots.

The University of Miami contributed $59,486 to the City of Coral Gables for the installation of 358 Alexander palms on the existing median on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. The trees were planted last week.

The street, which is parallel to the Coral Gables campus, was home to this species of palms several decades ago, according to Patrick Salerno, Coral Gables city manager. However, the trees were destroyed over the years by hurricanes and disease and were never replaced.

City of Coral Gables commissioners approved the $110,950 project on March 13. Coral Gables is covering the remainder of the expenses.

Salerno believes the restoration will return the university’s entrance to how he remembers it. Salerno, who graduated from UM in 1973, was one of the principle negotiators of this agreement.

“It needs to represent the fine university that the University of Miami is,” he said. “The university obviously recognizes that what’s important to the university doesn’t just stop at the edge of campus.”

Margot Winick, vice president of UM media relations, also believes this development will enhance the university’s recognized greenery.

“The campus is like a big green space, and it’s our aim to make the university as inviting as possible,” she said.

Freshman Daniel Narciso agrees.

“I know the school is trying to be more academically forward so it competes academically with all other schools, but I guess to further distinguish themselves, they have to do it to make it look nicer looking than others,” he said.

Sophomore Gabrielle Roland takes the metro to school everyday and passes by Ponce de Leon. Though she finds the trees pretty, Roland is concerned whether the trees will be able to survive future storms.

“It’s high maintenance,” she said. “They kind of look wimpy, so I don’t know how they’re going to fare in a hurricane.”

Alexander Palms are common choices for South Florida medians. Although the trees aren’t native to South Florida, Steve Pearson, director of the John C. Gifford Arboretum, doesn’t believe they will present any environmental problems.

“Generally, palms are well-adapted to our area, and the only maintenance they sometimes require is what we call essential micronutrients,” he said.

The city negotiated a discounted price of $275 per tree with Manuel Diaz Farms, a Homestead-based company owned by an alumnus and Coral Gables resident. The deal also included a one-year warranty for the trees. When the warranty expires, the city will take over maintenance.

Coral Gables has worked with Manuel Diaz Farms previously – their contract with the Miami Dade Expressway Authority prices the same trees at $323.40. By piggybacking on another contract, the city avoided a long approval process.

Over the next few months, irrigation systems and ground cover, such as grass or low-lying plant material, will also be added.

This landscape project and other beautification improvements between Granada Boulevard and Red Road are part of the 20-year development agreement between the university and the city, which was passed August 2010.

“We have a common interest,” said Maria Fallons, Coral Gables public affairs manager. “The road is important for both the city and the university.”

Winick agrees.

“We have a long-standing partnership with the city, and we’re committed to benefiting the community as well as the university, of course,” she said.