Ask West Kendall bank executive Frank Irizarry to locate the center of West Kendall and without hesitation, he’ll answer, “It has to be SW 137th Avenue at Kendall Drive.
But define West Kendall, that’s another story!
Perhaps the most well-known community figure in the area, Irizarry should know.
He chaired a “MAC,” a Municipal Advisory Committee sanctioned by the county to study the potential of West Kendall incorporation. The group disbanded in 2003, largely due to a lack of citizen interest in West Kendall becoming a municipality.
“Citizen disinterest,” however, is the antipathy of Irizarry’s devotion to West Kendall, especially during the current year as chair of the West Kendall Business Association (WKBA). It’s only one of more than 30 government, school, civic and church organizations in which he has been active since leaving the gritty streets of “the city” and moving to Florida with a newly growing family.
“New York is just where I grew up, at the 26th Street Projects,” he now recalls with a grin. “My wife, Aline, came from a similar background in the Bronx, while I was the son of immigrant parents, a product of public housing on the lower West Side.
“We decided when our son, Frank III, reached 6 that New York’s city schools weren’t the place to bring up our son, and we up and moved to Florida, 35 years ago. Never had a reason to regret it.”
With a political science major from New York University while holding jobs that varied from an usher at Radio City Music Hall to a suit salesman, Irizarry, 55, has spent the past 33 years in banking with three major South Florida institutions: United National, BankUnited, and now FirstBank Florida as vice president of the Lago Mar Branch at 15780 SW 72 St.
And while banking is his vocation, Irizarry, for the past 16 years, has devoted near equal time to the still-growing, sections of Kendall, Miami-Dade’s largest unincorporated area.
“It’s inevitable that West Kendall will become incorporated, but what area or areas should become municipalities is the big question,” Irizarry stated. “An area this size, now estimated at close to 300,000 people, would become the second largest city in the county, only surpassed by the city of Miami itself.”
As Irizarry points out, the problem is that unlike neighbors in Pinecrest or Palmetto Bay, the sprawling size of Kendall is simply too big to define in terms of working city boundaries the way smaller and more cohesive county areas have incorporated.
It was West Kendall’s Community Council 11 in 2009 that last pinpointed the intersection of SW 137th Avenue and Kendall Drive (SW 88 Street) as a “center” of West Kendall for a potential charrette by the county’s Planning and Zoning Department for growth guidelines, a project that remains unfunded.
Limited to a diameter of a single mile outward from that intersection, the council added whatever mileage was necessary to extend the circle southward so it would reach SW 120th Street, the northern border of Kendall-Tamiami Executive Airport.
“That’s exactly right,” agreed Irizarry. “The airport has become a central focus for business growth along SW 137th Avenue and SW 136th Street, as well as SW 120th Street.”
It was the bustling growth of commercial activity around the satellite airport that helped give birth to the West Kendall Business Association, begun when some 15 business owners shared breakfast meetings at Calusa Country Club to discuss common interests in the mid-2000s. Irizarry credits WKBA’s first chairman, Jorge F. Pena, with providing the initial impetus that saw the association grow to its present size and influence.
As a guiding hand in that growth, Irizarry provided much of the spark that led to the Oct. 14 “Business Expo” (now in its fifth year), attracting more than 1,300 visitors to a 2-8 p.m. exhibit of 120 “home-grown” business enterprises at West Kendall’s Signature Gardens. Among its major co-sponsors: Comcast, 101.5 LITE/FM, Miami’s Community Newspapers, Nova Southeastern University, Miami Childrens’ Hospital, Lucky Start Builders, Baptist Health Systems and Kendall Regional Medical Center, as well as six area banks and credit unions.
“While the future of West Kendall remains somewhat of a political puzzle, WKBA organization’s future is welldefined,” Irizarry said. “We’re not a chamber- like organization that works to attract business or get involved directly in political matters. Our objective is to interface the small and medium-size business owners, giving them both a platform and a place to exchange business ideas and grow both the community and themselves,” he said.
“To that end, I have two major objectives: increase our membership from 300 to 400 over the next year, and come up with several new ideas to market West Kendall as a business center, especially those that will attract more individuals to become active both in commerce and the community.”
During the past 15 years Irizarry has found additional time to chair the Miami-Dade Police Department’s Hammocks District Citizens Advisory Committee, serve two years on West Kendall Community Council, act as founding chair of EESAC groups at both Doolin Middle School and Varela High School, serve the Lago Mar Community Association as treasurer for 14 years, hold four positions at St. Augustine Catholic Church from 1996 through 2008 and chair the last two West Kendall Relays for Life (2009 and 2010) to raise funds for cancer research.
As for Irizarry, who has served so many different organizations, what would he do if he ever considered retirement?
“Believe it or not, I’d become a crossing guard,” he said. “What better job could you hold to be of service to your family, the schools and the community, too,” or for a tireless civic leader whose key to success is a simple statement:
“Always put the right thing ahead of the smart thing.”