Commentary by John Edward Smith

QUO VADIS

Where are we going?

This year marks the 85th anniversary of the founding of the City of South Miami.  First founded near Cocoplum, the settlement grew up in the late 1890s and early 1900s.  With the advancement of Flagler’s railroad, the development moved to what we now know as US1 and Sunset Drive.   First named Larkins, in honor of its founder, the city was later chartered in 1927.

Commerce flourished and a community was built around the literal economic engine coming through this new hamlet south of Miami.  Land was purchased and our community founders (some now may label them “developers”) invested in this growing community.  It was essentially our first T.O.D.D. (Transit Oriented Development District)!

Commerce.   Economic Development.  Growth.  Over the course of many years, we saw the growth of what is today the City of South Miami.  Look at the photos lining the walls of City Hall, and you will see its remarkable progression over the years.

After it was established however, the City fell on hard times with the devastating hurricanes of the period and the harsh realities of Great Depression.   It is a cautionary tale from the past: the City fell on hard times because business fell on hard times.  (A no-brainer there.)

In 1934, Holsum Bakery moved from the Homestead area and re-established in South Miami.  It was a huge economic boost to the city in the depression era.  Over the course of the ensuing years, we rebounded.  In the 1950s a community bank was established, and the corner at Sunset and Red Road was developed and dubbed “the Crossroads of town and country.”  It was a boom time in the sleepy town of South Miami.

One day we woke up and found that we were at the center of an urban metropolis (Miami-Dade County).  South Miami was on the map.  People invested in our town, and some did well, others, like the Bakery Center (mid-1980s), failed.   People saw the potential of what could be.

And that was good for us homeowners, as homeowners bore the brunt of the taxes that funded the city.  There was an inequity between the homeowner share and the commercial tax share.

We had a charrette in the early ‘90s to envision a new “downtown” South Miami.   Residents, business owners, homeowners and commercial property owners came together under the guidance of an urban planning group to put pencil to paper.   It was a great exercise together – good synergy and good positive thinking.  (I was pleased to have been part of that process.)

Subsequently “The Hometown Plan” was enacted by the City Commission.   It provided a blueprint for future growth in our “downtown district” and more immediately allowed for outdoor dining, wider sidewalks, and other pedestrian amenities that have helped draw residents and visitors to our retail/restaurant district.   Dorn Avenue (SW 59 Avenue) was the demonstration project; improvements on Sunset Drive followed  a couple of years later coincidental with the construction of The Shops at Sunset Place.

“Beware the  ‘DEVELOPERS’.”   Those are the people who are often berated as they attempt to invest their money into our town.  Go figure!  Where would many of us be in this town if a “developer” didn’t put shovel to the ground to build our homes and commercial properties to house our shops and restaurants.

We need to have people invest in our community and invest in our future.  As a homeowner, do you want to pay more than 50% of the property tax burden, or do you want to grow up and realize that a real city runs with a healthy mix? The real issue in my mind with some of “activists” who taunt the city commission is that they want to pretend they are living in the suburbs where tax on private homes support the entire community. We are not Levittown, not even close. We are an urban community with the sounds of the Metrorail, wailing sirens and the constant din of traffic rushing along US1. We are an urban community with real infrastructure: a thriving downtown, an award-winning hospital system, and a wonderfully diverse mix of people. We are a city, not a rural or suburban outpost.

Get a grip!  It’s convenient to label individuals as “developers” and hide behind a delusional mask.

After thirty plus years of living in South Miami, raising my daughter, building my business, and being involved in civic affairs, I would characterize the sentiment from the dais, particularly in these last four years, as finger-pointing at past officials.  Finger-pointing is not governance!

It is time to work together – ALL taxpayers, commercial and residential.  It is essential to embrace economic development and a positive growth attitude.

The City must embrace our business community – it’s good common sense and good business.  If our “mom and pop” businesses (which is the essential fabric of what makes us a unique and desirable community) don’t succeed, we all don’t succeed.

We must assure that the ad valorum tax base which determines our ability to properly run a municipal government is fair and equitable.   We must build a new synergy, a participatory partnership, based on sound economic principals, and especially mutual respect.

Over the last several years, what has been most damaging and disconcerting, in my estimation, is the revolving door of city managers and in turn key staff.  This has led to a lack of continuity with steep learning curves, a lack of forward motion, and a lack and appreciation of historicity.

South Miami is a unique community in a unique location.  We must capitalize on what our founders discovered and developed.   We are an urban community.  In the course of the next few years, we must address what is best for the US1 corridor by way of housing and business development.  We must profit from our uniqueness with our T.O.D.D. (Transit Oriented Development District) and allow it to reach its potential.

This election on Valentine’s Day is a watershed for the future of our community.  To those who are elected to fill two vacancies on the Commission and for Mayor, the message is the same.  Your legacy is our future. You will be held accountable for our stability and positive growth.

As we look forward to the year 2020 – our vision should indeed be 20/20.

Commerce.   Economic Development.  Growth.   These are the actions which brought us through the early days, and these are the words and actions which will ensure a sound future.

_______________________________________________

John Edward Smith is a resident of South Miami since 1974.

He established his marketing/management consulting business based here in 1982, and has been active in civic and community affairs for over thirty years.  For the past seven years, he has published SOMI Magazine.


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