Category Archives: Homestead, Florida

Homestead: A Tale of Two Cities

As Charles Dickens rolled in his grave, I came to a stop at the intersection of US 1 and Campbell Drive (SW 312 ST).

The images of City Hall, Harris Field, and the areas surrounding this particular intersection still very much alive in my mind 15 years later. Few conversations regarding Homestead ever go over the 2-minute mark without making reference to what happened on that fateful Monday morning of August 24, 1992.

While Bryan Norcross and Rick Sanchez – in his mesh Minnesota Twins baseball cap – were becoming local celebrities and advancing their professional careers, South Dade residents were left wondering what 126,000 severely damaged (some destroyed) homes, 180,000 homeless people, and $30 Billion in damage ($16 Billion insured) meant.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, few could have imagined that more than 600,000 insurance claims would be filed, that approximately 25% of the nation’s insurance adjusters would temporarily make South Florida home, that eleven (11) insurance companies would go bankrupt, that thirty (30) others would lose up to 20% or more of their surplus, that about 930,000 policyholders would be left with no coverage options, that insurance regulations and construction codes would be completely overhauled, that government-created insurance pools and catastrophe funds would come to existence, that “wind policy” would become part of our (realtors, mortgage brokers, insurance agents, etc.) everyday vocab, that life in South Dade, as residents knew it, would never be the same again.

At the time that Andrew flattened homes and left acreage upon acreage of lime groves in South Dade looking like raw vacant land, Homestead Air Force Base was home to 6,000 airmen and their families, 2,000 civilian jobs, and represented $400 million annually to the local economy.

That changed overnight. Literally.

Ninety-seven percent (97%) of the Base’s facilities were severely damaged or destroyed. Already listed as one of several bases to be downsized, the recovery was deemed too expensive and not militarily justifiable. The Pentagon, much to the chagrin of Poppa Bush’s political motivations, pulled most of its personnel and activities out of the base. To say that city leaders were left with a huge void to fill would be an insulting understatement.

Today, the former Air Force Base serves as the Homestead Air Reserve Base. It sits on approximately half of the 2,900-acre property. The other half is leased to Miami-Dade County and other agencies by the Air Force. A Job Corps center, a homeless shelter, and a park inhabit the surplus half.

Disasters tend to expose the problems that exist in a community prior to the disaster. Remember the Big Facil after Katrina? With Homestead Air Force Base no longer in existence, Homestead was back to being nothing more than an agricultural-based economy. Not a bad thing if one was living during the Neolithic Revolution, but an agricultural-based economy at the inception of the Information Age?

Homestead was left to rebuild with a rising Hispanic population, migrant workers mostly from Mexico and Central America, the poorest of Homestead’s work force.

The middle class, mostly retirees with enough income to spend on something more than survival goods, was gone. So too were the retirees with federal Medicare coverage who helped turn out a $850,000 profit at Homestead Hospital the year before the storm – replaced by poor families with no health insurance who often cannot afford treatment.

How do you fill a $400 million gap in your local economy, you ask?

How do you prevent the flight of middle-class residents from Homestead at a time when you need them the most?

How do you bring them back once they’ve left?

How do you replace them if they refuse to come back?

I knew you would be asking yourselves these very same questions.

Got any answers?

Don’t look at me. The answers to those questions are not exactly 2 + 2 = 5. I’m just a realtor, dude. I sit in front of a computer all day and wait for my phone to ring.

I don’t know if I have the answers to those questions, but I think I do know how you don’t fill a $400 million gap in your local economy.

You don’t build a $22 million baseball complex complete with a 6,500-seat stadium, five practice fields, a clubhouse, batting cages, dormitory, four softball fields, and special events areas and lease it to the Cleveland Indians for 20 years.

I know, I know, hindsight is 20/20 and one shouldn’t kick anybody when they’re down. After all, the Cleveland Indians opted to move to Winter Haven after Andy came through for fear of losing their “middle-class” fans and left the City hanging.

Or did they? The team exercised a clause in its contract and pulled out – before ever pulling in – without penalty.

Adding insult to injury, Homestead spent an additional $9 million repairing the damage to the complex. It costs an average of $300,000 annually to maintain a complex that takes in only about $90,000 per year. To this day, the complex sits tenantless.

Apparently, the other 18 major league teams that train in Florida during the spring don’t think that traveling to Homestead makes much logistical sense. The team that trains closest to Homestead, the Baltimore Orioles, is close to 70 miles north in Ft. Lauderdale. Add to that the price of gas and…

Homestead officials finally gave up trying to sell or lease the baseball complex in 2005. According to City Manager Curt Ivy, the complex “will remain a recreational area for the community” unless something better comes along. I hear some beer-leaguers play really important softball games select weekends at the complex.

“Go Indians…(belch)!”

In the late 90s, local business and political leaders planned to build a commercial airport on the grounds of the still idle aforementioned Homestead Air Force Base. Its intention was to ease the burden of Miami International Airport and coincidentally serve as an engine for Homestead’s struggling economy.

City leaders envisioned a two-runway commercial airport that would serve as the landing spot of choice for tens of thousands of cargo and passenger flights each year. Ancillary development would soon follow and Homestead would become the Miami Springs of the south – on steroids.

Environmental groups like Friends of the Everglades strongly opposed the plan from the get go, citing the danger that an airport of that magnitude posed to its neighbors, the Everglades, and Biscayne National Park – not to mention Turkey Point just five miles to the southeast.

The Air Force shot down the plan. Twice to be exact. They went as far as adding a deed restriction to the area leased to the county stipulating that the area cannot be converted into a commercial airport.

Driving through Kendall Drive – excuse me – Campbell Drive east of US 1 and the Florida Turnpike, one would never imagine that the commercial airport never materialized. Dozens of subdivisions containing thousands of single-family homes, townhomes, and condominium units with original names like Villa Portofino, Malibu Bay, Waterstone, Crystal Lakes, and Oasis adorn stretches of Campbell Drive and the surrounding area. Hundreds, if not thousands more are under construction.

According to the US Census Bureau, Homestead grew an estimated 68.5% from 2000-2006 (31,909 to 53,767). Furthermore, the city’s director of development services, Shari Kamali, has confirmed that 2,882 certificates of occupancy (CO) for residential units were issued in fiscal year 2006 alone.

An additional 4,332 COs for residential units were issued in fiscal years 2003-2005. A City of Homestead community profile available on the City’s website expects the population to increase to over 70,000 by 2011. Miami-Dade County officials expect it to reach about 137,000 in the year 2015.

Campbell Drive is also home to the new $135 million Homestead Hospital. Located at 975 Baptist Way on the north side of Campbell Drive just east of the Florida Turnpike, the Baptist Health owned hospital replaces the old one at 160 NW 13 ST and features 120 beds in all private patient rooms, an emergency room double the size of the old one, and six operating rooms with equipment and layouts said to be among the most advanced in South Florida.

The hospital is expected to exceed 300 beds in 10 to 15 years. Despite the large investment, Homestead Hospital CEO Bill Duquette expects the hospital to lose about $30 million in 2007. He believes the hospital will come closer to breaking even in five to six years when a “better payer mix” moves to the area.

“Better payer mix”? Is that wishful thinking or perceived reality?

It’s not that I don’t want to see Homestead Hospital (or the City of Homestead for that matter) succeed. It’s just that I look around the “other Homestead” and all I see is a sterile environment that serves as a poster child for urban sprawl and poor community planning.

I don’t see how this environment can appeal to the people that can provide Homestead with the “better payer mix”. A development strategy that attempts to appeal only to traditional families at a time when only an estimated 23.5% of the American population lives in the standard nuclear family with two parents and children at home is a recipe for disaster.

Conformity, fitting in, and “playing your position”, characteristics that defined the organizational age, are no longer the norms in a post 911 society. The strong bonds that once gave structure to society have been replaced by weak ties that allow us to meet different people, make friends and acquaintances with people from all walks of life, and live quasi-anonymous lives. Long gone are the days of “el compromiso”.

Talented and creative professionals, what should be not only Homestead’s, but every city’s target market, seek vibrancy, abundant natural amenities, and most of all, the opportunity to live in a community that allows them to validate their identity and express their individuality and creativity.

You don’t attract these people by recreating every other new age suburb in America. You don’t attract these people by building thousands upon thousands of cookie cutter homes in homogenized subdivisions. You don’t attract these people by building poorly designed shopping centers and strip malls with loads of unsightly surface parking. You don’t attract these people via big name chain restaurants like Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday’s and McDonald’s. You don’t attract these people by bringing in Wal-Mart, Lowe’s, Home Depot, and all the other usual suspects into your community in the name of service sector jobs. You definitely don’t attract these people when five schools, including both high schools, zoned to your area receive an “F” in their FCAT performance.

You attract these people by creating a unique experience. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” strategy. Cities have to build off of the unique assets already in existence, which is why I feel so strongly about Homestead. City leaders had an opportunity to get it right and build off of the feeling evoked by downtown Main Street (Krome Avenue) on the original side of the city, but chose (consciously or not) to do the exact opposite. Instead of smart growth, they went for tax base growth.

I can only wonder who will eventually fill the thousands of housing units that sit vacant or are currently under construction. Will it be the teachers, firemen, and policemen who work in Monroe County, but can’t afford to live there? Will it be those performing menial jobs in other parts of Miami-Dade County? Will it be those displaced from currently undervalued neighborhoods in the urban core by the very people Homestead should have attracted? Will it be a combination of all three and/or others I have not mentioned?

As I head north on US 1 and make my way out of Homestead back to the friendly confines of tall buildings, concrete jungles, and construction cranes, Kanye’s words, spoken over a Daft Punk sample, take on a whole new meaning:

“Does anybody make real sh*t anymore?”.

Adrian Salgado is a Realtor Associate with DaSH – A Real Estate Company in Coral Gables, FL and can be reached at 305-491-7179 or SalgadoA@gmail.com.

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The ‘Stead on the Sabbath

Sunday.

To some, it’s the first day of the week. To others, the seventh. Some use it as a day to worship. Others use it as a day to relax, wind down, watch big men in tights play with an oval pigskin, mentally prepare for another agonizing workweek.

For me, Sunday is a day usually filled with lethargy. A day to lie in bed past 10:00 a.m., read the newspaper, watch some TV (at somebody else’s house, of course), take a dip in the pool, a late afternoon jog on the Rickenbacker Causeway. You know – get away from the monotony that consumes a lot of our Monday through Friday routine.

This past Sunday needed to be different. I yearned for something different. Something away from tall buildings and cranes, people even. It was time to play good ole tourist in my own backyard, something long overdue.

So I took a shower that day, made sure I smelled good, jumped in my ride, loaded 3 albums currently on heavy rotation in my CD changer (Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”, The Beatles’ “White Album”, Kanye West’s “Graduation”), and headed south on US 1 to visit the second oldest city in Miami-Dade County.

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Before reaching my ultimate destination, however, a pit stop at Bargain Town, located at Packing House Road and SW 244 ST just west of US 1, was necessary. Its appearance, recently altered by the South Miami-Dade Busway that separates it from US 1, instantly takes me back to Taxco, Mexico at the age of eight. It was one of those summer vacations that was really a trip, not a vacation (thanks Mom, thanks Dad), where I was looking for the swimming pool at every stop of the way only to be faced with 50 degree weather while trying to convince my mom that 50 degrees was warm enough for me to do the 200 meter butterfly stroke. Anyways, immediately upon entry into Bargain Town one senses the community – rural community – formed by Mexican and Central American immigrants drawing on experiences left behind in their native homelands. Women dress in indigenous wear, while men don cowboy outfits in honor of their favorite Narco film-inspired action hero. Modelo Especial is the beer of choice around these parts. Numerous garbage cans filled with empty bottles spilling onto the ground tell me so.

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Upon relieving myself and perusing through the various indoor and outdoor kiosks carrying new and used goods, not finding any bargains, and catching one last waft from the roasted corn kiosk, it was time to continue my journey down south.

Back on US 1 I couldn’t help but notice how smooth that particular stretch of pavement has gotten. “First sign of progress?”, I wondered.

Next stop: Goodwill Superstore in Homestead Plaza, where serendipity proved to be on my side. As I meandered my way through the men’s section, a tailor fit long sleeve shirt caught my eye from afar. Price tag? Five beans. You have got to be kidding me. Who gives up on quality fashion? I grabbed it just before the guy behind me, whose eyes glanced and spotted the shirt at the exact moment I lunged towards it, got an opportunity to visualize himself in it. The Dennis Rodman “box out” proved to be a worthy technique.

New old shirt in tow, I jumped back in the sedan and headed west to the southern end of Krome Avenue, downtown Homestead’s Main Street. With its small town atmosphere, refurbished Mediterranean revival structures, specialty stores, antique shops, the Homestead Sun, the Seminole Theatre, ArtSouth, and authentic Mexican eateries amongst other interesting and unique retail opportunities, it suddenly donned on me that downtown Homestead is the only area in all of South Miami-Dade that truly offers an urban village-like experience in a suburban, almost rural setting.

Miami-Dade College’s Homestead Campus, which now houses five permanent facilities on its site, and the must-see one block stretch of Washington Avenue flocked with Hispanic immigrant owned businesses that offer everything from tax preparation services to dollar store knickknacks, are a short walk from Main Street. Also within walking distance is the last phase of the now almost complete South Miami-Dade Busway, an exclusive, two-lane, two-direction roadway built on an abandoned Florida East Coast Railroad right-of-way, which will go all the way down to SW 344 ST (Palm Drive) and serve as a “convenient” alternative to get South Miami-Dade residents (and their cars) off of US 1 and into express buses that will take them as far north as the Dadeland South Metrorail station.

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The site of the now half-razed Borges Market (IGA) sits nearby. I was saddened to see the somewhat MiMo influenced structure in its current state. I was looking forward to having a tall 99-cent can of Arizona Green Tea sitting out front as Mexican and other immigrants go about their business in the heavily trafficked aforementioned strip on Washington Avenue. It was not to be on this day. I had to settle for digital photographs of the fenced-in façade that sparked a similar, although much less intensive, nostalgic feeling to the one I felt when I took Polaroid photographs of Bobby Maduro Stadium (Miami Stadium to the old schoolers who remember seeing Cal Ripken, Jr. and Don Mattingly train during the spring in preparation for the upcoming regular season) just days before it was demolished to make way for Miami Stadium Apartments. It still stings every time I stop in the Arab-owned corner store (the owner swears I’m of Arab descent – Mom? Dad?) across the street on NW 10 AVE and daydream about what and who once stood there. For Pete’s sake, Public Enemy, Two Live Crew, and Run DMC all performed at Miami Stadium. No respect for history I tell you.

I always marveled at the size and shape of the lot on which Borges Market (IGA) once sat. Located on a triangular-shaped lot bordering Washington Avenue (Homestead has one too) to the west, Parkway Avenue to the southeast, and Civic Court to the northeast, I always felt that its highest and best use was not a rundown supermarket whose better days were stuck in a time warp left way behind.

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Apparently, City of Homestead officials felt the same way when the City purchased the large swath of land to build a new City Hall that will accommodate the increasing demands of its population. Described as an awe-inspiring architectural masterpiece by council members who viewed drawings of the building’s façade and interior design, the three-story, 79,580 square foot structure will house most city departments and the Council Chambers, which will seat 300. The second floor will also house an Emergency Operations Center designed to withstand those oh-so-memorable Category 5 hurricane winds.

As I drove south on Krome Avenue through its southernmost tip, past the Landmark Hotel and the Redland Hotel to the east towards Florida City, the face of progress cannot be ignored. Anyone who visited this area of Homestead five years ago can see the changing face of its streetscape, the freshly painted facades of older commercial buildings, the busway cutting through a long-forgotten stretch of Henry Flagler’s railway, a slight sense of civic pride.

The change caught me by surprise – a little bit. The image of a natural disaster ravaged area is not the first to come to mind anymore. One can almost visualize an area teeming with life. Not the life experienced in the wee hours of the morning in the debauchery zones of South Beach and other areas closer to the urban core, but the life seen in Pleasantville-type films of yesteryear where people walk to the grocery store, the drug store, the hardware store, the movie theater, restaurants, the library, a bookstore, school, work, and all the other places we drive to these days no matter how close to home they are.

Approaching Florida City on Krome Avenue, directly east of where I stood, I saw a very tall sign towering over US 1 reminiscent of the ones seen in Kissimmee, Florida on the way to see the Mouse. This particular one caught my eye. It advertises Cracker Barrel. It lets one know that the restaurant is open for business hundreds of feet below. Paying close attention to the growl in my empty stomach, I was suddenly faced with an important decision. Cracker Barrel or El Toro Taco? Corporate America or Mom & Pop? Although I couldn’t have gone wrong with a fully loaded Chicken Burrito and a frosty Modelo Especial, the Eggs in a Basket (which, by the way, are not on the menu in this particular location) and the freshly squeezed lemonade from the country kitchen were calling out my name.

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Besides, I was still playing tourist. Remember?

La Proxima Semana

Part Deux: The Other Homestead

Adrian Salgado is a Realtor Associate with RED I Realty in Miami, FL and can be reached at 305-491-7179 or SalgadoA@gmail.com. Call him and tell him what a swell guy he is.

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