Florida City Mayor Otis Wallace and Vice Mayor R.S. Shiver survey the construction of the newest of Florida City’s hotels.

Mayor Otis Wallace and Vice-Mayor R.S. Shiver have worked together for three decades, for the benefit of Florida City citizens, businesses and community.

In today’s News Leader you’ll find a very special section focusing on the history of Florida City.

But, since ‘Enquiring Minds Want to Know’ what the future holds for this progressive city we sat down with Mayor Otis Wallace and Vice Mayor R.S. Shiver.

I anticipated lunch with these gentlemen at one of Florida City’s fine restaurants. Would it be Cracker Barrel, Golden Corral, Applebee’s, the Longhorn Steak House, the Farmer’s Market?. Finally, my phone rang with an offer of Southern hospitality, “…do you like chicken gizzards? We’re in for a home cooked meal at R.S.’s shop?” Well, to be truthful, I was not too excited about the invitation remembering a bite into a ‘rubbery chicken gizzard’ in my grandmother’s soup some 60 years ago. They often ended up on the floor and were scoffed away by my trusty dog who was there to save me. But this time it was different as we entered Shiver’s office to the pleasing aroma finding several bowls of ‘gizzard soup’ cooling on the desk. I took a small bite and was very pleasantly surprised. In fact, we all had a second bowl. Shiver gave us the secret, “got to cook them in a pressure cooker for an hour.”

Now, it was time to get down to business. The first topic had to do with what was under construction in Florida City right now. Mayor Wallace jumped in with an answer, “There is a lot happening. From the long awaited Waffle House to several more hotels. Our hotel occupancy rate of 75% is as high as that in Orlando while construction costs are a fraction. There is a six-story Hilton with 97 units about to be added to the completed, five-story, 87-unit Hilton already in place. A Marriot, with over 100 units, is in the planning stage.”

Wallace continued, “We consider these as day trip hotels since they are close to the Keys, the National Parks and local attractions, including Miami. There are 5.8 million cars per year passing through the area with an average of two people per car.” Wallace pointed out that Florida City cannot entertain all visitors but, “We sell the outside businesses in surrounding cities and attractions.”

Wallace and Shiver talked about the rising tax base and pointed out that varied uses of properties within the city are a key to balance. Florida City does not want all their eggs in one basket.

For example, in residential development, they strive for both market rate housing along with subsidized housing within a mix of businesses and attractions.

Wallace added, “We are seeing middle class migration coming to the area not only from the cities to the north of us, but from the Keys as well.” This only proves that there is more bang for the buck in the South Dade area.

The conversation turned to traffic and jobs. Both Shiver and Wallace agreed that traffic is a growing problem but with density growth, the need for local goods and services creates local employment. This is evident with the construction of new local businesses in Florida City. Shiver pointed out that the Waffle House will be a 24-hour operation with three shifts that will offer upwards of 35-40 jobs.

Wallace added that the absolute number one question he gets about development is, "When is the Waffle House coming”!

They added that local employment decreases the need to travel towards Miami for work. That will benefit the everyday, very real situation of commute times of over an hour to get to jobs to the north. It was pointed out that many employees in the Upper and Middle Keys can no longer afford to live near work, especially after Hurricane Irma. To the credit of the county, affordable bus service runs from Florida City as far south as Marathon for only five dollars.

Mayor Wallace shared some of Florida City’s victories, citing Walmart’s, which only reluctantly opened their store after miscalculating its success. That store bloomed into the top tier, surpassing the number three level they expected. This led to employment of over 600 people and a series of Walmart stores in the surrounding area. Cracker Barrel originally scoffed about the offer to come to Homestead but after seeing the success of Golden Corral reconsidered and built in Florida City. To their delight they established a successful location. Longhorn Steak House and K & G Cycles recently opened their doors employing over 100 people. Kings Court Casino has exceeded its expectations in their poker/jai alai facility. Also added were several shopping centers and including a very busy Home Depot. The 14-acre city owned RV Park at Davis Parkway and Krome Ave. is for sale and close attention is being given to potential development ideas.

I told the two community leaders that the success of the growth of Florida City is like rolling a snowball down a hill…as the momentum builds, the size of expansion quickly multiplies. In the case of Florida City, this happens only under the guidance of good management. I asked what is the secret to the City’s success?

Mayor Wallace slowly leaned back in his chair stating one word. “Steady.” He said he uses that word because his team will not move too fast without a plan. “Rockets crash don’t they? Steady.”

Shiver added, “The city and its employees are here to teach what to do, not on what not to do.” The Mayor continued, “In other words, our job is not to impede. We work for the people. Follow the rules, but be helpful.”

We wrapped up our meeting looking to future plans. Mentioned was the 38 acres owned by the Brunetti family where the jai-alai facility and poker room have been built. Mayor Wallace stated, “The Brunetti’s are land owners and developers with a heart for family entertainment. We’ll have to wait on that one.”

As for the 14.6-acre camp site owned by the city, they have received several offers but “want the highest and best use for the property creating as many jobs as possible.”

The property that housed the Mutineer Restaurant is also on the market by its present owners.

Finally, we shifted to the newly annexed property west of Florida City’s old boundaries. Mayor Wallace noted that development of the new property was not in the immediate plans. “We have so much land inside the previous boundary to work with.”

In closing, Mayor Wallace made an assuring statement, “We are not in competition with the surrounding cities. If fact, we work closely with each other, with an understanding that visitors to the area share interest in attractions that are not limited by city boundaries.”

Note: R.S. Shiver has been an elected official of Florida City since 1962 which is a state record. Mayor Wallace is the longest serving black mayor in Florida’s history. Together, these two dedicated men have put Florida City on the map as one of Florida’s fastest growing cities.

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