May 18, 2021

Celebrating 50 Years

Florida's Turning Points Since 1958

Pivotal events over the past 50 years that have helped to shape Florida today.

Richard Nixon

1971: Nixon halts work on the Cross Florida Barge Canal after $63 million has been spent on the 107-mile structure. In 1998, the right of way becomes the Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway.

1972: Florida passes New Jersey as the eighth most populous state and passes Michigan later in the decade. During the 1960s, Florida gained more than 1.7 million residents.

1972: Led by Gov. Reubin Askew, the Legislature passes some of the most progressive environmental laws in the nation, including the Water Resources Act that created Florida’s system of water management districts.

1972: A new phase of Haitian immigration begins with the arrival of so-called “boat people.” The new immigrants are generally poorer than previous Haitian immigrants and tend to stay in south Florida, creating large enclaves in Miami and other south Florida communities.

1974: Speculation and overbuilding lead to the state’s worst real estate crash since the 1920s. The value of new construction falls from $7 billion to $2.8 billion.

I-751978: The state begins work on extending I-75 southward past Tampa. A task force of business interests pushes construction, which is completed in 1992 — more than a decade before its originally planned completion date of 2007.

1979: The town of Seaside takes shape on the Walton County coast. Designed by architects Andrés Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Seaside becomes an icon for “new urbanist” style that encourages community through architecture and town planning.

1979: The Seminole Tribe becomes the first in the country to offer high-stakes gambling, opening a bingo hall in Hollywood. Three years later, the tribe expands its bingo operations to Tampa. Later, the tribe begins offering poker and video slot machines. Gov. Charlie Crist weighs his options after the Florida Supreme Court rejects his 2008 compact with the tribe allowing it to offer other card games, including blackjack and baccarat, and Las Vegas-style slot machines.

Miami Vice
'Miami Vice'

1979: The daylight shootout-murder of a drug dealer at a liquor store at Miami’s Dadeland Mall launches the “cocaine cowboy” era reflected in the “Miami Vice” TV show. The cocaine wars resulted in hundreds of killings and ultimately brought a massive federal law enforcement presence to the area. Florida remains “a primary area for international drug trafficking and money laundering organizations,” according to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.


1980: Boatloads of Cuban refugees from the port of Mariel arrive in Florida.

Cuban Refugees
Cuban refugees
Some 125,000 refugees pour into Miami, including many from Cuban jails and mental institutions. Between 90,000 and 100,000 settle in Miami-Dade.

1981-83: A series of freezes hammers the state’s citrus-growing areas, accelerating the migration of groves southward — and overseas — from its traditional locus in central Florida. Today, Orange freeze the southwestern interior of the state produces nearly two-thirds of Florida’s overall crop.

1983: The Southwest Florida Regional Airport opens and becomes a major factor in the region’s development, hosting international flights since 1984. Today the facility handles more than 8 million passengers a year.

1986: The Mayo Clinic breaks ground on a branch in Jacksonville, its first facility outside its home state of Minnesota. Mayo is followed by Cleveland Clinic, which establishes facilities in 1988 in Weston and Naples.

1986: Citrus canker is discovered on Florida’s Gulf Coast — the third canker outbreak of the century. Declared eradicated, it reappeared in 1995, leading to a state policy that removes millions of trees all over Florida. In 2006, the federal government withdraws funding for Florida’s eradication program, saying it isn’t possible to eradicate canker because hurricanes in 2004-05 spread it too widely.

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