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Florida's Turning Points Since 1958


1958: Gulf American Land Corp. builds the first homes in Cape Coral, dredging and filling wetlands on a 103-square-mile tract known as Redfish Point. Florida later passes anti-dredge laws like the 1967 Randell Act and other environmental laws, but statewide more than 700,000 acres of wetlands have disappeared since the 1970s. Cape Coral today is the largest city in southwest Florida.

Fidel Castro

1959: Fidel Castro takes over as ruler of Cuba after the abdication of Gen. Fulgencio Batista. Castro’s victory sets off a flood of immigration to the U.S. that changes Florida as much as any single event in the last 50 years. Post-Castro Miami becomes the epicenter of the state’s Cuban population — and ultimately, of hemispheric trade; Cuban entrepreneurs vitalize the city’s and state’s economy; exile politics continue to dominate the regional landscape and influence state and national politics.

Daytona 1959
[Photo: AP]

1959: In February, nearly 42,000 people pay $8 apiece to watch the first running of what would become the Daytona 500.

1960: Amid racial violence in St. Augustine and a trial of civil rights protesters in Tallahassee, Gov. LeRoy Collins makes a speech, broadcast statewide, declaring it morally wrong to discriminate. The move is credited with setting Florida on a more moderate racial course than its southern neighbors.

1961: The Atlantic Coast Line railroad moves its headquarters from Wilmington, N.C., to Jacksonville, at the time the largest single move of employees by a southeastern company. Subsequent mergers and acquisitions transform ACL into CSX.

[Photo: NASA]

1961: Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut, is launched into space from Cape Canaveral Space Center, inaugurating the space industry in Florida and leading to the Apollo moon exploration program and the space shuttle.

1962: Federal regulators’ rejection of a proposed merger by four big Florida banks — along with state banking laws that limit branch banking — constrains Florida banks’ ability to grow. Lawmakers ease restrictions in 1975, but after barriers to interstate banking fall in 1986, every major bank headquartered in the state is ultimately acquired by an out-of-state firm. NationsBank acquires the last large Florida-headquartered bank, Barnett, in 1997.

Wayne Huizenga
H. Wayne Huizenga

1962: H. Wayne Huizenga starts what would become Waste Management in Pompano Beach. Over the next four decades, he builds two other Fortune 500 companies — Blockbuster Entertainment and AutoNation — and becomes Florida’s best-known billionaire.

1962: A U.S. Supreme Court decision opens the door to federal court intervention in state legislative reapportionment decisions, leading to the election of a number of urban, progressive legislators and the decline in power of so-called “pork choppers” — rural legislators. The reconstituted Legislature rewrites the state Constitution, enacts a corporate income tax and expands social services.

1963: The Legislature creates Florida’s first land-acquisition program, which evolves into Florida Forever, the most successful land-conservation purchase program in the nation. The state has bought some 6 million acres; with federal and local conservation lands, almost 10 million acres in Florida are managed for natural resource protection or recreation.

Mickey mouse hat1965: The Orlando Sentinel identifies Walt Disney Co. as the buyer of tracts near the junction of I-4 and Florida’s Turnpike. Disney assembles a 43-square-mile parcel for less than $200 an acre and opens Walt Disney World in 1971. Universal, SeaWorld and myriad other tourism-related businesses follow, transforming the economies of both the central Florida region and the state.

1965: A cruise ship called the Yarmouth Castle burns in the Bahamas, killing about 100. The disaster led to new regulations governing cruises that create a foundation for the industry to grow. In 1972, Ted Arison founds Carnival Cruises with a converted ocean liner. Carnival becomes the largest corporation in the cruise industry, which has reshaped Florida seaports and tourism in the state.

1966: The Miami Dolphins, the state’s oldest professional sports franchise, begin play in the American Football League. The Dolphins are followed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL, 1976); Miami Heat (NBA, 1987); Orlando Magic (NBA, 1989); Florida Panthers (NHL, 1993); Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL, 1992); Florida Marlins (MLB, 1993); Jacksonville Jaguars (NFL, 1995); and Tampa Bay Rays (MLB, 1998).

1967: Claude Kirk becomes the first Republican governor in Florida in 90 years. Kirk’s election presages the emergence of the Republican Party as a dominant force in Florida politics.

1968: Florida’s retirement industry begins to reach critical mass with the construction of the first of four Century Village developments in southeast Florida. Meanwhile, development begins in north central Florida at The Villages, which is created using the community development district model that is basis for more than 200 other communities in Florida.


1970: Condos begin emerging as a housing option.

Everglades [Photo: SWFMD]
1970: President Richard Nixon halts construction of the Miami Jetport, which began in 1968. The giant airport was to be built in the Big Cypress swamp. In part due to efforts by then-U.S. Sen. Lawton Chiles, Nixon proposes legislation that created the Big Cypress National Freshwater Preserve in 1971. The moves firmly establish the Everglades as a subject of environmental conservation, leading to the 2000 law authorizing the $7.8-billion Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program.

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.

1986: Fort Lauderdale officials vote to build a wall along A1A and take other steps to discourage students from thronging the city during spring break.

Florida Lottery sign

1986: Florida voters authorize the Florida Lottery, earmarking its revenues for education.

1987: Gov. Bob Martinez proposes a tax on services that the Legislature passes then repeals at Martinez’s request.

1987: The Legislature creates the Florida Prepaid College Plan. In 1997, lawmakers create the Bright Futures program. The two programs have afforded many students a college education, but critics say the programs have held back the quality of the overall university system.

19901990: The National Science Foundation picks FSU over MIT for a $100-million national magnet laboratory.


1990: Walt Disney World hosts its first “Gay Days’’ celebration, bringing gay marketing into Florida’s tourism mainstream. Today the state’s public-private tourism marketer, Visit Florida, openly courts gay visitors.

1990: The Legislature passes the Growth Management Act, which requires counties and municipalities to draw up comprehensive plans for their growth. The law introduces the idea of requiring “concurrent” facilities — in transportation, schools, and later drinking water — into the growth management process.

1990: Sawgrass Mills opens in Broward County and becomes a shopping mecca that ultimately draws nearly as many visitors annually as Disney World.

1991: Florida icon Publix Super Markets expands into Atlanta, beginning growth that would take it into South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. Based on 2006 revenue, Publix is the 15th-largest retailer in the United States.

1991: An era of Florida-based airlines ends with the demise of Pan American World Airways and Eastern. Earlier, Braniff (1982) and National (1980) failed or were acquired by another carrier.

1992: Voters enact the Save Our Homes amendment, limiting increases in the assessed value of homestead property to 3%. The measure shifts the tax burden from established homeowners to business owners and recent buyers of homes.

Gov. Jeb Bush
Gov. Jeb Bush
1992: The year punctuates the rising fortunes of the Republican Party. Ander Crenshaw becomes the first Republican Senate president since Reconstruction. After the Legislature reapportions, Republicans win the majority in the Senate in the 1994 elections. Two years later, they gain a majority in the House for the first time since 1874. Toni Jennings later becomes the first Republican woman Senate president, and Daniel Webster becomes the first Republican Speaker since Reconstruction; for the second straight cycle, no incumbent Republican legislator loses re-election. In 1998, Jeb Bush is elected governor, and for the first time ever, Florida has a Republican Legislature, Cabinet and executive branch. In 2002, Bush becomes the state’s first Republican governor to win a second term.

Hurricane Andrew
Hurricane Andrew

1992: Hurricane Andrew strikes south Florida. Massive storm losses cripple the private insurance industry in the state, leading to the creation and expansion of state-backed insurance pools that evolve into Citizens Property Insurance Corp. in 2002. The storm also results in an overhaul of the state’s building codes.

1994: IBM, which developed the first personal computer at a research facility in Boca Raton, closes its operations there, but IBM veterans go on to found Citrix and a number of other high-tech companies in the region.

1997: Former Disney executive Peter S. Rummell is named chairman and CEO of St. Joe Co., the old-line Florida company founded by Alfred I. DuPont and later run by businessman and power broker Ed Ball. Rummell accelerates the company’s evolution from forestry and sugar to real estate development, seeking to capitalize on the company’s massive, 700,000-acre land holdings in northwest Florida.

1997: Florida Gulf Coast University opens in Fort Myers.

1998: The Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), the standardized test used in the primary and secondary public schools of Florida, is first administered, replacing the State Student Assessment Test (SSAT) and the High School Competency Test (HSCT). The test is part of a package of education reforms initiated by Gov. Jeb Bush.

1998: Florida’s overall population approaches 16 million by the end of the decade, passing Pennsylvania and making Florida the fourth most populous state. Over the decade Florida’s Hispanic population increased by 63%, following an 83% increase during the 1980s.

1999: The number of philanthropies doubles during the decade.

Voting Machine


2000: The debacle over the state’s election process during the presidential vote puts Florida on the national stage — and touches off a national discussion over the mechanics of voting and voter registration.

2000: By the end of the millennium, Floridians’ median age of 37.8 is 2? years older than that of the average American. In 1950, it had been younger. Tourism, meanwhile, has grown to attract 70 million visitors, generating 663,000 jobs and $50 billion, comprising 12% of the gross state product.

2001: Governance of the state’s universities turns muddy. The Legislature disbands the state Board of Regents, but voters pass a constitutional amendment creating a statewide body, the Florida Board of Governors. Meanwhile, the university system continues to grow: By 2006, Florida had three of the top 10 largest universities in the country. The University of South Florida in Tampa and the University of Central Florida in Orlando each have more than 45,000 students. The University of Florida tops 52,000. In south Florida, Florida Atlantic University has about 26,000 students, while Florida International University has about 37,000. Meanwhile, the Legislature begins giving community colleges the ability to grant baccalaureate degrees in some subject areas. In 2008, the Legislature creates the Florida College System, elevating nine community colleges to bachelor’s-granting colleges.

2003: Between 1998 and 2008, the total value of Florida’s merchandise trade almost doubles, reaching $110 billion. More than 70 foreign and domestic banks active in international trade and finance have offices in Florida, including six of the 10 largest banks in the world.

Scripps Research Institute
Scripps Research Institute
[Photo: Eileen Escarda]
2003: In July, Gov. Jeb Bush flies to California to meet with officials of the Scripps Research Institute. The same year, the Legislature appropriates more than $300 million to help Scripps set up a Florida branch, creating an instant profile for the state in the biotechnology industry. In 2006, the Burnham Institute for Medical Research and the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies announced they would set up facilities in Florida.

2004: Hurricanes in 2004-05 further exacerbate the condition of the state’s private insurance market. The Legislature lifts restrictions on Citizens Property Insurance, now the state’s biggest home insurer, with more than $440 billion in exposure. As the state-backed insurer, Citizens can charge all Florida property insurance policyholders to make up for deficits after catastrophes.
Blue tarps

2005: Voters in Broward County approve slot machines at pari-mutuel facilities not operated by tribes. Miami-Dade voters first reject slots but follow suit two years later.

2005: The Base Realignment and Closing process produces a net gain of 3,720 jobs for the state and keeps Florida’s bases an integral part of the state’s economy.

2006: The Legislature creates medical schools at the University of Central Florida and Florida International University. A program at FSU had been expanded to a full medical school in 2001.

2008: Gov. Charlie Crist signs a $1.7-billion deal for the state to acquire U.S. Sugar.

Bob Buker and Gov. Charlie Crist
U.S. Sugar President Bob Buker and Gov. Crist [Photo: Michael McElroy]