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To a visitor. South Florida still looks like the Sunbelt's shiniest jewel. New hotels and office towers are rising in Miami, and once sleepy towns near by are growing skylines of their own. The Rolls-Royces still roll royally along Palm Beach's Worth Avenue, and Fort Lauderdale is, as ever, where boy meets girl every aster vacation.
Over the past two decades, South Florida in general, and Miami in particular, lave undergone a Latin-flavored business boom that is putting much of the glitter back into the Gold Coast. Some 12.6 mildon foreigners, most of them Spanish speaking, visited the Miami area last year. At least 100 multinational companies now maintain their Latin American headquarters in South Florida. Though economic and political woes in Latin America are expected to slow the influx of tourists from the south, Miami will no doubt remain, as the late President Jaime Roldós of Ecuador put it, the "capital of Latin America."
The Latins are gradually turning the region into their own colony. Of the 1.7 million residents of Dade County (Miami and environs), 39% are Hispanic (vs. 44% white and 17% black). It is estimated that by 1985 the Latins will become a majority in Dade, outnumbering non-Latin whites 43% to 42%. The Latin influence is so strong that the mayoral run-off election in Miami last week was a hard-fought battle between two Hispanics, Puerto Rican-born Incumbent Maurice Ferré and Challenger Manolo Reboso, a Cuban-born former city commissioner. Ferré was re-elected for a fifth two-year term.
Yet to many Anglos and Hispanics, South Florida is becoming a nice place to visit—but. Indeed, some of the would-be visitors are staying home. Though revenues from tourism are expected to rise by 1¼% this year, hotel occupancy rates in Dade County are down by as much as 25% from last year, and only by raising room prices by an average of 20% have many resorts managed to stay in business. The area's real estate boom, which doubled the price of an average one-family house between 1978 and 1980, has virtually stopped dead. Even the environment, long the region's most attractive asset, is showing signs of wear. Decades of economic growth threaten to outstrip the water supply; water is occasionally rationed in some parts of the area. "We're at a crossroads," says Jane Cousins, a leading Miami real estate agent. "No city in the world has ever had happen to it what has happened to us."
What did happen? The answer lies partly in the region's geography and partly in its history. The area is a natural Ellis Island for all those coming, for whatever reason, from the Caribbean and points south. The region's benign climate and studied informality have long made it prime destination for Americans on the make, on the lam or on a pension. With it hundreds of miles of coves and inlets, the area is also an ideal port of entry for boat laden with