3. UM layoffs
In May, the University of Miami’s vast medical arm announced 900 job cuts. It was a severe restructuring for one of South Florida’s leading institutions, and cast doubt on UM’s big-spending pursuit of prominence for its medical school. UM President Donna Shalala, the former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, blamed the cutbacks largely on hard times in the healthcare industry and a slowdown in federal research funds. And she said no UM employees who dealt directly with patients lost their jobs. But it was a tough and public blow for one of the biggest private payrolls in the region. Once listed as Miami-Dade’s top private employers, UM now holds the No. 2 position behind rival Baptist Health South Florida.
2. Housing values hit their stride
South Florida’s real estate market has seemed on the mend for several years, as sales bounced back strongly from their depths in the financial crisis. But 2012 brought the first solid evidence that the long-awaited “bottom” in the housing crash had finally arrived.
September brought the 10th straight months of gains in Case-Shiller’s closely watched real estate index for South Florida. The last time the index had such a streak was 2006.
The year also brought encouraging signs. Foreign investors continued to put down cash to scoop up unsold condo units throughout the Miami area. Real estate brokers reported a shortage in homes for sale, prompting a return to bidding wars in the battered market. And with tight inventories on the resale market, tenants were staying put with landlords hiking rents.
1. Gambling bill dies
Gambling topped our list of 2011 stories, too, but we have no hesitation giving it the top slot again this year.
As 2011 came to an end, Malaysia’s largest casino operator had joined with Las Vegas Sands to push a bill allowing resort-size casinos in South Florida. Malaysia’s Genting already owned the land currently housing The Miami Herald, which it bought for $236 million in May 2011.
All it needed was approval in Tallahassee to move forward with plans for what was described as the world’s largest casino, a 5,000-room resort on the Miami waterfront.
But on Feb. 2, 2012, the Genting-backed bill died without ever coming to a floor vote during this year’s legislative session. It was a significant setback for the casino push, since 2012 was considered the best shot for getting a pro-gambling bill passed amid a battered economy. Politicos thought the defeat would lead Genting to put casinos to a statewide referendum in 2014.
Then, in early December, came a surprise. After spending almost $1 million on the effort, Genting said it would not pursue a referendum. Instead, it would participate in a review process underway by lawmakers to take a comprehensive look at Florida’s gambling laws. The effort is supposed to take two years, all but assuring gambling won’t make our top story in 2013..