With this unusually-named Miami-Dade County city at the center of a corruption probe and in the midst of a fiscal crisis and potential shut-down, it’s interesting to look at how Opa-locka came to be and where it stands now.
Opa-locka’s distinct architectural design is based on the story ‘One Thousand and One Nights,’ more commonly known as ‘Arabian Nights,’ a collection of Middle Eastern Folk Tales. The city holds the distinction of having the largest collection of Moorish Revival architecture in the Western hemisphere—twenty buildings are landmarked on the National Register of Historic Places. Its streets have names such as Ali Baba Avenue, Aladdin Street, Sesame Street and Sultan Avenue.
But it’s in the news recently for other reasons after it was revealed that Opa-locka, a city of 16,000 residents, is close to financial collapse, after administrators and the mayor couldn’t cover basic costs such as payroll, insurance, and face a curtailment of other municipal services such as fire and police.
Miami-Dade County leaders have asked Gov. Rick Scott to declare a financial emergency and take over the distressed city operations, according to the Miami Herald. The mayor and top city leaders are the subject of a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe after a local business leader allegedly said he was paid tens of thousands of dollars in bribes. Years and years of financial problems have snowballed into rampant debt, as the city has more than an $8 million shortfall, overshadowing Opa-locka’s entire $13 million budget.
Located about 10 miles north of Miami, the area was originally named ‘Opa-tisha-wocka-locka’ by the Seminole Indians meaning “a big island covered with many trees and swamps but the name was eventually shortened to Opa-locka.