Luxury shopping development put on hold in Florida town made famous by Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston (Barnard.edu)

A proposal to turn Eatonville, Florida, the oldest black town in America, into a luxury shopping destination for the ultra-rich was voted down 3-2 on Tuesday night by the town council, Mayor Bruce Mount told Reuters.


The $200 million World Transportation Exchange was described as a one-stop shopping center for the wealthy where luxury cars, helicopters, yachts and corporate jets would be on display. The project would have included a pedestrian mall of high-end retail shops, a hotel, a conference center and apartments.

Mayor Mount insisted that the vote did not spell the end of the project.

"I still have the ability to negotiate as mayor," Mount said.

Some customers would have been expected to spend more money in a day than the entire population of Eatonville earns in a year, according to census data. Unemployment in Eatonville stands at about 26 percent.

Developer Elliott Kahana, a luxury car dealer from Clearwater on Florida's west coast and developer of the exchange proposal, told Reuters he did not yet know what his company's next move would be.

"We think it's still good for the city," Kahana said.

The exchange would encompass nearly 20 percent of Eatonville, a town of one square mile near Orlando, which was made famous by Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel, "Their Eyes Were Watching God," about black society in America at the turn of the 20th century.

Mount said some council members apparently wanted to continue to work with a developer who previously held a contract on the property, which Mount said is void.

Mount had asked the town council to approve the $9.5 million sale of the 117-acre property, which is 5 miles (8 km) from downtown Orlando, according to the city agenda.

In 1887, Eatonville became the first incorporated African-American municipality in the country. It remains 85 per cent black, according to U.S. census data, with average household income under $28,000 a year.

Many Eatonville residents expressed concern about the project at a packed public forum on Monday night, with some suggesting the development might not be a good fit for the community and others wondering whether residents would benefit, according to local media.

The development was expected to employ about 2,000 people, almost as many as there are residents in Eatonville.

Watch this video report posted online by WKMG-TV:

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(Reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by David Adams, Curtis Skinner and Eric Walsh)