Posted Under: Economic Improvement Suggestions,Ft Lauderdale Development Issues,Ft Lauderdale Parks and Green Spaces,Important Issues for Fort Lauderdale,Neighborhood Issues
The Three Faces of Fort Lauderdale Beach.
This weekend (Oct 29 to Nov 2) marks the 50th Anniversary of the Fort Lauderdale Boat Show (with $3 Billion dollars worth of boats and over 3 million square feet of space). The Boat Show will have a dramatic and favorable economic impact on the businesses and hotels around our beach, which has gone through a number of changes over the last 5 years or so (for better and for worse).
Given that our beach is the anchor to maintaining a healthy tourism industry here, I think it’s important to periodically discuss the status of our beach and what can be done to make it healthier.
As most residents and tourists know, our beach was made famous by the 1960 movie, “Where the Boys Are”, a coming of age film written by George Wells which explored adolescent sexuality and starred singer Connie Francis in her first acting role. The movie developed a cult following among many groups and helped to make Fort Lauderdale a “spring break” destination for college kids from the 1960’s into the 1990’s.
Our City made a conscious decision to discourage “spring breakers” from coming here in the 90’s, to better control public inebriation, trash and property damage that occurred. Since then, our City Government has worked (in most cases successfully) to make our beach area cleaner, neater and more hospitable to residents & tourists of all ages.
During the recent building boom (which ended last year), numerous City-sponsored re-development plans and projects sprouted up, with developers wanting to build on every available inch of beachfront, and active beach residents fighting back, wanting little or no development. What these battles have left us with is a bit of a “patchwork” look to our beach, with an older (in some cases tacky) commercial building situated next to a new, ultra-luxurious concrete behemoth hotel.
Walk along the beach today and multiple impressions hit you. First, you see the revived beauty of the beach. Thanks to activists like Ina Lee (who I call the “Diva of Fort Lauderdale Beach”) and others, our beach front (at least on the east side of A1A) is the envy of any other coastal city. Our City Manager George Gretsas has taken an active interest over the last 4 years to improve the beach area and he needs to be commended for that (alas, if he could have shown as much interest in other areas of the City and controlled the budget better, I might have supported him…).
But look on the west side of A1A (between Las Olas and Sunrise) and a different view hits you. You see seven relatively new & distinct (and what some feel are over-sized) hotels muscled in to the west side of A1A, most projecting a cold, austere and unfriendly look to the beach visitor: the Atlantic Hotel, the Trump complex, the Hilton, the W, the Westin, The Ritz-Carlton and the Marriott Towers. Unfortunately, few of these hotels project a “welcome” look about them, and most beach visitors avoid them. For example:
The Atlantic: A relatively attractive hotel with the Trina restaurant and a small outdoor seating area.
The Trump Complex: Odd looking, unfinished and all but abandoned, due to the economy. No-one seems to know if or when construction will be re-started. A current eyesore.
The Hilton: By far, the ugliest new hotel on the Beach. Has the approachability of Fort Knox.
The W: Stylish place with a hi-end restaurant and bar at least somewhat accessible to the public walking along the street. Very active in the evening.
Westin: One of the older large hotels with Shula’s Restaurant. Blends in better than most with more trees and shrubs.
Ritz-Carlton: Beautiful interior, open pool & bar area upstairs and an accessible front café/dining area, but it projects a more formal look than most beach visitors would gravitate toward.
Marriott Towers: Of all the Hotels, the original design of this project was perfect: have a hotel toward the rear, with beach accessible retail and dining in front for the benefit of the beach pedestrian (the Beach Place). But over the last several years the property appears to be going in to a state of decline, with the nicer restaurants and stores being replaced by tacky swim suit establishments and t-shirt shops. I called the property owners/managers, “Thor Equity” in New York and asked to speak to their CEO, to find out what their future intentions of the property were. They referred me to their public relations company and after several voice mails, I gave up. If the quality of the retail could be improved, it would serve the beach well.
Interspersed between these monoliths are some of the original smaller hotels, invoking an era from the 50’s and attracting a totally different crowd than those larger hotels cater to. And therein is part of the problem: We are not fully catering to the needs of the three primary audiences (the three faces) that come to Fort Lauderdale Beach.
For the middle-class family (resident or tourist) coming to the beach to enjoy the day: “Nice beach, and a lot of T-shirt & bikini shops, but hard to find a cool, relaxed & quiet “al-fresco” dining spot that the family & kids can enjoy. Not too many other types of gift shops either. Restrooms hard to find. Parking can be difficult and expensive.”
For affluent out of town visitors checking in to one of the new hotels for a week: “Nice hotel, but the nicer dining options along the beach (outside of the hotel) are non-existent. Also, there is zero shopping that caters to the affluent visitor. Once you’ve seen the beach and had a cocktail at the hotel, what else is there to do? Go to Boca or Miami for shopping.”
For young singles: “You can either hang out at unattractive, trashy, loud places (like the older establishments just north of Las Olas), or those few ultra high-end & expensive night spots (like the W offers). There doesn’t seem to be anything in between. No shopping either”.
What should the future direction be?
1. The beach needs more retail and entertainment to be considered a destination that people will want to return to. We are losing too many tourist dollars to Boca and Miami.
2. Any new retail and entertainment need to be oriented to the three audiences above.
3. We need to rezone one of the back streets that parallel A1A (Birch, Seabreeze or Breakers) and allow mixed use shops, retail , mid-priced dining and entertainment.
4. Consideration should be given to having monthly theme “events” along the beach, closing A1A between Las Olas and SeaBreeze and encouraging residents to come to the beach for the day or evening (similar to the Saturday Night Alive events we had there in August).
5. Reduce parking rates.
6. One of the hotels should consider becoming a landlord for the swimming museum, currently looking for a home.
7. The hotels should also look for ways to increase foot traffic through their hotels with open air cafes, more upscale shops and nighttime venues.
Our City has done a good job of cleaning up the beach area over the years and has allowed the development of some nice (if not oversized) hotels and condos. But that alone is not going to allow the businesses there to succeed and have a steady flow of new and returning tourists. With this economy, the need for this type of change becomes that much more pressing.