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Fort Lauderdale approves controversial plan to develop Bahia Mar

A rendering of the Bahia Mar mixed-use development in Fort Lauderdale.
A rendering of the Bahia Mar mixed-use development in Fort Lauderdale.

One of the most consequential and controversial development projects in recent Fort Lauderdale history was approved at a drawn-out commission meeting Tuesday night.

The plan for Bahia Mar, which won a majority of votes, will add four condos, a hotel and other upscale amenities to the peninsula jutting out into the intracoastal just south of Las Olas.

“I just wanted to assure people who seem to be disappointed that I'm supporting this, that I did not do this just out of the blue. I did it because the improvements are significant,” commissioner Steve Glassman, whose district contains Bahia Mar, said.

The commission agreed to grant developer Jimmy Tate a 100-year lease agreement that was an updated version of the one approved by the commission in 2017. That agreement was already controversial with critics at the time saying the city was robbing the taxpayers of public land.

Tuesday’s meeting was no less contentious. More than three dozen people signed up to speak on the issue — most of them opposing the agreement — as hours of debate and public comment took the meeting late into the night.

Critics of the plan waited hours to speak their minds during the meeting. They warned that the construction would bring debris onto their homes and the intracoastal waterway, that the traffic would grow exponentially and that the condo buildings would cast shadows on homes in the Idlewyld neighborhood.

"The project is already going to abuse our public land with the size, the traffic nightmare, the construction mess, the lane closures, the landlocked emergency vehicles, I see no benefit for the the residence in Fort Lauderdale," said Lisa Malcolm, who lives in Harbor Inlet.

Resident Patricia Halliday told commissioners to consider the ongoing sewage issues that already plague the city.

“Just think of all the toilets flushing. Just because the developer wants it doesn’t mean you have to give it to them,” she said.

"It’s moving in the right direction and while it’s not a perfect site plan for everybody’s expectations and needs, we definitely have brought it to a point where I think we can allow it to be built and allow it to be part of our barrier island and our beautiful beach experience," said Mayor Dean Trantalis.

Commissioner Warren Sturman was the only dissenting vote.

Project has long and heated history

Bahia Mar on the southern end of Fort Lauderdale beach is also home to the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show — a massive driver of revenue for the area.

The land has belonged to the taxpayers since 1947 and is now worth at least $256 million, according to city reports.

In 1962 the city leased the land to a private company. That lease was scheduled to end in 2062. In 2022, commissioners voted to give Tate and his partners a new 100-year lease.

The city's argument centered around the lack of income from the old lease: $1.7 million per year, according to Mayor Dean Trantalis, who voted in favor of the lease.

READ MORE: How bad was the damage in Fort Lauderdale? These teams went on the ground to find out

The mayor said the new lease will yield the city more than $2 billion during the duration of the lease, citing projections made by Colliers International.

The city is expecting to rake in over $15 million a year for the first half of the 100-year lease. That’s with the expectation that construction might not be complete for another 15 years.

Colliers, the real estate firm doing estimates for the city, said they can expect more than $8 million in property taxes after the condos are on the market.

The city had already agreed to a 2017 plan proposed by Tate that called for apartments, a grocery store and underground parking garage. But that plan also interfered with the boat show, which the new plan leaves room for.

Commissioners said the new plan is a much better alternative.

According to city documents, the project plans for

  • four 21-story condo towers standing 270 feet tall, with a total of 350 units 
  • a 23-story, five-star hotel with 256 rooms and 60 luxury condo apartments 
  • a marina village with restaurants and bars fronting A1A 
  • a waterfront restaurant to the north 
  • a 1.25-acre park overlooking the Intracoastal 
  • a public waterfront promenade that will be 25 feet wide and half a mile long, encircling the entire 39-acre site
Gerard Albert III covers Broward County. He is a former WLRN intern who graduated from Florida International University. He can be reached atgalbert@wlrnnews.org
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