FORT LAUDERDALE—As the city marks its first 100 years this weekend, officials are planning what the future should look like.
Downtown will expand with more offices and shops as well as more nearby condos and townhouses. The New River would be abuzz with entertainment and activity. Rail service and streetcars would shuttle commuters. The beach would continue to be remolded into an upscale resort destination. At the same time, the old Florida charm of individual neighborhoods would be preserved.
But there are major challenges. Will plans for mass transit falter and traffic become so bad that key roads are in gridlock? Will drinking water remain inexpensive and readily available? Will the ocean rise so much that some of the city is underwater?
"I really am excited about the next 100 years," Mayor Jack Seiler said. "We start off with so many natural advantages — the weather, the beach, the river. And we just have to stay focused that this is the best place to live, work, play and raise a family."
The development of Fort Lauderdale stalled as a result of the national recession and the collapse of the housing market. But developers see it as restarting and say the pace will increase in the next couple of years.
City leaders and developers don't envision Fort Lauderdale becoming akin to Miami, but more a mid-size community styled along the lines of places like Portland, Ore., or Charlotte, N.C.
Jaap Vos, the director of the school of urban and regional planning at Florida Atlantic University, said Fort Lauderdale is at a crossroads. If it plans for the long-term properly, he said, the city can position itself into being a significant urban hub in South Florida. The western suburbs are now built out, and Fort Lauderdale has the advantages of both name recognition and being central in air, sea and land transportation networks.
"It is time for Fort Lauderdale to be bold," Vos said. "Look out on a 50-year timeframe. Fort Lauderdale must rethink who it is and who it wants to be on a much larger scale than before."
Under current plans, development of downtown Fort Lauderdale will expand through the adjacent Flagler Village and South Andrews Avenue areas. Both will likely become an urban mix of new homes, offices and shops.
Just in the South Andrews area between Broward General Medical Center and the courthouse, the city envisions more than 1,500 residences and more than 1 million additional square feet of office and commercial space in the next two decades.
The county plans a new courthouse downtown, and there is talk of a new federal courthouse as well. The city wants to continue to remold the Riverwalk into more of an arts and entertainment hub, reorienting the community back to its roots along the New River.
There are issues that lie in the way of that vision of an increasingly vibrant city center.
The Las Olas Riverfront entertainment complex is nearly deserted. The Hyde Park Market site next to the historic Stranahan House on Las Olas Boulevard remains in limbo because of a court fight over plans for a high-rise condo. The expansion of the Riverside Hotel has been stalled even though surrounding businesses were demolished in preparation.
"The downtown will be a prime location for development," real estate investor Alan Hooper said. "We are in such a predicament right now because of the economy that it will take a while for the gas to start flowing again, but when it does, it will happen quickly."
On the beach, officials expect the trend toward upscale hotels to continue.
Developers are in the midst of negotiating with the city to redevelop the Bahia Mar complex to include a five-star Waldorf Astoria hotel, shops, restaurants and a public park along the Intracoastal Waterway. A Swedish investor has been buying small, older hotels in the North Beach area with plans to transform the interior of the barrier island into a mix of posh resorts, restaurants, cafes and boutiques.
Broward County's tourism czar, Nicki Grossman, said the city must continue to improve the beach to remain competitive with other vacation destinations. She said that particularly will require better parking and more tourism attractions.