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By Brittany Wallman and John Maines
The Wave streetcar won’t be built, but it served one of its chief purposes anyway: helping attract developers to Fort Lauderdale’s biggest downtown building boom.
More than a of the high-rise third projects downtown in the past six years are two blocks or closer to a planned Wave rail platform, according to a South Florida Sun Sentinel review of 66 development plans from 2012 to April. A total 7,612 apartments and condo units are proposed at or near where the stations would have been, as well as 572,902 square feet of retail space, 1.1
million square feet of office space and 969 hotel rooms.
Plans for the fixed-rail system collapsed earlier this month, after at least 16 years of work. Developers and condo Realtors had made it part of their sales pitch for years, they said, and it instilled confidence in buyers and investors. Now, it’s gone.
“We’re not happy that The Wave was canceled. It was right by our project,” developer Neil Brown, CEO of Archco Residential, said. “We thought it would be a very nice amenity, a nice way for our residents to get around the city.”
The light-rail streetcars would have run with other traffic on or near Andrews Avenue from Northeast Sixth Street to Southeast 17th Street. City and county officials killed it after bids came in higher than the $195.3 million budget.
Interactive map: See developments coming to Fort Lauderdale
Brown’s company spent about $23 million assembling land for an apartment complex at 500 N. Andrews Ave. He paid $3.8 million for a family-owned clock shop. He paid $5.2 million to a holdout homeowner for a single-family house. Whether he paid a premium because the land was next to a planned Wave station is difficult to say.
He and other developers said The Wave’s collapse isn’t likely to kill any deals or lead to a lull in growth, largely because more and more people are expected to move to Broward County. Many of them will want to live downtown, developer Alan Hooper said.
“The population is not going to stop growing,” Hooper said. “People point to developers as if it’s our fault that babies are born.”
But developers said the proposed rail loop made the downtown a more attractive prospect for buyers, renters and investors, offering a connection to the newly launched Brightline train that connects riders from Miami and West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale.
When The Wave was moving forward, developer and restaurateur Tim Petrillo said it gave the impression the city had a vision and that everyone was on board.
“What that signals is a downtown ... that wants to grow,” said Petrillo, a member of the Downtown Development Authority. “It puts a seal of approval where everyone’s head is in regards to growth.”
The Wave is dead: $33.7 million later, no streetcars for Fort Lauderdale
“There was a perception that the city had investments and infrastructure in the works,” said Ken Krasnow, executive managing director and area leader for Colliers International. “I think that was obviously part of the impetus that you started to see with the overall transformation of a true 24/7 type environment.”
Dev Motwani, a developer with Merrimac Ventures, told the Sun Sentinel in 2016 that he chose a hotel site because the streetcar would pass by it. He said The Wave also influenced his investment in an apartment complex.
Ken Stiles, CEO of Stiles Corp., said at an Urban Land Institute conference recently that the streetcar system was an important part of his pitch to a California investor.
Petrillo said the streetcar was “a selling point” for the buyer of his housing tower The Queue, south of the river.
“It was always part of our pitch,” said Peggy Fucci, who sells condos as CEO of OneWorld Properties. “People do not want to be married to just using a car.’’
The plan for the rail system was also a key factor for developers considering taking a risk north of Broward Boulevard — in the burgeoning residential community now called Flagler Village — developer Jim Ellis said.
“It was a very, very positive influence and factor in what we were doing,” Ellis said.
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The streetcars would have passed X Las Olas, an apartment complex under construction where the former Las Olas Riverfront complex stood at Las Olas and Andrews. Ryan Shear, a principal with developer Property Markets Group, said it would have been “an added perk” but played no role in the decision to develop. He said he supported the city’s pulling the plug on the costly project.
“They’re going to have to use those legs,” he said of future residents of the complex. “We’re four blocks from Brightline.”
The rail system was the brainchild of the Downtown Development Authority, as the quasi-governmental entity sought an increase in the amount of housing allowed downtown. The permanence of embedded rail would attract developers because they could rely on it, knowing it would not move, leaders said at the time.
More recently, detractors successfully argued that the embedded-rail system’s route wasn’t flexible, and they said modern technologies like driverless cars and ride-sharing apps rendered the overhead-wire system obsolete. They also complained that it wouldn’t connect to the airport or seaport.
Fort Lauderdale’s downtown transformation began south of the river 20 years ago with construction of New River Village & Marketplace, a project east of Third Avenue that was made possible with a subsidy from local government. Since then, developers’ interest in Fort Lauderdale grew. Just since 2012, at least 65 development projects have been built, submitted for approvals or approved. They’ll house more than 17,500 apartments or condos, 1,440 hotel rooms, 4.3 million square feet of office space and 2.8 million square feet of commercial area, the Sun Sentinel found.
Fort Lauderdale weighs cheaper housing downtown
The towers range from high-end senior living to complexes with micro-apartments as tiny as 400 square feet. With a countywide focus on the lack of affordable housing, the city analyzed prices for the new downtown housing stock and in a May 21 memo estimated that 1,345 of 17,653 total units carry affordable prices. For a two-bedroom, that means it’s priced at no more than $2,058 monthly, the city memo says.
What the city does next will be pivotal in downtown’s growth, developers and real estate analysts said.
The Brightline passenger train service on the FEC railroad tracks reinforced Fort Lauderdale as the “center of the region,” Krasnow said. People can live in one of the cities and work in another, connected by the high-speed train.
“You still want to get off Brightline and move around Fort Lauderdale without a car,” Krasnow said. “That’s ultimately part of what The Wave was going to settle. One can argue about whether it was the right technology or route, but the concept of moving people around the city without driving is still really important, really vital to the growth of the city.”
Hooper, chairman of the DDA, agreed.
“Turning this into a world-class downtown at this point in history,” Hooper said, “is a matter of connecting Brightline to something modern.”
Stiles Vice Chairman Doug Eagon said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis “is a long-time supporter of a creative urban center and has said that we need mass transit downtown, just not the form The Wave was taking. I look forward to the alternatives to The Wave being implemented soon.”
Brittany Wallman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4541. Find her on Twitter @BrittanyWallman.