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Innovative Approach Improves Quality of Life in Fort Lauderdale

Public-private partnerships (P3s) by the city are beginning to pay off.

Sometimes an innovative approach can seem like an unrelated list: A new ice hockey complex for the community and the Florida Panthers. A soccer stadium that’s home to global superstar Lionel Messi. A marina project for mega yachts. A major expansion at the Swimming Hall of Fame. A pickleball complex. A movie studio. A treatment plant to get rid of yellow-tinged drinking water.

The common thread in this case is the use of public-private partnerships (P3s) by the city of Fort Lauderdale. What might take a decade to build with typical government bureaucracy is happening in a few years and bringing an array of amenities to the city:

  • The Panthers opened their new hockey complex with two rinks at War Memorial Auditorium in Holiday Park.
  • The world’s most followed soccer team, Inter Miami, and star player Messi are playing this season and next at Chase Stadium next to Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport.
  • Construction on the new water plant is underway.
  • A grand opening for the aquatic complex was held in 2023 with an even bigger project expected in the next couple of years.
  • SunTex Marinas has nearly completed a $70 million mega yacht marina with 7,000 feet of dock space.
  • The city recently signed a partnership with My Park Initiative LLC to build up to 40 pickleball courts in Snyder Park.
  • Fort Lauderdale Studio Initiative LLC has signed an agreement with the city for a motion picture complex on 61 acres along Northwest 31st Avenue.

SFBW took a deep dive into the developments by interviewing Mayor Dean Trantalis and City Manager Greg Chavarria; getting comments from the Florida Panthers; and attending an Urban Land Institute panel discussion on the partnerships. A few weeks after his interview, Chavarria announced his resignation, leaving PPP as one of the more significant achievements of his tenure.

A long history

Public private partnerships have become more popular in the past decade, but date back to the colonial era, when the British Crown hired private entities for colonization. Some of the earliest turnpikes involved government and private sector collaboration and in South Florida the I-595 express lanes are a P3.

“They’re an opportunity to leverage private capital and gain momentum in getting things done,” Chavarria says. “Essentially, the risk is placed on the private sector and a well-defined contract allows for the delivery of goods and services for the public sector in an effective and efficient manner.”

Some P3 proposals are solicited by governments but others come in unsolicited. There is a period for other entities to submit competing proposals before a winner is chosen. Trantalis likes the creativity that happens when the city starts talking about a potential project site.

“We’re about to see something like that happen in our downtown,” he says, “where we have two parking garages [near the Broward County Main Library] and we have basically put out a message to the development community: What kind of ideas can we draw together to maximize the use of this real estate that we have downtown?”

Trantalis says at least 10 and as many as 12 partnership proposals have come since he became mayor in 2018. “I believe that they have allowed the city to move forward and cut through a lot of the red tape that’s normally associated with procurement.”

He points to the soccer stadium, hockey facility and aquatic complex as proof.

Hockey central in the tropics

The hockey complex has two rinks; one for the public and another that will be used by the team, but open to the public when the team isn’t using it. It will be a great amenity, Trantalis says.

“I know one doesn’t associate ice skating with Florida, but you’d be surprised how many people have come to us and are so eager to begin ice skating indoors and to do it as a year-round sport,” he says.

“Where in a tropical urban core area can you learn how to skate and perfect your hockey skills?” Chavarria asks. “Only in Fort Lauderdale.”

The team is also renovating War Memorial, which was costing about $1 million a year in maintenance, Trantalis says.

“We are excited for the grand opening of the Baptist Health IcePlex at the FTL War Memorial this spring and the continued phase opening which will include the 4,000-seat concert venue,” says Matthew Caldwell, president and CEO of the Panthers. “This location will serve not only as a state-of-the-art training facility for our hockey team, but also as a home for the community for hockey, figure skating, birthday parties, evenings, curling and unforgettable family memories.” 

Swimming Hall of Fame

The aquatic center and dive tower at the Hall of Fame has already undergone a $47 million renovation and a $190 million project is ahead.

Trantalis contrasted the current P3 approach with a previous effort that involved intense lobbying, a critical report by the county inspector general and a contractor who didn’t deliver the goods.

“When I became mayor, we pushed the restart button and the new commission was able to put together a plan and we move forward on it aggressively,” the mayor says. “We added a dive tower, which was not part of it originally, and we also added bleachers and new locker rooms, and now we have a beautiful facility with three new pools, the dive platform and wonderful viewing areas. We’re now entertaining two new buildings that the International Swimming Hall of Fame organization is partnering with us to build on the east and west side of the site.”

Hall of Fame Partners submitted an unsolicited proposal to the city in 2020. The project includes two five-story buildings totaling nearly 331,000 square feet and was approved in September 2023 by the city commission.

The east building will have a welcome center, Hall of Fame museum, a café, a surf simulator, about 27,000 square feet of office space and a roof deck, a Hall of Fame website article states. The west building will have a museum gift shop, a café, a teaching pool, a parking garage, exhibit spaces, VIP suites, a grandstand to watch diving, an event center and a rooftop restaurant.

Mario Caprini, CEO of Capital Group P3 Developments, said at ULI, that the project will be a destination economic engine. An experiment with a Water Taxi stop has worked well and will be part of the project, which is under development of regional impact review.

The city will pay $9.5 million to $11 million per year, but that’s expected to be offset through money generated by leases. The project will also put tax exempt property on the tax rolls and generate about $14 million in property tax revenue over 30 years.

Las Olas Marina expansion

A few blocks north of the Hall of Fame, work is nearing completion on the $70 million expansion of the Las Olas Marina, next to the parking garage on Las Olas Boulevard.

The $70 million project is being built and paid for by Suntex Marinas and a live camera recently showed the two buildings were nearly completed. They will include a three-story, 31,000-square-foot marine services building with a casual restaurant, a ships store, office space, a gym, a swimming pool, an outdoor patio and a two-story, 15,000-square-foot waterfront restaurant with outdoor dining.

The city expects the project to generate $221 million in annual economic impact and $6 million in annual state and local tax revenue.

David Filler, chief development officer for Suntex, said at ULI that about 170,00 cubic yards of material (10,000 truck loads) were removed from a parking lot to restore the shoreline to its original form. The majority of the 80 slips will be for mega yachts, which are highly prized by the marine industry for their economic impact.

“Fort Lauderdale is known as the mega yacht capital of the world and there is a shortage of dockage for those larger vessels,” Filler said. “Additionally, we’re building about 50,000 square feet of restaurant, retail and office space, primarily designed for the marine industry.”

He expects completion around July.

He told a humorous anecdote about one resident who complained about the project until Filler explained that removing the parking lot would make her condo waterfront property.

Dealing with controversy

Most P3 projects are not without controversy, whatever their merits may be. For example, there were news accounts that some residents didn’t want Snyder Park to have a privately operated pickleball concession or that the balls would make too much noise. The latter seems odd since the site is next to the I-595 and Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport.

Trantalis thinks there was a lot of misinformation, and the closest home is 1,500 feet from the pickleball site, which Charvarria says had been used for park and recreation maintenance trucks and for dumping seaweed.

The city is not only getting the pickleball facility, but a restaurant and a lake renovation that will create a sandy beach.

There has also been fuss over the slow pace of adding a park next to the 18,000-seat soccer stadium, but Trantalis says it’s not Inter Miami’s fault. The city went from a basic park to a redesign with more amenities.

The team will keep its training hub in Fort Lauderdale even after its permanent Miami stadium opens near Miami International Airport. That means additional economic impact since many players are likely to live in the city. Messi reportedly lives in the Las Olas Isles area. One could expect many Panthers players to do the same with the new rink in the city as well.

There’s also publicity: Broadcasters are now mentioning that Inter Miami is playing in Fort Lauderdale, which helps put the city in the global spotlight.

And if you aren’t interested in soccer, you can expect a lot of other events such as concerts and even watch The Miami Sharks, part of a new professional rugby league, which played its first game at Chase Stadium on March 3.

Cutting edge water plant

The $666 million Prospect Lake Clean Water Center will be able to produce 50 million gallons of treated water per day using a combination of nanofiltration membrane and ion exchange technologies to provide clear, safe, potable water, the city says.

The treatment plant, which is at the well field by the Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, was named the Best P3 Utility Project of the Year by P3 Bulletin.

“It was no surprise to me because we were able to select a company that we thought was innovative and forward thinking, and not only do we receive that award, but the Fort Lauderdale project has become the standard by which others are being judged,” Trantalis says.

The $543 million bond to fund the new facility is the largest bond ever issued by the city.

P3 can be designed to cut risk. The city got an agreement with IDE-Ridgewood to limit the annual consumption of electricity and chemicals. If the cap is exceeded, the project team has to reimburse the city.

IDE-Ridgewood is also bringing in best-in-class experts, Chavarria says.

“Typically, projects of these magnitudes require a vast amount of investment upfront, and then the transition from the project to operations leaves a lot of uncertainties, which transfers into perhaps operational issues. But in this case, we have a partner that will help us drive the new water treatment plant for the first 30 years.”
The plant will also be positioned to add treatments for PSAs, the “forever chemicals” that don’t break down in bodies and are linked in some studies to health issues.

Chavarria expects the new plant will produce water better than is typically found in bottled water, which often comes from municipal water plants anyway. There are worries that the Fiveash Water Plant, built in 1954, could suffer a catastrophic failure. The new plant will be resistant to a category 5 hurricane.

Hollywood in Fort Lauderdale

The city commission has approved an agreement with Fort Lauderdale Studio Initiative LLC to develop, construct and operate the studio complex on a 61-acre site at 1400 NW 31st Ave (Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard).

The project will include a full-service movie, television and streaming production studio, including multiple large sound stages and outdoor film sets, the city says. The project will include training in motion picture production.

The studio group was represented at ULI by D.J. Viola, a director and producer for over 20 years. The IMDB website gives him 22 director credits and 17 as a producer. “Terror in the Woods,” “KISSStory,” “Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses” and “Eminem Presents: The Anger Management Tour” are among his directing credits.

About 2019, the group he’s with began contemplating studio locations. Stages. A Sun-Sentinel article identified other members as Christopher Ursitti, whose LinkedIn biography says he has owned Los Angeles Center Studios/Hollywood for nearly 32 years, and Michael Ullian, a redevelopment and brownsfield expert, who is president of The Ullian Realty Corp. in Brevard County.

“Fort Lauderdale in particular was the most, for lack of a better term, aggressive and interested” in a project, Viola said. The city was attracted by the array of jobs a studio complex could generate. “Everything from carpenters to painters to engineers, programmers, producers.”

Brownfields’ expertise is important because the site is a remediated EPA Superfund site. It was the home of the Wingate Road Municipal Incinerator Dump from 1954 to 1978. A cleanup was completed in 2002.

Many residents of the predominantly black neighborhood have voiced health concerns from the fly ash that used to go through the air and ground water contamination from ash buried on the site.

Viola says his group likes how it could bring economic opportunity to a neighborhood that has a damaged history.

Trantalis says the county has provided financial incentives, but the city is playing a big role by providing the land for a nominal fee. He likes the potential for jobs and education programs. The Dillard Center for the Arts high school is nearby.

While talk of a movie studio on the site have been around for years, this time looks like more than a Hollywood pipe dream. The mayor expects a  groundbreaking soon and there are rumors about who’s going to sign a contract to make productions there.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky

Editor-in-Chief

BIOGRAPHY

Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.