|By Brittany Wallman, South Florida
Sun-SentinelMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Oct. 13, 2007 - FORT LAUDERDALE -- The downtown condo boom is over and a new one has begun: hotels.
Developers are seeking city building approvals right now for four major high-rise hotel-office towers downtown. That's in addition to plans at the historic Riverside Hotel -- for many years the only hotel downtown -- to raze storefronts on Las Olas Boulevard and build an expansion.
All told, there are plans for almost 1,000 hotel beds in Fort Lauderdale's relatively compact downtown, city building plans show. More than 1 million square feet of new office space would also be built.
A vertical renaissance swept through the downtown in recent years, filling it with new residential condos and lofts. Meanwhile, high-end hotel developers were busy re-making the beach.
Now the condo developers have departed downtown Fort Lauderdale, and the hotel builders moved in. The city's rules for developing downtown put a limit on residential growth, and that cap has nearly been reached. Two of the proposed projects originally were proposed as condos.
Hotel analysts said they're not sure how deep the downtown market is, but they said the signs are positive. Still, all five projects may not survive.
"For a city that is emerging like Fort Lauderdale not to have multiple downtown hotels raises the curiosity," said South Florida hotel market analyst Scott Berman at PricewaterhouseCoopers. "And so I don't know if the number is one, two or three, but clearly if you look at the amount of office space, the growth of the downtown corridor, the Las Olas revitalization, the criteria are in place for success."
"I would be skeptical that all those projects would be developed," said Rogerio Basso, senior manager with the hospitality group at Ernst & Young. But, he said, the new hotels at the beach could become so expensive that downtown hotels could fill a gap in the market.
Nicki Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the plans are great news for the tourism economy, with its hotels traditionally anchored by the sand and sea. She's working on plans for a 1,000-bed hotel at the county convention center a few miles outside downtown.
"The more we can encourage people to visit more than just the beach, the better the economy," said Grossman, speaking Thursday from a tourism event in New York.
Plans are in the works for the following new hotels:
--South of the New River on Andrews Avenue, just north of the Publix grocery store, a new hotel-office project has been proposed. Instead of a parking lot and two-story bail bonds building, Kygo LLC proposes a 148-room hotel, with 355,230 square feet of office space and some retail.
--Las Olas Co.'s historic Riverside Hotel on Las Olas Boulevard is slated for another 135 room expansion. The small boutiques and shops on the block would be torn down for the new building, which would be five stories tall at most. The 1930s hotel was essentially alone in the business downtown for years.
--Las Olas Riverfront, the entertainment complex with movie theaters, restaurants and bars, is to be demolished. In its place, Boca Developers would construct a new complex with 270 to 300 hotel rooms, 130,000 square feet of retail and entertainment, 230,000 square feet of office, and 253 condos.
--In the middle of a block on Broward Boulevard, next to the Federal Courthouse, a small retail building is to be demolished. In its place, at 111 E. Broward Blvd., Groupe Pacific wants to build a 228-bed hotel and 300,000 square foot office complex. The building would be 30 stories tall.
--On Las Olas just to the west of the Sun-Sentinel building, Simmons Vedder & Co. proposes a hotel-office on a vacant lot. The building is being re-designed but the latest version was 27 stories, with 180 hotel rooms and 200,000 square feet of office space.
In the past decade, besides an expansion of Riverside Hotel, only one lonely Hampton Inn came in as a hotel pioneer in downtown, rising in the area north of Broward Boulevard.
Howard Wolfson, regional manager for Hospitality America, which manages the Hampton, said he wonders if the developers are dreaming of rates they probably won't be able to get. Downtown is not all that hot yet for hotels, he said.
"We have hotels out in Pembroke Pines that have a better rate and a higher occupancy," Wolfson said.
"We're pleased," he said, "but we're still waiting for the market to really mature."
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