Fort Lauderdale Beach Not Hot Enough?

City Plans Redevelopment Project that could cost millions

Head over to Fort Lauderdale beach on a nice day, and you're likely to see postcard scenes everywhere you look. Sunbathers gazing at sailboats, toddlers playing in the sand, pelicans floating on the breeze, joggers and strollers on the promenade.

But the idyllic scene may not be good enough anymore.

"We really need to upgrade the beach, we need to update the beach," said Fort Lauderdale's mayor, Jack Seiler. "We need to create a brand, a brand that keeps the tourists coming back."

City and county leaders generally like what they see at the beach, but they see fierce competition for tourist dollars over the horizon.

"It's a question of, what do you have to spend to stay competitive?" said Nicki Grossman, head of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitor's Bureau.

The mayor is pushing a plan to spend up to $63 million on a far-reaching, beach-area redevelopment project. The city already has money set aside, money that's been sitting for years, targeted for this purpose.

"The more we started looking up and down, we realized we just got a little outdated here and it's a competitive market," Seiler said. 

Grossman says while Broward is blessed with 23 miles of excellent beaches, many other destinations in Florida, the Caribbean, and other parts of the country also have great shorelines. To lure today's travelers, you need more than just warm water and sand. It's about creating atmosphere.

"Quite frankly," Grossman says, "for discriminating visitors, they want to have something a little more exciting."

Grossman is ecstatic over last Sunday's New York Times feature article, "36 Hours in Fort Lauderdale", which she says is the best kind of free advertising. But you can't stagnate. Grossman says studies show every dollar spent on tourism improvements pumps about eight bucks into the economy. It's an investment that pays dividends.

"It's always worthwhile investing in tourism, it's a money maker," said Robert Bleekrode, a visitor from the Netherlands. He said he often travels to beach resorts, and sees the logic in fixing things that may not look broken.

Patrick and Linda Jones were strolling on the beach, having just flown in from England, and all they saw was perfection.

"It looks clean, inviting, I think it's fine, can't imagine spending that amount of money, what would you improve?" asked Linda Jones.

For starters, the city would improve the International Swimming Hall of Fame. It used to generate big money for the economy with big swim meets, but it's out of date. The renovation plan would modernize the pools and add a water park to attract families. They're also talking about extending the wave wall, that now-iconic, undulating wall that snakes along the sand line, along the entire beachfront.

Also in the plan: widening the sidewalks to accommodate more cafes, strollers, and joggers, building a parking garage, and creating an entryway to the beach at Las Olas Boulevard. Anything to spark more private development and keep the tourists coming here instead of South Beach, Naples, and Palm Beach.

Expect to see construction projects starting up at the end of next year.

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