Fort Lauderdale beach visitors will soon see dramatic changes as they cross east over the Las Olas Boulevard bridge to the barrier island.
Six major projects that have been debated for years are approved now. Together, they are expected to change the beachside parking layout significantly, add two park options for visitors who don't want sand in their toes, and entice swimmers who prefer chlorine to salt.
Some changes might not be embraced by all. For instance, the number of public parking spots in the Las Olas/ State Road A1A area will be reduced. And a new garage is a two-block trek — with beach chairs, umbrellas and coolers — from the beach.
But at least, says one beach resident, the popular Las Olas gateway to the beach will be spruced up.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said John Weaver, who has a software development company and is president of the Central Beach Alliance homeowner association. “They came up with something that’s going to make things better.”
The projects are all approved and moving toward construction:
- OCEANSIDE PARK: At the corner of State Road A1A and Las Olas, across from the Elbo Room bar, the city parking lot that’s typically teeming with the cars of anxious beachgoers will be closed and converted to a park. The park will have restrooms, and water play areas for kids. Beachgoers can be dropped off at the park by drivers who then head for the new garage.
- GARAGE: The large Birch/Las Olas/Intracoastal public parking lot on the north side of the bridge will be the site of a 670-space parking garage. Contractor Skanska announced earlier this month that it had begun work and expects the garage and oceanside park to be complete in August 2019. Those who don’t feel like carrying their beach gear two blocks to the beach will be offered a tram during peak hours, the city says.
- INTRACOASTAL PARK: On the south side of Las Olas bridge, bounded by Las Olas Circle, the city parking lot will be converted to a park.
- MARINA/RESTAURANTS: The city’s Las Olas Marina off the Birch Road parking lot on the Intracoastal will be expanded, and two restaurants, one of them a casual tiki bar, will be added. The city on July 11 approved a lease agreement with Suntex Marina Investors to rebuild and expand the marina.
- POOLS: The Fort Lauderdale Aquatic Center, open to the public at 501 Seabreeze Blvd., will be renovated. Swimming pools — where 10 world records have been set — will be modernized to meet the latest competitive swimming standards. The pools, including the swim lane where Michael Phelps set a world record, are open to residents and non-residents alike, for an entry fee. So are the dive towers, aquatics center Manager Laura Voet said. City commissioners voted on June 20 to accept a $19.98 million renovation estimate and to put the project out to bid, ending years of controversy and debate over the price and parameters of the project. The complex is the site of International Swimming Hall of Fame museum.
- PARKING: Public parking is expected to be added near Sunrise Boulevard on a vacant property directly south of the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. The city on July 11 reaffirmed a land swap deal that trades a small city parking lot at Sebastian Street for the Vistamar Street property 11 blocks north. Under the terms of the deal, 77 public parking spots will remain at the Sebastian property, in whatever development project the new owner, Barefoot Contessa LLC, proposes.
Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Dean Trantalis said the new offerings will show the public that “there’s more to the beach than sand.”
He acknowledged the years of infighting over the projects. Trantalis voted against some of them. But he said the city finally has accumulated the money, and “now is the time.”
“It’s finally gelling,” he said. “It’s all coming together.”