A shouting match in the public chamber of the Fort Lauderdale City Commission erupted even before the commissioners arrived for their special meeting in May. It was one of many signs that the sole item on the meeting agenda – a proposed redevelopment of the Bahia Mar hotel and marina on the southern end of Fort Lauderdale Beach – was too hot to happen. At least not now.
The leader of the controversial proposal, Jimmy Tate of Miami-based Tate Capital Real Estate Solutions, got into an argument with a taller fellow, invited him to “take this outside” and marched toward the exit before colleagues intervened and the startling scene ended. Minutes later, the city commissioners’ meeting began at 6 p.m. and dragged on until 2:15 a.m. No fewer than 75 people spoke during the public-hearing portion of the meeting – including 54 who opposed the proposed Bahia Mar project.
At the end of that long night, the city commissioners voted 4-1 to conditionally approve a rezoning necessary for the proposed redevelopment of the hotel and marina – but only if the developers could ensure that Bahia Mar remains the main venue of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show under a long-term agreement with the show’s owner and operator. The show’s current agreement making Bahia Mar its main venue will expire at the end of 2020.
That cantankerous commission meeting on May 10 proved pivotal. About six weeks later, Tate told city officials in a June 19 letter that his investment group had decided to withdraw its proposal to redevelop Bahia Mar. Tate also noted that the controversy had turned ugly. “It was unfortunate that a few individuals had turned a collaborative effort between the developer and the community into an ugly debate over certain issues,” he said in his letter. “We have seen ugliness and heard hatred in speeches and comments from members of the community who do not even know us.”
But efforts to redevelop Bahia Mar are likely to re-emerge, and the controversy over the property appears unlikely to drive the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show out of town. “We have no intention of not being in Fort Lauderdale,” says Phil Purcell, executive director of the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, the owner of the annual boat show.
Purcell also says that since the Tate-led development group withdrew their redevelopment proposal in June, he has been in contact with them to discuss “finding time to meet and work through a long-term agreement” that would keep the boat show at Bahia Mar.
“Everybody is anxious for the boat show to stay there long-term,” says Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, who is optimistic that Bahia Mar eventually will be redeveloped.
“I expect a Bahia Mar project to happen, yes,” Seiler says. “Whether it’s going to look like the last project or not, I can’t say. Whether it’s going to have the same heights and elevations, the same dimensions, I can’t say.”
The project proposed by the Tate-led development group, TRR Bahia Mar LLC, included renovation of the Bahia Mar hotel and marina and construction of two 29-story condominiums nearby. TRR Bahia Mar reduced the condo designs from their original 39-story height in response to community criticism.
“I don’t want to see Manhattan on Fort Lauderdale Beach … This is a fragile ecosystem we have on the barrier island,” Vice Mayor Dean Trantalis said at the special commission meeting on May 10. Trantalis, who represents the district where Bahia Mar is located, cast the only dissenting vote in the commission’s 4-1 decision granting conditional approval of a request for rezoning and a site plan revision by TRR Bahia Mar.
Jimmy Tate’s brother Kenny, vice president of family-owned Tate Capital Real Estate Solutions, says the May 10 commission meeting was pivotal because conditional approval of TRR Bahia Mar’s rezoning request “shifted leverage” to the boat show owner and operator, which subsequently proposed a long-term agreement to stay at Bahia Mar under terms the development group refused to accept.
As for the shouting match before the May 10 meeting that looked like the prelude to a fistfight, Kenny Tate says the guy who argued with his brother Jimmy was upset about “the seating arrangement” in the front row of the city commission chamber’s public seating section.
Yet despite the animosity, Kenny Tate says the development group already has considered new approaches to a Bahia Mar makeover and has pursued a rapprochement with the boat show camp. He also said the group has no plans to sell its lease for the city-owned land where the hotel is located.
Seiler says he expects an eventual redevelopment of Bahia Mar can happen, but it “has got to make dimensional sense in terms of the size and the scale and the scope … I believe that eventually there will be a project there that makes sense for the city, the neighboring community, the developers and, most importantly, for the boat show.”