High-rise development along the city’s beach may finally extend to a conspicuously low-rise block anchored by the Elbo Room, the venerable dive bar where East Las Olas Boulevard meets Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, also known as A1A. On the northern end of this beachfront block, an 18-story, 233-room hotel may replace a couple of single-story structures, the aqua-blue Surf Style store and the tiki-hut home of The Drunken Taco restaurant. Five years ago, a pair of investors bought the restaurant and store properties at the intersection of Poinsettia Street and A1A and two other properties on the same block for $32 million.
The site of the planned 18-story hotel is just south of several buildings taller than 20 stories that went up more than a decade ago. They include the 25-story Hilton Fort Lauderdale Beach Resort (which opened in 2006), the 29-story Las Olas Beach Club condominium (2007), and the 23-story W Fort Lauderdale (2009). More recent high-rise development unfolded a bit farther north, where several high-rises popped up in the last five years, among them two condominiums that opened in 2018, the 23-story Auberge Beach Residences and the 18-story Paramount Fort Lauderdale, and the new 22-story Four Seasons Fort Lauderdale, which opened this year.
Fort Lauderdale-based investors Lior Avidor and Aiton Yaari paid $32 million in April 2017 to buy their hotel development site 201-203 S. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd. in a multi-parcel acquisition. They also bought a parking lot on Almond Avenue, behind the Surf Style store, and a nearby restaurant on A1A where Café Ibiza operates. Along with 233 hotel rooms, Avidor and Yaari plan to build retail space and a restaurant where the existing single-story structures have stood for slightly more than a half-century.
Unclear is which hotel brand, or “flag,” their hotel might operate under. The investors were unavailable for an interview with Fort Lauderdale Magazine. Whatever flag they wave, however, their beachfront hotel would face a battle with entrenched competitors for travelers who want to stay near the ocean.
Timing could be one of their advantages, though. By the time Avidor and Yaari open their hotel, the COVID-19 pandemic’s worst impact on the hotel industry may be long gone. Leisure travel was expected to return to pre-pandemic levels this year while a decline in business travel persists, according to the American Hotel & Lodging Association. But the slump in business travel appears far less severe in Fort Lauderdale than nationwide. The hotel association forecast that business travel revenue across the nation will be 23 percent lower in 2022 than in 2019 – but only 9.6 percent lower in Fort Lauderdale. (Comparable forecasts for business travel revenue in South Florida included a 20.6 percent decrease in West Palm Beach and a 2.8 percent dip in Miami.)
Fort Lauderdale’s hotel occupancy rate plummeted to 47.9 percent in 2020, when COVID crushed the travel industry, then rebounded to 69.6 percent in 2021, and is expected to rise to 73.7 percent this year and to 75.6 percent next year, according to a hotel industry report by real estate brokerage firm CBRE.
But higher interest rates, labor shortages, and construction-material scarcities could complicate the hotel project that Avidor and Yaari have planned. Seth Denison, a partner at Doral-based commercial real estate brokerage Lee Associates, says hotels near the beach in Fort Lauderdale have strong prospects, but construction of a new one may be easier said than done.
“Because of a lack of labor and increased costs, a lot of projects have been tabled,” Denison says. “It’s difficult to pin down a GC [general contractor] these days, just because they don’t have the manpower … You’ve got a labor issue and a materials issue, due to supply-chain disruptions.”
Before they could break ground, Avidor and Yaari also would need to win approval of their beachfront hotel project from the city’s Development Review Committee (DRC), the Planning & Zoning Board, and the City Commission. In June, the Development Review Committee analyzed their initial site plan and peppered them with questions, critiques and recommendations. The DRC, for example, criticized a proposed design of the hotel by the project’s architecture firm, FSMY Architects + Planners of Fort Lauderdale.
“The building footprint occupies the majority of the site, leaving minimal space for adjustments, pedestrian respites, plaza space, and wider sidewalks,” the DRC stated in one of many written comments on the initial site plan. Among other comments about its design, DRC recommended that the investors “increase the pedestrian space at the corner of A1A and Poinsettia Street by shifting the storefront back from the property line.”
The proposed distances from curb to building, or “setbacks,” were too narrow, in the view of the DRC, and should be expanded to allow for sidewalks at least seven feet wide along Almond Avenue and Poinsettia Street and at least 10 feet wide along A1A. The planned 263-foot length of the building exceeds the 200-foot maximum, so the DRC asked the investors to demonstrate how the building design and site design might mitigate its excessive length.
The DRC also told Avidor and Yaari that they should replace coconut palm trees along A1A that they’re planning to remove. When they apply for a master building permit, they must apply separately for a sub-permit covering tree removal and replacement and general landscaping. At the same time, they also must apply for a sub-permit for irrigation. Among other requests, DRC asked the investors for storm runoff calculations to demonstrate that their hotel development would meet minimum design criteria for handling stormwater.
One throwback twist in this future development would be the presence of an on-site archeologist who would monitor construction and could suspend the work if digging between Almond Avenue, Poinsettia Street, and AIA revealed remnants of archaeological value. “It has been determined that there is a potential for archaeological deposits to be within the subject property,” according to the DRC. “A professional archaeologist who meets the Secretary of the Interior’s professional standards for such work … should monitor ground disturbances.”