An aging, three-story condominium on the south bank of the river across from downtown Fort Lauderdale was at the center of a battle over building height between the city government and Dallas-based Trammel Crow. One of the nation’s largest real estate developers, Trammel Crow tried, but failed, to replace the little riverfront condo with a 21-story apartment building.
Built in 1980, the three-story, 30-unit Edgewater House condominium was demolished in 2021 after Fort Lauderdale-based developer Jean Francois Roy bought the property from Trammel Crow to redevelop it himself. The riverfront site where Edgewater House once stood, near the intersection of SE Sixth Avenue and Federal Highway, is just east of Smoker Family Park along the city’s Riverwalk pedestrian path.
“I was so much in love with the location, my goal was to keep that property for a long time,” said Roy, a resident of the nearby Rio Vista neighborhood east of Federal Highway. So rather than replace Edgewater House with another condominium, “we bought it with plans to do an apartment building.” The rental project was named Aviva Rio Vista.
The plans changed, though. So did the name. As the COVID-19 pandemic upended the supply-and-demand conditions of the economy, the cost of Roy’s riverfront development ballooned as labor and construction materials soared in price. “When we were ready to start construction – we even had our construction loan – by that time, the cost had increased by 40 percent, and it would be too marginal [in profitability] to build rentals,” Roy said. “That is when we decided to do condominiums.” His locally-based company, Ocean Land Investments Inc., is a successful developer of such boutique condominiums in Fort Lauderdale as 35-unit AquaBlu, 22-unit AquaVita, and eight-unit AquaVue.
Roy and his team at Ocean Land Investments designed an eight-story, 94-unit condo building for the old Edgewater House site at 501 SE Sixth Ave., and they changed the name of the redevelopment to Sixth & Rio.
Roy said in late July that preconstruction buyers already had reserved and closed purchases of more than 30 percent of the condos at Sixth & Rio. Preconstruction prices for the condos, mostly two- and three-bedroom units, have ranged from $900,000 to more than $2 million. Prices will go up, though, as the project progresses. “Right now, our price is very attractive,” he said. “We do that to ‘start the music.’ As soon as the construction is underway, we will increase the price.” The construction of Sixth & Rio was expected to start in August and take 24 months to complete.
Many of the preconstruction buyers of Sixth & Rio condos are locals living in high-rent downtown apartments or in houses in the Rio Vista neighborhood. “We have a lot of young people who live in those apartment buildings. We have a lot of older people from Rio Vista. That is really our market,” Roy said. “We didn’t really do any marketing in New York or California.”
One key advantage for the Sixth & Rio project is limited condo development in Fort Lauderdale, amid a wave of rental apartment development. “There is not very much competition,” Roy said. He cited only the redevelopment of the Pier Sixty-Six property on the east end of the 17th Street Causeway, which will include 92 new condos. “We are cheaper than Pier Sixty-Six,” he said.
Tavistock Development Company, the Orlando-based developer that acquired Pier Sixty-Six in 2016 and is redeveloping the property, is asking upwards of $3.6 million for its condos during preconstruction sales, which began in late 2022. “Sales launched last October during the Boat Show, and Pier Sixty-Six is one of only a handful of projects in South Florida under construction with plans to hand over to residents early next year,” Jessi Blakley, vice president of Tavistock Development Company, said in an email exchange.
While a lack of competition in the new-condo market has played a role, the primary catalyst for the Sixth & Rio condo project was a political miscalculation by the previous owner of the little Edgewater House condominium.
Trammel Crow unloaded the three-story Edgewater House condo after the Fort Lauderdale City Commission rejected as too tall the 21-story apartment building that the Dallas-based real estate company wanted to build there. Litigation ensued but Trammel Crow failed to undo the commission’s decision in court. Roy and his investors bought the three-story condo in June 2021 from Trammel Crow for $11.3 million, according to county property records.
“What a sad situation. What a mess. I feel bad for the neighborhood [around the Edgewater House site] to be caught in the middle of that,” Roy said. “This is where we excel. Once we go to the city to propose a development, we always go to the neighborhood. We don’t fight the fight with neighborhoods. We always go to talk with them. We deal with them.”
After talking to the neighborhood around the Sixth & Rio site, Roy and his team proposed the Sixth & Rio development at a height of eight stories without opposition from the city. “We were like basically the white knight that came in and solved the situation with the city,” Roy said. Local knowledge may have played a role. “Trammel Crow is a huge company. They do stuff everywhere,” he said. “We are a local guy.”
Roy is confident that Sixth & Rio is the right product at the right price but expressed mixed feelings over its eight-story height. “To be honest with you, I think the height is a little bit low. I wish I would have come with a couple more stories,” he said. “If you look at the [Sixth & Rio] project and all the big buildings in the area, they are all double or triple our height.”
But as a resident of the Rio Vista neighborhood across Federal Highway from the Sixth & Rio site, the veteran condo developer had ample incentive to limit the height of his condo project as much as possible. “I didn’t want people looking down on my house,” he said. “We’re here for the long term, and we want to do the right thing.”