A revamp of Las Olas Marina will include something for just about every level of activity in boating – from slips suitable for docking a mega-yacht up to 250 feet long, to restaurants and a riverfront promenade for landside yacht watching. The top floor of a three-story marine services building will have a lounge for yacht captains and crew with a gym, club room and swimming pool.
The company behind the revamp, Dallas-based Suntex, owns and operates marinas in Florida and 11 other states. In 2017, Suntex won a competitive bidding contest to redevelop Las Olas Marina and leased the city-owned land at the marina site for a 50-year term. Suntex broke ground for the 24-month construction phase of the property’s $70 million redevelopment in May.
Suntex will expand the dockage space from 3,600 linear feet to nearly 7,000 linear feet, in a configuration allowing an increase in the number of mega-yacht slips from 18 to 60. The project will position Las Olas Marina to continue as one of the waterfront venues of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show.
But the new version of Las Olas Marina is designed for more than just mega-yacht owners. The marina will get a pedestrian promenade with 192 new trees that will extend about 1,700 feet along the marina’s waterfront location. Meanwhile for the local boating community, the Las Olas Marina project is a step in the right direction away from waterfront development that displaces marine interests.
“There is right now an overall lack of marine facilities. Marinas are pretty much packed,” says Jay Sanford of the Broward County Parks and Recreation Division, who serves as a liaison between the division and the Broward County Marine Advisory Committee. “We’re losing a lot of marine facilities to development in the downtown area. For the ‘Venice of America,’ that seems like a problematic situation.”
Sanford says the impact is widespread among boat owners who can’t afford to live in a waterfront home. “Anytime you lose a marina, anytime people talk about closing a ramp, it has an impact on everybody who is not fortunate enough to live on the water but is fortunate enough to own a boat.”
Other landside components of the development include a two-story fine dining restaurant spanning about 11,000 square feet. The three-story marine services building with the amenity-rich captains and crew lounge also will have a casual restaurant, a retail marine store and leasable office space for such tenants as yacht brokers and yacht interior designers.
“This building has grown from the original plan, and one of the reasons is, we see a need and a demand for marine offices,” Robert Lochrie, an attorney for Suntex, told city commissioners during their July 2019 review of the company’s site plan for the Las Olas Marina project. But still “it’s a lot less development on the site than zoning would allow.”
Indeed, the three-story marine services building, the tallest structure in the Suntex redevelopment, will be 42 feet tall – well below the 200-foot maximum building height allowed by the zoning of the riverfront marina property. Separately, Suntex agreed with the city to limit to 375 the seating capacity of its planned fine dining restaurant.
The makeover of Las Olas Marina will be the last in a series of developments of city-owned land during the last four years along Las Olas Boulevard between Fort Lauderdale’s beach and the Intracoastal Waterway.
Since 2018, the city has built a 663-space municipal parking garage with a fish-inspired architectural flourish on the east bank of the Middle River, just north of the Las Olas Boulevard bridge over the river. Just south of the bridge, the city also converted a former parking lot on the east bank to passive greenfield-style park. And a bit farther east, the old oceanside parking lot just south of the Elbo Room, at Las Olas Boulevard and A1A, has been replaced by a landscaped pedestrian space with a splash pad for kids.
One of the pivotal points in the history of the Las Olas Marina project was the city commission’s unanimous approval of the Suntex site plan for the property on July 9, 2019.
Some citizens who spoke publicly at the commission meeting criticized the Suntex plan as a traffic maker and a parking taker. Others expressed relief that Suntex chose to propose a low-rise redevelopment of the marina property instead of one or more skyscrapers. “It’s 3 percent of allowable density,” Abby Laughlin told the commission.
“Most importantly, it’s the final piece of the public improvements in the Central Beach master plan,” Laughlin said. “It’s the spine that connects all the other good work that’s being done to improve the public realm on Fort Lauderdale Beach. It is the last piece of the puzzle that is needed to get the job done.”
Kim Sweers, who owns Fort Lauderdalebased FB Marine Group with her husband Randy, told the city commission their company operates the ship store at the Miami Beach Marina, part of the Suntex portfolio of marinas. “The public loves it,” Sweers said. “Suntex has done an amazing job to redevelop a marina that we had stopped going to, because it was rundown, the food, the atmosphere.”