Construction will soon begin on a $49.3 million improvement project to replace two parking lots on Fort Lauderdale Beach with park space and a portion of a third lot with a 676-space parking garage.The Fort Lauderdale City Commission voted 4-1 to begin construction on the Beach Redevelopment Agency proposal on Wednesday, despite some pushback from concerned residents.
As part of the plan, the length of Las Olas Boulevard between A1A’s southbound and northbound lanes will be turned into a pedestrian-friendly “festival street,” by removing the median, placing both street and sidewalk at the same grade, adding bicycle lanes and extending retail and café fronts on the north side of the road.
The project’s centerpiece — an oceanfront park plaza with a flexible event lawn, a police substation, public restrooms, a portico, a coconut grove and a children’s play fountain — will replace the city’s Oceanside parking lot, while the South Intracoastal lot will be turned into additional flexible green space surrounded by a pedestrian promenade.
The garage, which will be built on a portion of the North Intracoastal lot at the west end of the barrier island, will include a flexible amenity deck and connect to the oceanfront park by a 23-person golf cart-style tram.
In total, Fort Lauderdale will lose 172 parking spots, but the project’s lead designer, Paul Kissinger of the design firm EDSA, noted at a meeting last week that the board and commissioners had agreed that it makes sense to have parking distributed further along the island.
Citing issues as varied as budget concerns, problems with the city’s sewer system and sidewalks, delays on improvements to the city’s aquatic complex and blocked views, residents of the barrier island lined up to express opposition to the project.
At times, the meeting grew contentious, with one resident calling Mayor Jack Seiler “a fascist” for refusing to allow a late entry to the speaker list, and another erroneously calling out, “That’s not true,” as the project’s lead designer Paul Kissinger cited a 2014 study of nationwide parking garage costs from structural engineering firm Carl Walker.
Much of the opposition centered around the city’s sewer system, which suffered from a number of high profile failures last year.
“A key component of what everybody brought up here tonight,” said District 1 Commissioner Bruce Roberts, “is the infrastructure concerns.”
“I think that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and I’m looking forward to being able to work with the community on resolving infrastucture needs and projects,” Roberts said. “With that in mind, I’m going to be in favor of voting for this particular project.”
Vice-Mayor Dean Trantalis, the lone dissenting vote, cited concerns about the garage’s location just north of the Las Olas Boulevard Bridge, but expressed support for the project overall. “I think it does a disservice to speak against the oceanside improvement, when in fact we’re really concerned about that garage,” he said, adding that the addition of open green spaces on the oceanfront will set Fort Lauderdale apart from other coastal cities.
“A lot of families choose alternative methods by which to enjoy our beach,” Trantalis said. “This is one of those ways.”