Many of South Florida’s finest waterfront homes have sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean or the Intracoastal Waterway, the inland waterway along the East Coast. Farther down the food chain of waterfront homes are those along South Florida’s lakes and rivers. Canals, however, rarely serve as the focal point of real estate developments in the tri-county area. These artificial waterways protect South Florida from flooding but also can stink, turn brown and draw mosquitos — or worse.
“If they’re connected to other waterways, you could have alligator problems at certain times of year,” said Jack McCabe, a Deerfield Beach-based real estate consultant. Still, “there’s a premium placed on water views in Florida,” he said. And as land availability dwindles in South Florida, the lowly canal is getting more love, especially in Broward County, where several developments on canal-front sites are underway — each within easy boating distance of the Intracoastal.
Canal-front projects are part of a broader trend toward urban infill development, according to Mitash Kripalani, a South Florida broker for Colliers International. “I see more and more people looking to go after land zoned for industrial or marina and get them upzoned for residential … You’re seeing more urban infill as land becomes scarcer,” he said.
Redevelopment along South Florida canals may become more common in the decades ahead if sea level rise persists as predicted, said Dan Kodsi, one of the developers behind the Paramount Fort Lauderdale and Paramount Miami Worldcenter condominium projects.
“You’re going to see some development along canals. It’s just inevitable,” Kodsi said. “Over the next 40 or 50 years, there’s probably going to be some low-lying areas where you’re going to have to knock down the older homes that are below flood level and build new homes that are above flood level.”
The Broward Riviera?
The canal-side project furthest along in Broward County is Las Olas Walk, a 456-unit apartment development now rising around the Himmarshee Canal in downtown Fort Lauderdale. The developer, Orlando-based ZOM Living, expects to finish construction of the two-building, eight-story project next summer. Amenities will include a courtyard along the canal and a shop with kayaks, paddleboards and life jackets for those who want to navigate the waterway, which connects to the New River and the Intracoastal. At least 150 of the apartments will have views of the canal from a U-shaped building. Monthly rents will range from $1,900 to $4,800, and tenants will pay an undetermined premium for apartments with a view of the canal, said ZOM Living CEO Greg West.
“We are basically surrounding the canal on two sides,” said Tom Brink, vice president of CallisonRTKL, the architecture firm that designed Las Olas Walk. The old canal needed a $2 million rehab. It was built as a stormwater relief valve in the oldest commercial section of downtown Fort Lauderdale, the Himmarshee Historic District. When Las Olas Walk development began, the canal “wasn’t very pleasant,” Brink said. “At various times, it was muddy and didn’t always smell good.”
The site didn’t come cheap, despite the original condition of the canal. ZOM paid $33 million in January 2018 for the 17-acre development site — a prime downtown location near a popular dining and shopping area along Las Olas Boulevard.
For developers, canal-front prices are more affordable in the seaside suburbs of Fort Lauderdale, where some see opportunity in redeveloping marine-related commercial property.
In Pompano Beach, for example, a marina owner is co-developing Harbourside at Hidden Harbour, a mixed-use complex designed for about 300 residential units and about 65,000 square feet of commercial space on a canal-front site just east of Federal Highway. Construction could start sometime next year, said James Sturner, who owns the development site and an adjacent marina, Aquamarina Hidden Harbor, which will continue to operate there. The development would replace a boatyard and other commercial properties.
Sturner paid about $16 million in 2008 for 9 acres including the canal-front development site and his adjacent marina business, which he built and opened in 2009. Seth Platt of LSN Partners, a consultant Sturner retained, said Sturner started the mixed-use project after city officials suggested it, seeking greater exposure for a canal largely hidden from public view.
“They wanted to see this type of development there … a mixed-use development with a view corridor looking down the canal, activating the waterfront,” Platt said.
Canal developments on the horizon
In Dania Beach, a recent rezoning could spark residential redevelopment of an entire city block along a canal, starting with an eight-story, 302-unit rental apartment building. Miami-based developer Asi Cymbal proposed the rezoning on behalf of all four property owners on the 11-acre block, which includes several marine-themed businesses.
Cymbal has a contract with one of the property owners to buy a vacant 2.4-acre site across the street from New York-based Kimco Realty’s 102-acre Dania Pointe mixed-use development. There, Cymbal plans to build a 302-unit multifamily project. The other three owners are boating-related companies that may eventually take advantage of the rezoning and sell their properties for residential redevelopment, Cymbal said. “They have been looking at other waterfront properties for their businesses that are in less expensive industrial zones,” he said.
Monthly rents are expected to range from $1,195 for studios to $2,575 for three-bedroom apartments. Half of the apartments will have views of the canal and command premium rents. The canal itself is in “great shape,” said Cymbal, who expects to spend $500,000 to beautify areas along its edge.
Dania Pointe’s proximity is the main reason Cymbal chose the development site at 150 South Bryan Road, but he also plans to make the most of the canal-front location. His unnamed apartment building will offer rental boats and docking space to tenants and the general public through a membership-based boat club. In addition to beautifying the canal, he said,“We’ll also make sure there’s great visibility to the canal for our tenants. There’s going to be a pedestrian pass in the back and a new dock that we’ll install.”
Kimco, for its part, may feature a now-obscure canal as it redevelops its aging Oakwood Plaza shopping center in Hollywood, located just south of Dania Pointe. Paul Puma, president of the southern region at Kimco, said, “I would consider the canal to be an amenity for Oakwood.”