July 12--It's a hodge podge of older buildings, vacant lots and small businesses now -- only a short walk from dynamic Las Olas Boulevard and other key destinations in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
But with a $30 million station planned for Florida's high-speed passenger train project and a larger transit hub emerging, the area north of Broward Boulevard could ultimately become home to new high-rises, shops, restaurants and more, according to developers and community groups.
The deep-pocketed company behind All Aboard Florida already has bought nearly 5 acres by its station site near the city bus terminal and Northwest 2nd Street. And it's looking to buy more property, said P. Michael Reininger, All Aboard's president and chief development officer.
It's mulling a new high-rise on its adjacent land, probably rental apartments aimed at young professionals who like urban living and mass transit. That project easily could top $30 million, Reininger said.
"I believe we'll do the first pieces of development on the property we have, well within a year" of the station's opening in late 2016, Reininger told the Sun Sentinel.
Government officials and civic leaders are optimistic for investment, buoyed by trends nationwide toward more walk-able communities where people live, work, shop, play and use mass transit.
"In just a couple of years, you'll see a big difference in the neighborhood," forecast Ronald Centamore, president of the civic association in Progresso Village, the area where the station will open.
"I think you'll see development start around the transit hub and start spreading east and west from that," Centamore said. "In Progresso Village, there's still a lot of land that's available for reasonable prices."
Some of that property might be mobilized for new mid-rises that combine shops below and homes above, perhaps even in areas now mainly industrial, Centamore and others predict.
"You can't build a store if nobody lives there. And if you build homes and there's no where to shop, that's a setback," Centamore said. "So, I think development will be mixed-use."
Real estate professionals say transit hubs -- like the one emerging for All Aboard, city buses, the coming Wave streetcar and, eventually, Tri-Rail's commuter train -- hold promise to spur development.
But other factors also carry weight, including density in the area and local market conditions.
All Aboard's station in more densely packed Miami surely will spark more vertical, more extensive and quicker development there than in less compact Fort Lauderdale, said Marc Miller, a research analyst in Fort Lauderdale for JLL, the real estate giant formerly known as Jones Lang Lasalle.
Fort Lauderdale also has a glut of office space since the recession, so new building probably won't include offices soon, said Peter Reed, managing principal of Commercial Florida Realty Services in Boca Raton.
In addition, questions remain about how All Aboard will work and how many passengers it will carry.
Ridership will depend on whether the rail gets permits to Orlando, on ticket prices and on schedules. Tickets rumored at maybe $30 for Miami-West Palm Beach routes or trains that end scheduled service at 9 p.m., for instance, might pinch traffic. And fewer passengers could mean slower development near its stations, said Ken H. Johnson, a real estate professor at Florida International University.
"The Las Olas area is going to get bigger," as South Florida's population swells and more people seek urban areas east of Interstate 95 closer to the beach, Johnson said. "How fast that will come, I can't say."
All Aboard's Reininger knows first-hand from work in Denver that transit-oriented urban development can succeed. In the late 2000s, he led a partnership helping forge Denver's Union Station, a 30-acre site that now features more than 4 million square feet of residential, retail, commercial and transit uses.
Key to success: solid cooperation between government, business and the community, Reininger said.
He's pleased with cooperation in Fort Lauderdale so far and confident that the transit hub soon will send property values in a half-mile radius up some 20 percent to 30 percent to help spur development.
A 20-percent gain near a transit hub sounds reasonable to FIU's Johnson: "It won't be instantaneous, but it could happen in an 18- to 24-month period."
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