By Lucy Chabot Reed
I’ve been reporting on the yachting industry for about 15 years now, and I have seen fantastic marina redevelopment plans come and go.
Typically what happens is a property changes ownership hands, and the new owners are real estate people or hotel people who want to maximize their investment. So they envision a new Waldorf Astoria or towering condo buildings.
Then creative designers sketch beautiful ideas and the public goes beserk.
Too much density, too much traffic, too much, too much, no, no, no.
And so we’re left with things like the vacant lot at the southeast corner of the Intracoastal Waterway and 17th Street next to the bridge in Fort Lauderdale, a property that could be our city’s and our industry’s signature property. Vacant. For about a decade now.
The last time residents shot down a development plan (that vacant property that used to be The Sails and Best Western), the developer ended up suing, and won. It never did get built, but the property is zoned and approved for 350 hotel rooms; 72,000 square feet of retail, office, restaurant and meeting space; and 150 dry stack storage slips.
Now the property has changed hands again, and with it comes those approved plans. This time, however, the owner is a yacht owner. (Well, a yacht owner’s development company, Tavistock Development Company.) I’m sure he likely doesn’t think of himself first and foremost as a yacht owner, but to us he is. And that’s a good thing. Finally, I thought when I heard the news last summer, that property will be turned into a great big yacht marina.
But neighbors have already begun casting aspersions on the project, taking to social media to object and criticize something that hasn’t even been presented yet, standing up at public hearings to suggest the “rushed” nature of the meeting was suspicious, but they aren’t sure why.
At a recent community open house meeting about the project, several executives from the development company answered questions from anyone who was interested. Most wanted to know how many condos would be going up on The Sails property. They said, patiently and clearly, that they don’t have an official site plan for the property yet, but they did promise to renovate and reopen the iconic tower, including its roof-top carousel.
So I asked about the marinas. I was disappointed to learn they don’t expect much to change there except for perhaps straightening the bulkhead to offer more docking options.
Pier 66 went through five years and nearly 50 local, state and federal approvals to renovate the docks a few years ago. I don’t blame them for not wanting to mess with those.
But the old Sails property — to be rebranded Pier South — is a different story. It’s vacant, it’s in the prime location, and it’s owned by a yacht guy. It, too, could be iconic. And it really should have as many slips for big boats as it can.
So here’s my wacky idea: back the seawall up about 200 feet and build slips for six or eight large yachts to dock stern-to out of the current.
There are a host of objections, I know. But it’s possible. Tavistock had a similar mindset when it envisioned and built the successful marina at Albany in the Bahamas.
The big issue is the value of the dirt, and whether the land owner finds more value in it being developed for condos or yachts. I’m hoping he picks yachts.
There aren’t many places in Fort Lauderdale for a large-yacht marina (until we convince our county officials to share a bit of the port, but that’s another story).
Pier South is it. It’s vacant. It’s owned by a yacht owner. It’s time.
Lucy Chabot Reed is publisher of The Triton. Comment below: