Spotlight On: Steven Abrams, Executive Director, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority/Tri-Rail

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read August 2019 — Transportation is a hot topic issue throughout South Florida, and as the population in the region continues to grow so do the challenges. While the roads seemingly become more congested every week, there is a significant emphasis on using other forms of transit. For 30 years, Tri-Rail has been one of the leading alternative forms of transit for visitors and residents of South Florida alike. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently had the chance to sit down and speak with Steven Abrams, the Executive Director for the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which is the governing body that operates and oversees Tri-Rail. Abrams discussed Tri-Rail’s longevity in the South Florida Community, how it is working in tandem with Virgin Trains USA (formerly Brightline), the ways in which it is using technology to improve operations and what is contributing to the steady uptick in ridership.

What has contributed to Tri-Rail’s longevity in the South Florida community? 

This year is Tri-Rail’s 30th anniversary. Tri-Rail started as a traffic mitigation project along I-95 while 95 was being widened, but it was supposed to be a stop-gap until the completion of the project. Thirty years later, it is still thriving. Over those 30 years, we have improved our service, added more trains, added weekend and holiday service and added connections to the area’s three airports. We are a transportation system that has become popular over time and we have embedded ourselves in the tri-county area.

How are you working with Virgin Trains USA to improve rail transportation in the community? 

We have a collaborative relationship with Brightline, and we anticipate that it will only be a benefit to both services. Brightline is geared more toward the tourism population, whereas Tri-Rail transports 15,000 riders a day to work and school. Our riders mainly consist of clerical workers, blue-collar workers, construction workers and students. It is a different market than Brightline, but we work very closely together and hope to be able to feed each other’s passengers into our system. We are far along on plans to enter Brightline’s downtown Miami station. The platform has been constructed, and we are just waiting on the approval for its Positive Train Control system. Positive Train Control is a safety system that was mandated by the federal government for all railroads in the country. Once Brightline’s system has been certified, we can apply to be a tenant on its system and continue our existing service and extend up to about half of our trains into downtown Miami. We are hopeful that this will occur in the near future.

How is Tri-Rail using new technology to improve operations and the safety of its passengers?

We are installing a Positive Train Control system that adds an extra level of safety on what is already a safe system. The National Safety Council did a survey and concluded that you are more likely to die of radiation or from a cataclysmic storm than you are being a passenger on a train. The Positive Train Control system is required by the federal government, and we anticipate that it will add that extra measure of safety in terms of avoiding oncoming collisions. If the train is going too fast, the system will automatically slow it down. We do not have many curves on our system, so this is probably more of a benefit for trains up north where there are hills and curves. Nonetheless, we will be able to stop the train should it exceed speed limits.

What factors are behind the steady increase in Tri-Rail’s ridership? 

There are three reasons and two are, in a way, related. South Florida is a tourist and service-related economy, and these individuals, like waiters or construction workers, cannot work from their homes. We have people coming from all over the world who are used to rail transportation in their countries, and they are feeding into our system. Our roads are also just becoming so congested. It used to be that our ridership would principally, and almost exclusively, fluctuate with gas prices, but now that  gas prices are stable and dropping, we still have people riding our system because ultimately it is the overabundance of cars on the road that are urging them to seek alternative transportation.

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

 

https://www.tri-rail.com/

The Future is Now for FATVillage

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

3 min read August 2019 — Fort Lauderdale’s FATVillage makes up for what it lacks in size with a treasure trove of arts, cultural and technological offerings. Founded in the late 1990s by Doug McCraw, the four-block historic warehouse district has developed into an arts hub to rival the most established arts districts in South Florida. While the area was originally founded as a way to rally philanthropic support around the artistic community in Fort Lauderdale, it is now transitioning into the premier destination for artists, small-business owners, technologists and arts enthusiasts.

The emergence of FATVillage has been a thoughtful and deliberate process of encouraging smart development that never diverts from the emphasis on art as the main part of the neighborhood’s DNA. This stands true for the introduction of more mixed-use development into the area, as McCraw highlighted in a recent interview with Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale, discussing how that development is not only a new concept but also positively affecting the surrounding neighborhoods. “FATVillage has consistently been a significant economic driver in the Broward County region. It has acted not only as an arts community but also as a nucleus for a lot of the development in Flagler Village. What we are doing in terms of using art as a driver of mixed-use development is still a new concept, and not many developers are integrating product development with a creative community in the same way that we are,” McCraw told Invest. 

He also acknowledged that while FATVillage is undergoing a transition to focus on developing its status as an economic driver in the region, the reason for the district’s success has been the deliberate and careful process of deciding who can lease inside the area. “FATVillage is at a transition point. We are very focused on developing FATVillage to make it a treasure for Fort Lauderdale. We have aggregated various types of coworking spaces with different disciplines, all of which are major components of FATVillage. We have a curated process and we do not just lease to the first person who walks in the door. Our focus on art as an integrated part of the DNA of FATVillage makes us a unique component of Fort Lauderdale’s culture,” McCraw said

Helping to achieve this vision for the future of FATVillage, while also remaining true to its arts identity, is Urban Street Development, which has been involved with the district from the beginning. Invest: recently had a conversation with the Co-Founder Alan Hooper about what the next phase of development for FATVillage will look like. “In August, we intend to deliver a plan that will take the FATVillage Art District in downtown Fort Lauderdale into an exciting era that will combine food with art and technology (FAT) and develop a neighborhood where people and businesses of all sizes can find a place to live, create, collaborate, and socialize. The 5- acre-plus plan fully embraces the arts and elevates the opportunities for artists and creative businesses alike. Positioned inside the downtown core, the Opportunity Zone, and a block from Brightline, the options for community building are endless,” Hooper told Invest:. “We want to help FATVillage evolve into the place it should be. A place that is attractive to creative businesses while maintaining the artists who made us a well-known destination. We want to build some affordable housing for artists and local creative people, as well as really cool workspaces for start-up businesses that might represent art in another way, through video or audio, the art of the word, or the art of food. A place like this will be very attractive to businesses that benefit from hiring within a congregation of talent. In the end, we are creating a village that all people can grow with, be a part of and enjoy.” 

Arts and culture is a major key in Florida’s economy, and even more so in Broward County. Areas like FATVillage play a vital role in keeping arts in the county, and acting as a significant economic driver for the region. FATVillage has long been an attractive destination in Fort Lauderdale, but it is now on the cusp of a major transition into a true arts and economic staple in Broward County. 

 

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.fatvillage.com/

http://www.urbanstreetdevelopment.com/

Spotlight On: Drew Melville, Real Estate and Land Use Attorney, Melville Law, P.A.

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read August 2019 — South Florida’s economic boom has resulted in increased migration to the area, a rise in small businesses and most significantly, an abundance of real estate and transit development projects. While these development projects are a positive sign that the economy is thriving, they are also associated with a litany of legal paperwork, proceedings and barriers as well as the negative side effects for the environment in South Florida. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently spoke with Drew Melville, real estate and land use attorney for Melville Law, P.A. He spoke about some of the more negative side effects from this increased development in South Florida, how Broward County should be an example in regards to environmental sustainability and his outlook for the next year given the region’s growth.

What has been one of the most significant negative effects of increased development in South Florida? 

Our mission statement has always been about redeveloping the urban corridors and preserving rural and agricultural lands in Florida, which are dwindling. We are losing farmers, and wilderness land as well. The whole concept of putting highways in places where there is nothing but agricultural land is terrible and only caters to specific groups of large landowners. This issue is so much bigger than the interests of a couple of large, rural landowners, and I am hoping Florida moves past the never-ending sprawl development. 

How should Broward County be viewed in regards to environmental sustainability? 

The biggest challenge for South Florida is environmental sustainability. Many people from all over the world are investing in this high-growth area, and we have to hope that they are not only investing in developing here but also in the sustainability and resilience of the area. Broward is very forward thinking and environmentally conscious, and the county should be looked to as an example for some of these areas that are developing without regard to the effect they are having on the environment. 

What is your outlook for Broward County over the next year? 

“Fort Lauderdale is still growing, and there are a ton of projects in the approval process. The city is also growing while preserving its history and keeping its historic buildings intact, which is great for the community and our identity. There are also a lot of towns around Broward that have Opportunity Zones and they are trying to capitalize on them now. I’d like to see more development along the Dixie corridor in Pompano and Deerfield. It would also be great to see more food operators in areas that are considered “food deserts,” which is defined as more than a mile stretch without an option for healthy food.”

 

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

https://www.melville.law/

Face Off: The Development of Fort Lauderdale

By Max Crampton-Thomas

4 min read August 2019 — Home to more than 180,000 people and growing, Fort Lauderdale continues to work tirelessly to position itself as the premier economic powerhouse in South Florida. This growth and economic development of the city has not happened by chance, but rather, has been a result of well thought out, deliberate and collaborative initiatives from both the local government and community organizations. Two of the leaders driving this development are the independent taxing district known as the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority and the primary economic development organization for the city, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale had the good fortune to speak with both Bob Swindell, the president and CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, and Jenni Morejon, the president and CEO of the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority. The conversations explored how the community is addressing climate resiliency, challenges facing development in the city and ultimately how they are working to help Fort Lauderdale achieve its true potential.

 

How have you seen the business community address resiliency as it pertains to climate change?

Jenni Morejon: Nearly 10 years ago, South Florida became a national and global leader in addressing climate change by developing the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact made up of Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. Following this sophisticated public sector collaboration, the compact engaged the business community to explain why economic resiliency should be on their agenda. Now, groups like the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, the Alliance and the Broward Workshop, and their private sector members, better understand the importance of climate change and why investments in resiliency today will have an ROI and long-term tangible benefit.

Bob Swindell: One of our partner organizations, the Broward Workshop, hosted a scientist from Holland. The Dutch have been dealing with this issue for years, and if you look at their coastal cities, many are below sea level. Our limestone foundation is a little different from what they have in Holland and there are definite differences in geographic qualities, but they have been working to solve flooding issues for years. People in Broward County want to talk about solutions now because they understand that this is a real threat when they see high tides and king tides causing flooding. We really need to think about solutions and how we can work block by block to mitigate this threat. The reality is that it’s going to take more thought to identify the science that will build a system that truly works.

What are some of the most significant challenges facing Fort Lauderdale?

Morejon: Housing affordability is one of the most important issues affecting the present and long-term prosperity of our community. Increasing the supply of housing units in the urban core has been the traditional focus of the Fort Lauderdale DDA. With 5,000 new units under construction in Downtown Fort Lauderdale, this legacy issue requires a more complex and comprehensive solution, incorporating higher-paying jobs and better mass transit to reduce the cost of living. Last year, Broward County voters approved an Affordable Housing Trust Fund and the DDA is now advocating for the use of public land and local financial contributions from the Trust Fund to incentivize new subsidized housing.

Swindell: One challenge we talk about frequently, and this is where publications like Invest: are a real asset, is encouraging investment in Greater Fort Lauderdale. This is not necessarily a problem right now because we still have investment dollars flowing into the area, but I think reinforcing that this community is a good investment destination is vital to our sustainability. As a region, we must be reinforcing and supporting what companies like Stiles are doing when they make a private investment in Fort Lauderdale to create office space inventory, which we can use to attract new companies to the area. Stiles is building the first new corporate commercial high-rise building in 10 years, The Main. That is a great example of creating additional inventory, and I believe that our job is to try to help fill that building. It is important to have that inventory available.

What is the outlook for Greater Fort Lauderdale for the rest of 2019 and into 2020?

Morejon: Over the past 18 years, close to 6.8 million square feet of office, retail, multifamily and hotel space has been built in Downtown Fort Lauderdale. Today, another 6.2 million square feet is under construction with 4,600 new residential units, 600 hotel rooms, and two new Class A office buildings. A combined 400 floors of development are being added to the skyline, effectively doubling the scale of Downtown in just a handful of years. This new critical mass of people will help support the growing retail and restaurant scene and provide a range of housing options to attract a diverse workforce. We’ll also see progress on three important civic projects. The City of Fort Lauderdale and Broward County will be moving forward on the development of a new joint government campus, the site for a new Federal Courthouse will be determined, and with the recent passage of a $200 million parks and open space bond, the city and DDA will be kicking off investments in our Downtown public realm.

Swindell: We conduct an annual poll of chief executives in the region and it came back very positive. South Florida tends to enter a downturn or recession a little bit after the rest of the country has already felt the effects, and we tend to exit these situations quicker. A lot of that is due to international investment, and we do not see that slowing down this year. Based on the construction leasing rates that I’m seeing, the demand is there. With some of the federal tax law changes and what you can deduct for state income tax and state sales tax, there have been some additional opportunities created for the region through people seeking lower tax environments. We have branded our community for many years as providing a “Life. Less taxing.” Florida has been well-managed financially, we don’t have unfunded pension obligations and our state has a surplus every year. South Florida will continue to have another strong year.

To learn more about our interviewees, visit:

https://www.gflalliance.org/

https://www.ddaftl.org/

Spotlight On: Andrew Verzura, Principal, VCM Builders, Inc.

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read August 2019 — The amount of construction in a region is almost always an effective gauge of how the local economy is doing. Broward County is among those regions that has become synonymous with an abundance of ongoing and future construction projects, which speaks volumes to its strong and growing economy. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently spoke with Andrew Verzura, Principal of VCM Builders, Inc, one of the construction companies benefiting from the strong market in Broward County. Verzura discussed trends in the market, how Broward County compares to other markets and what the future of the construction industry in Broward County may look like.

What trends are emerging in the renovation projects VCM is working on?

In construction, we have to constantly regroup because the market changes. In recent years, our company decided to focus on renovations. Some of the trends we are seeing call for cleaner designs because people want to get away from heavy woods and marble, which don’t hold up well. We are seeing more porcelain, lighter colors, fewer moldings and more technology-based demands. Most of these condo buildings that were built 15 years ago did not have the technology we have today, so I’m challenged in every condo building with elevator integration, security integration and package rooms. Millennials want the ability to run almost everything off their phones, and we have to try and meet that demand. 

How does Broward County compare with the other markets you work in? 

The difference with Broward County is that it’s a very small, close-knit community. You can meet the commissioners, public officials or the building official and they all remember you. They are extremely friendly to do business with because they have a set of rules and regulations they follow. Whenever we have issues, I can go speak with somebody. I would say that over the last 15 years, I’ve been able to work with the city to solve 95% of the problems we’ve had. People are coming here because the business environment is so friendly.

How have rising construction costs affected your business? 

Construction costs are very expensive, and they have not gone down. Compared to when we started building spec houses in 2013 to where we are now, construction costs are up 30%. Construction costs are deal breakers for a lot of projects that we are looking at because they just do not make financial sense. The banks are not going to finance projects when the numbers do not make sense and will not work. We have seen many of the large rental communities being funded by pension funds. Most of these projects, which are primarily funded by pension and real estate funds, have been looking for a 6% return.

How does the next year look for the construction industry in Broward County? 

My outlook for Broward is still very strong. There is competition but that is a good thing. I believe we will still see people buy properties here. We have a friendly environment for developing and a government that is pro development. As long as we have builders and developers continuing to focus on sensible building, then we should be in good shape for the next year. We have to be very careful and look at deals that make sense because there are a lot of inflated deals out there right now. People all think their property is worth so much money but in reality it is only worth as much as people are willing to pay for it. The market is leveling off, which is not a bad thing, and it will be interesting to see how the market accepts all the new rental buildings in downtown. 

 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

http://vcmbuilders.com

Spotlight On: Gregory Stuart, Executive Director, Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read August 2019 — Almost a billion dollars a year are spent on transportation in Broward, and as the region continues to grow so will this number. With so much money being funneled into transportation, there must be an overseer to decide how to disperse these federal funds. This overseer is the federally-mandated agency The Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization. Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale recently spoke to Executive Director of the MPO Gregory Stuart, who discussed how the passage of the penny sales tax will help fund new transportation initiatives, the more immediate changes Broward will see thanks to the sales tax and the challenges facing transportation in the county. 

What have been Broward MPO’s most significant highlights over the last year? 

There have been three. The first is possibly the most significant, which was the passage of the penny sales tax that added $350 million a year to our annual budget. We spend about a billion dollars a year on transportation in Broward, so adding this $350 million is a substantial increase in transportation spending for our region. Second, was the municipal portion of that sales tax, which was one of the most significant items to be included in the penny sales tax. While we can talk about the large-scale projects that the sales tax will generate for the region, the impact of 23% of that money being dedicated to our municipal partners to build quality of life improvements when it comes to the transportation system is going to be key. It will provide those dedicated funding sources for our community shuttles, which folks use to go to the grocery store, appointments and other short distances. Third, was the implementation of the quiet zones for the FEC and CSX tracks here in Broward. While this didn’t necessarily improve the overall condition of transportation, it improved the quality of life for the residents along both of those corridors. 

What will be some of the more immediate changes due to the passage of the penny sales tax for transportation? 

Realistically, the immediate changes aren’t going to result in construction. We are focusing on enhancing the traffic signalization program. This includes coordination between traffic lights and people’s vehicles through the installation of smart communication equipment. Another immediate change that has happened already but which we’re not going to notice for about another year, is the county transit agency’s purchase of another 130 buses. Considering they are operating a fleet of about 300 buses right now, this is a one-third expansion and a significant increase in the bus system. 

What are some of the biggest challenges facing transportation and transit in Broward County?

The biggest challenge that we face is just trying to get everybody on the same page, whether it is a local government, the county government, the state government, the federal government or homeowners and business associations. It can be a very difficult task, but it can be done. We are working to strengthen the relationship between the three counties: Miami Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. They all need to be talking to one another if we are going to make real positive change when it comes to transportation needs across South Florida. 

To learn more about our interviewee, visit:

http://www.browardmpo.org/

Top 5 Trendiest Neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale

By Max Crampton-Thomas

 

2 min read July 2019 The growth of the Fort Lauderdale area is a true testament to the collaborative efforts of the city’s private and public sectors. The positive effects of this growth can be witnessed in the development, redevelopment and preservation of the city’s neighborhoods. 

Here, Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale explores Fort Lauderdale’s five trendiest and up-and-coming neighborhoods.

Victoria Park: A beautiful mix of traditional “Florida” homes and new development, Victoria Park has long been a staple neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale. The revitalization of the area is thanks to its close proximity to Fort Lauderdale Beach, Las Olas Boulevard and cultural centers like the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. 

Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale spoke with Doron Broman, managing partner of Moderno Development Group, about its investment in the development within Victoria Park. “We are tapping into the near downtown areas because more people are seeking to live in more walkable areas, where they need to spend less time commuting to work and experience a more urban lifestyle,” Broman said. “We are building very modern, urban townhouse rental communities in trendy Victoria Park.”

Tarpon River District: Located just north of Davie Boulevard and west of Andrews Avenue, Tarpon River District is a neighborhood whose appeal is thanks to its proximity to downtown Fort Lauderdale and emphasis on family life. With a recent influx of mixed-income homes and apartments, access to some of the cities best parks and the locally famous Tarpon River Brewing company, this neighborhood will continue to be a top choice of young families. 

“We are keen on Tarpon River District, which we believe is the new cool work-live-play hub, located right in the center of Fort Lauderdale,” Broman told Invest:. 

Flagler Village: Twenty years ago, this neighborhood was a rundown warehouse and residential district. Today, Flagler Village is one of the trendiest areas in Fort Lauderdale. The collaboration between artists and developers has transformed the neighborhood into a premier arts district with offerings of luxury rental apartments, restaurants and arts and culture. The Village is also home to the Brightline train station, which supplies a steady flow of traffic into the neighborhood daily. 

“Many developers have looked to the beach and Flagler Village areas in Fort Lauderdale. We are also invested in Flagler Village,” Broman said

Las Olas Isles: Due to its proximity to Las Olas Boulevard and Fort Lauderdale Beach, Las Olas Isles is the perfect mix of retail, restaurants and a coastal lifestyle. Luxury living like this comes with a hefty price tag. Homes in the area range from $1 million to $40 million and rental units are in the thousands. 

Colee Hammock: Not only is this one of the oldest neighborhoods in Fort Lauderdale, it is also one of the most diverse and eco-conscious in the city. Situated next to the Intercoastal Highway and the New River, Colee Hammock offers residents a wide variety of homes and walkability to theaters, restaurants, retail and entertainment venues. This eclectic neighborhood is home to a wide demographic, from the working class to the wealthy. 

Invest: Greater Fort Lauderdale discussed development in Colee Hammock with Andrew Verzura, principal of VCM Builders, Inc. “We are working on a residential project in Colee Hammock, a historic neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale established in 1913. We are constructing a home that is being built around some of the area’s oldest and mature foliage. This is a neighborhood that has a special relationship and respect for the nature within it.” 

 

For more information visit:

http://vcmbuilders.com/

https://www.modernodev.com