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.