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Fort Lauderdale Is The Brooklyn Of South Florida, Developer Says

Miami is overrated and overpriced, and Fort Lauderdale is the happening place where people want to live. At least according to the developer who is about to transform a significant chunk of Broward County real estate.

FATcity will consist of two 30-story towers on Andrews Avenue in downtown Fort Lauderdale. This rendering shows the retail component.

“Fort Lauderdale has become to Miami what Brooklyn is to Manhattan,” said Joseph R. Traina Jr., whose Traina Cos. last week won unanimous approval from the city council to move forward with FATcity, a mixed-use project at 300 North Andrews Ave., just north of Broward Boulevard.

The name stands for Florida Arts and Technology, like the neighboring FAT Village warehouses, which house galleries and creative businesses.

Traina's 1.4M SF project will be built on 2.7 acres, stretching the whole block between North Third and Fourth streets along Andrews Avenue, next to the Hampton Inn. Traina intends to build two 30-story towers with 612 residential units, 1,327 covered parking spaces, open-air retail and Class-A office space, including co-working areas.

The developer said his team has offices in New York and Delray Beach, but this is its first major project in South Florida. His company will soon begin marketing and pre-leasing activities and plans to break ground in either late 2018 or early 2019.

“We started around two years ago,” Traina said. “We've been studying the market for some time and saw an assemblage opportunity.”

His team cobbled together five parcels to assemble the land that will be become FATcity.

“It took about a year and a half to assemble all of the properties and get them under contract, and six months to prepare our submission and go through the entitlement process,” Traina said.

FATcity qualifies as a transit-oriented development mixed-use project and is situated in the City Center (RAC-CC) Special Zoning District. It is two blocks from the Brightline high-speed rail station, which will link Miami and Orlando, and will also be served by the city's Wave Streetcar, which is in development.

Traina said Fort Lauderdale city officials were “wise beyond measure to create the RAC-CC zoning for the downtown area, which has spurred development on a scale never before seen in Fort Lauderdale.”

A rendering of FATcity, viewed from Andrews Avenue, in Fort Lauderdale

RAC stands for Regional Activity Center. According to the Fort Lauderdale Unified Land Development Code, the designation applies to the area containing a mixture of large-scale business, cultural, educational, governmental and residential uses close to mass transit. 

The RAC-CC designation stands for “City Center District,” a high-intensity area intended to be applied to the central downtown "as a means of accommodating a wide range of employment, shopping, service, cultural, higher density residential and other more intense land uses.” The zoning allows mixed-use development and stipulates that the buildings must have ground-floor retail on streets with pedestrian activity.

The zoning language “opens up the uses that we would be able to develop,” and provides clear parameters, Traina said. “We were able to develop the building as a right within those zoning guidelines. Hat tip to city planners for creating zoning that would attract developers.

“What brought us to Fort Lauderdale, it does have a lot to do with the RAC-CC and the transit-oriented development,” Traina said. “By creating the RAC-CC all those years ago, [the city] had the foresight to do something to entice developers to invest in upgrades and modernization to the city. Once they perfected this new special zoning, there was a major upswing in investment in the city.”

Upcoming projects by Related Group, which is developing luxury condos and a spa on Fort Lauderdale Beach, and Property Markets Group's impending redevelopment of the Fort Lauderdale Riverfront, have also taken advantage of the RAC-CC zoning.

Fort Lauderdale Department of Sustainable Development Director Anthony Fajardo said the zoning encourages mixed-use development through the design criteria established in the city's Downtown Master Plan. Since it has been implemented, he said, it has worked as planned.

"The goal is to create a healthy, livable, workable, pedestrian-friendly downtown, protect surrounding residential areas from urban sprawl and preserve the unique characteristics that comprise Fort Lauderdale's vibrant and diverse neighborhoods," he said.

By building in Fort Lauderdale, Traina said he can offer modern amenities and access to mass transit at an affordable price. The access to transit gives his location an advantage over the beach or Las Olas Boulevard, Traina said, and he said Miami no longer offers customers all of what they are looking for.

He envisions the combination of convenience, pricing and open space will lure professionals away from big cities. He intends to work with local universities and businesses, as well as the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, to mold Fort Lauderdale into a tech hub that would one day rival San Francisco and Austin.

“With the tax environment, the regulatory environment, the climate and other factors, it's a far greater value than New York, Boston, San Francisco or North Carolina,” he said. “What has always been the holdup is that people never understood the breadth or depth of the skilled workforce” coming out of Florida universities.

Traina expects to be involved with initiatives that bring employers and skilled residents together.