Contact Us

NHL Team, Elon Musk Tunnel Demonstrate Fort Lauderdale’s Growth Potential

Fort Lauderdale is on the rise, and it is luring the big names to prove it.

The Florida Panthers hockey team is exploring a permanent move to Fort Lauderdale from its current county-owned facility in Sunrise, Florida, Mayor Dean Trantalis told Bisnow.

"The team is talking with various stakeholders, various landowners in the area to identify sufficiently sized parcels of land," Trantalis said. "We're hoping they'll change their name to the Fort Lauderdale Panthers."

The team already has a deal to renovate Fort Lauderdale's War Memorial Auditorium with two ice rinks — one for the team to practice on, one for the public — and a 3,000-person concert facility. It broke ground on that in May. But renderings released by the city envision a more full-sized arena on public land. 

A rendering of Fort Lauderdale as it could look in 2030

Trantalis' comments came as part of a wide-ranging conversation on the future of Fort Lauderdale.

According to the city's Downtown Development Authority, the downtown population has grown by 41% in the past 10 years. There are more than 20 new developments underway in the urban core, including 13,000 residential units, 600K SF of retail, 1.1M SF of office space and 1,000 new hotel rooms.

To illuminate just how rapidly the city has been growing, the DDA prepared renderings showing what the city’s downtown will look like by 2030.

“All the buildings that aren't outlined in yellow, at least half of those came online in just the past 10 years, and [with those proposed], we're looking at an almost doubling of that in the next 10-plus years,” DDA President Jenni Morejon said.

The rendering shows a City Center Venue, marked H, that Morejon said is public land that could potentially be the site of an arena.

"Whether that's esports, whether that's hockey, a place where you have connectivity from the Brightline, so regionally, you can get right to downtown and have major performances or sports games happen in the city center and not have to necessarily drive out to the suburbs," Morejon said. 

She suggested the idea was still in a discussion phase.

"There's nothing on paper, but it has definitely been part of legitimate conversations between different leaders in the community and those who might be behind it."

Trantalis said it is one site where the Florida Panthers could potentially play. A 2015 deal made allowances for the Panthers to move from the BB&T Center in Sunrise by 2023 if they lost $100M over seven years. They were losing about $30M per year at the time, according to the Sun-Sentinel. Sports writers have speculated that the Panthers would move east and reported that hockey's All-Star game will be held in Fort Lauderdale in 2023. 

"We still have several years left on our lease and are committed to the City of Sunrise and growing the game throughout Broward County," Panthers communications manager Chrissy Parente told Bisnow when asked for comment.

She said the Panthers would transition their official practice facility to Fort Lauderdale when the War Memorial Auditorium is complete and still own and operate the 125K SF Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs.

Given its growth trajectory, Fort Lauderdale has drawn interest from major developers, including OKO Group, which in 2020 bought three full blocks for a mixed-use development; Related Group, which has been developing luxury apartment towers; and Kushner Cos., which has proposed a massive project with four towers and 1,300 units.

City leaders this summer accepted Elon Musk’s Boring Company's proposal to build a tunnel that would transport riders 2.5 miles between a downtown train station and the beach in Teslas. Fort Lauderdale last year provided a home to David Beckham's Major League Soccer team, Inter Miami, after the team ran into roadblocks building a stadium in Miami.

Morejon highlighted some of the other projects that are shown in the DDA rendering. FAT Village, marked A on the rendering and signifying Food, Art and Technology, will keep expanding from its beginnings as a cluster of industrial warehouses around which an arts-centric community sprung up, drawing comparisons to Wynwood in Miami. 

Its 5.6-acre, four-block site is being developed into a campuslike mixed-use project with residential units, retail and a seven-story office building. Fort Lauderdale-based Urban Street Development is teaming up with Hines to develop it as T3 FAT Village, an extension of Hines' T3 brand, which stands for timber, transit and technology and combines the style of old-fashioned industrial lofts with modern technologies.  

“This is going to be the first project in Florida that is built out of timber, and it really is trying to meet the needs and demands of a new generation workforce through this type of office space that they build,” Morejon said.

The New River and Las Olas Boulevard both effectively bisect the city. The southern side is now affectionately being called the S.O.L.O. District (South Of Las Olas), Morejon said.

“There are probably at least a half-dozen, maybe 10 different towers that are proposed for south of the river,” she said. 

Those will trigger more retail and restaurant activity, Morejon predicted. A new federal courthouse is slated for construction, too, which will drive more commerce and office use, she said. A new joint city-county government complex, marked G on the rendering, is underway.  

“When that new office building gets built with about 750K SF, that is right next to the Brightline [private train] station on Broward Boulevard," Morejon said. "It opens up about 7 acres of land that the city and county own separately. The vision is that valuable publicly owned land can be utilized for a new venue or new mixed-use development.”

Kushner Cos. principal Nicole Kushner Meyer said her firm liked Fort Lauderdale because it "offers a sense of charm, but it also has a business sense to it." Demographics and growth trends played into the decision to invest, and they explored many sites before settling on 4.2 acres where a four-tower development called Broward Crossing is planned in the Himmarshee District. 

"We've been looking in this area for a long time, but this site specifically, we liked it because of accessibility to the Brightline and the connectivity to [surrounding projects]," she said. "Right next door is the science museum."

Fort Lauderdale broker Jaime Sturgis, founder and CEO of Native Realty, said he was excited for the city to fill in and become more livable and walkable.

"Fort Lauderdale historically has developed in neighborhoods and pockets," Sturgis said. "With the development occurring right now and more to come, I think you will see a fusion of these neighborhoods."

Parts of downtown had felt like a ghost town for years after the failure of the Riverfront, a massive 254K SF retail center built in 1998 that suffered from high vacancies and became an eyesore. It was demolished in 2017 and, in 2020, replaced with the 639-unit Society Las Olas by developer Property Markets Group.

PMG Managing Partner Ryan Shear said the property is 97% leased, with nine floors leased to apartment-hotel operator Sonder, and is on the verge of being sold. Phase 2 is slated to break ground late this year or early next. 

Fort Lauderdale is "not only a national market, but I would argue as an international market at this point," Shear said. 

"There were changes on the beach when people started selling condos at almost $2K [per SF]," he said. "I think the Four Seasons got there, and apartment rates started to match Miami rates for the most part, and then you have a lot of significant retail tenants moving in."

The rendering doesn’t even show that just a mile east, there is more major development on Fort Lauderdale Beach, where several residential towers are in the pipeline and a Four Seasons Hotel and Residences is under construction.

A rendering shows what Fort Lauderdale could look like by 2030

Of course, as Fort Lauderdale has grown, it has had to cope with frequent traffic jams, sewer breaks and rising rents.

Morejon said that the addition of residential supply should keep prices in check and that private developers have improved infrastructure for entire blocks and neighborhoods as they have built their new projects.

“There's not a capacity issue,” she said. “It's really just the age of infrastructure, and the city has made bold commitments to invest almost $700M in five years to take on work that needed to be done for quite some time. So the improvements are underway, the private sector’s contributing to the pace of that, and it's a positive outcome at the end of the day, the tax base raises from these.”

Trantalis played up Fort Lauderdale's other assets: its seaport, planned expansion of a commuter train and efforts to clean up its canal system, which contributes to the city's reputation as a global yachting capital and its nickname, Venice of America.

However, critics say the city isn't doing enough to protect green space and public land amid the development pressure, that it has been turning over prime public parcels to private interests and that it is not allowing public input until late in the deal-making process, if at all.

The Panthers' deal at the War Memorial Auditorium was controversial and triggered a lawsuit, and in downtown Fort Lauderdale, citizens have been rallying against a proposal for a private operator to lease city land long-term for a food hall and concert venue.

Florida's P3 statute provides leeway for details of unsolicited proposals to remain confidential. Details about the Boring Company proposal, plus two competing proposals that came in, "will not be made public until/if the Commission decides to move forward," city spokesperson Ashley Doussard told Bisnow. She said she didn't know when the matter would be slated for a commission vote.

The mayor said the terms of the food hall/concert venue had been misconstrued by critics.  

"Right now, it's approximately 3.5 acres of real estate that's there. One acre of it is paved over because it's a parking lot," he said. 

The would-be tenant would build on the paved area but keep the green area open, plus pay for maintenance and security costs, he said. 

Farther west, an opportunity has arisen for a women's soccer team to play at Inter Miami's DRV PNK Stadium, but critics complained it would take over acreage that had been earmarked for a park. The plan wouldn't require new buildings, Trantalis said.

"It's still open space. So, whether the open space is left as a passive green area or whether it is repurposed for active use is where the debate lies," he said. 

He said Inter Miami had been a great partner for the city — "something that others, in other cities, could only dream about." 

Playing up even more of its sports assets, Trantalis highlighted Fort Lauderdale's abundance of participatory sports facilities. It has lots of pickleball courts, is renovating its beachside aquatic center and wants to work with the Evert family, which operates a tennis academy in Boca Raton, on a tennis project, he said. Tennis great Chris Evert was born in Fort Lauderdale, and a tennis complex in a city park is named after her father.

Even as its participatory and professional sports venues are built and renovated as it lures South Florida's hockey team, Trantalis said Fort Lauderdale has a "friendly rivalry" with Miami. He promised not to poach the Heat or the Dolphins. 

CORRECTION, SEPT. 7, 11:05 A.M. ET: Jenni Morejon said buildings not outlined in yellow have come online in the past 10 years. The story has been updated.