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Steve Hudson On Fort Lauderdale's Ups And Downs

Steve Hudson grew up with a mom who had a travel agency on Fort Lauderdale's main drag, Las Olas Boulevard. He eventually bought the building using her right of first refusal. He formed Hudson Capital in 1997 and has been instrumental in funding apartments, warehouse and retail throughout South Florida ever since.

Quaint Las Olas Boulevard will soon have more contemporary national chain stores.

In 2017, Hudson teamed up with the other two major landowners on Las Olas to bring new retail offerings to the street. 

Hudson, who will be a panelist at Bisnow's Fort Lauderdale State of the Market event March 20 (along with Mayor Dean Trantalis, Related Group's Jon Paul Perez and many more), spoke with Bisnow about the city and the Las Olas drag. 

Bisnow: What are your current holdings in South Florida?

Hudson: Hudson Capital’s holdings include residential, retail, office, warehouse and industrial properties. We have done some development on our own, but generally we participate as equity in many of our deals. Through the years, we have had very solid relationships — Terry Stiles and my father had partnered on many deals, including several that helped shape downtown Fort Lauderdale’s skyline. We have invested in Downtown, on 17th Street Causeway, Las Olas and most recently in Flagler Village.

Bisnow: Tell me how the street has changed over the years.

Hudson: Las Olas has gone through several cycles. When we first purchased land in the '90s, you could shoot a cannon down the street at night and not hit a soul. Years before that, I remember going to Las Olas when many stores would shutter up all summer and reopened for “the season." Las Olas is a special, very unique destination that has been through several transformations through the years. It is Broward County’s only authentic, walkable destination, at the heart of Downtown. 

Bisnow: What are some of the most memorable things that have ever happened on Las Olas?

Hudson: When Tommy Bahama opened up 20 years ago, that was a huge change from the mom-and-pop stores that traditionally filled Las Olas. The addition of so many residential units downtown is remarkable and transformational for Las Olas.

Bisnow: I know there has been a recent focus on modernizing the retail mix. How is that going?

Hudson: I’m not sure I would call it modernizing as much as an overall update with a keen focus on the progression and transformation of retail in general. In general, I think it’s harder for mom-and-pop stores to compete in the Amazon era. While I certainly believe some will survive, each year it becomes more difficult for these smaller stores to adapt and overcome the online era.

Bisnow: How are the really long-term tenants, like Maus & Hoffman, faring and adapting?

Hudson: Maus & Hoffman is a great success story. They have been adapting over the years through multi-channel retailing, starting with direct mail, adding to that a strong online presence. Those channels help to enhance their brick-and-mortar stores. M&H shifted gears recently, moving out of their large (and expensive) retail site, consolidated and reopened in a smaller space at The Riverside Hotel. To date, I understand they are extremely happy with their moves.

Tommy Bahama is another great example. After 20-plus years at their current location, they are moving to a new, larger space at the corner of Eighth Avenue, including a Marlin Bar, one of only three that they will do this year. Another notable is Lilly Pulitzer. After leaving the street many years ago, they opened a pop-up store last year. Lilly is extremely impressed with the store’s performance and is now negotiating for a more permanent space on Las Olas.

Bisnow: What's the going rent on Las Olas?

Hudson: That’s somewhat of a moving target that has many factors involved. I’ve seen rates anywhere from $70/SF to $100/SF [triple-net]. I do believe as the street evolves, so will the increase in rents as the retailers are able to justify the cost based on increased sales.

Bisnow: What's your take on talk of the "retail apocalypse"?

Hudson: Retail is going through a transition for sure, well-documented. That said, I believe that areas like Las Olas will not only survive, but thrive. Specifically, Las Olas is a unique, quaint, walkable destination that provides a social experience, as well as a shopping district. The brands that we are talking to for Las Olas have figured out how to leverage their online stores with their brick-and-mortar stores. 

Hear more about Las Olas and its development at Bisnow's Fort Lauderdale State of the Market event March 20.