Broward County Commission’s Poor Decisions Plague Us With Crowded Roads

 

BY BUDDY NEVINS

 

 

“We have already turned the 17th Causeway into one of the county’s largest parking lots. The traffic is strangling us,” said Sol Lesser a resident at the waterfront Port of Americas condominium.

It could have been said today, but Lesser was talking to the Sun-Sentinel in 1987 — 30 years ago!

Lesser was quoted about the Broward County Commission decision to build a convention center wedged between the northern edge of Port Everglades and the already-overcrowded causeway.

It was a decision fueled by political expediency at the expense of good planning.

Almost nothing is more illustrative of how dysfunctional the Broward County Commission has been over the last four decades than the struggle over the convention center complex. Since about 1980, Broward County’s government realized the tourism industry needed a convention center coupled with a hotel. Roughly a half dozen different locations were proposed in the 1980s  and agreements collapsed because of political wrangling.

In 1987, commissioners finally got it together and made a decision.  The wrong one.

Former tourism and convention center director Nicki Grossman was on the County Commission in the 1980s. She initially favored a site near the current Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

“It had plenty of room to grow,” Grossman recalls.

A new convention campus would have rehabilitated a shabby swath of the county with new hotels and restaurants augmenting the center. The area had far fewer traffic problems and was close to Florida’s Turnpike and Interstate 595.

Then Broward’s political reality intervened.

“The east side hotels wanted the project on the east side,” Grossman says.

 

Nicki Grossman

 

By east side, Grossman means Fort Lauderdale. Any other location including Hollywood, Deerfield Beach or Davie that made more sense didn’t have enough political pull.

There were two sites considered in Fort Lauderdale.

Pavarini Construction wanted to build the $50 million project at Birch Road and Las Olas Boulevard on the beach.

Investors Edward Deutsch and Thomas Ireland wanted it at the north end of Port Everglades dubbed Northport. That is where the exhibit hall eventually landed.

 

Lobbying Donnybrook

 

The fight between the two sides generated the most intense lobbying commissioners and the public had ever seen.

“You could call almost anytime and there’d be someone sitting here lobbying me,” Grossman told the Miami Herald at the time. “I would say lobbying on this comes second only to…..No, I don’t think it comes second to anything. This is the most intensely lobbied project I’ve ever seen. It’s incredible.”

Pavarini hired former County Commissioner Hugh Anderson and Robert Huebner, along with lobbyists George Allen and Joel Gustafson to peddle his project.

Northport’s team was headed by former County Commissioner George Platt, who was at the height of his lobbying prowess. Platt knew how to turn a business decision into a question of politics.

Here’s how:

Pavarini’s lobbying team and supporters like the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce and the downtown business community were mostly Republicans.

Platt was chair of the Broward Democratic Party at the time. He knew that Republican money didn’t count as much as the promise of Democratic votes when six of the seven commissioners were Democrats. So Platt wisely snared the endorsements that counted to any Democrat hoping for a long career in elective office – labor unions, condominium association leaders and party activists.

Pavarini’s backers had money and business types. Platt’s Northport team had votes, thousands of them.

 

George Platt

 

It is no surprise that potential votes in the next election trumped any other consideration.

Only Republican Commissioner Ed Kennedy and Howard Craft, a Democrat, backed Pavarini’s beach site. Two months after the vote, Craft announced he was not running for re-election and quickly faded from Broward politics.

 

Broward County Commission Failures

 

The convention center decision was pegged on two assumptions:

 

  • Northport developers promised to build a hotel at the site.
  • Commissioners believed there was a good chance that a tunnel under the Intracoastal Waterway would replace the 17th Street bridge to alleviate traffic on the causeway.

 

The tunnel never got built. The developer broke his promise to build the hotel.

Grossman is still upset.

“I couldn’t go in the same room as (developer) Tom Ireland. After the public money was spent, the two 500-room towers never got built,” she remembers.

Even after Ireland and the other original owners left the picture, future County Commissions couldn’t get the hotel project off the ground.

There were hundreds of hours proposing and promising. There were decades full of PowerPoint presentations.

The results of all this talk was….nothing.

 

 

A New Hotel?

 

 

The latest crop of Commissioners believes they are finally moving towards construction of a convention hotel. They have a Texas firm designing plans. They want to sign a deal and start building next year.

The opening of the $500 million expansion of the exhibit hall and a new 800-room hotel is scheduled for 2021. If everything goes according to plans.

Yet significant snags remain.

How to accommodate security concerns at Port Everglades is a big, big issue. Finding space for parking is another obstacle.

Traffic remains the big issue. The question of how to fit traffic generated by a larger convention center – everybody won’t fit in the new hotel – on already overtaxed streets is unresolved.

Hovering in the background is another complication. A nascent grassroots campaign among Fort Lauderdale residents wants to move the convention center to somewhere else.

Anywhere else.

All that money — $500 million — could go a long way towards relocating the center near expressways, perhaps on future transit routes and away from 17th Street.

Moving the convention center away from Port Everglades would free up roadways for the traffic generated by the new, larger cruise ship and increased cargo.

Moving the center, however, would cost the center its gorgeous view of the seaport.

And also its view of Fort Lauderdale’s sewage plant.

And of dozens of oil tanks.

And of 17th Street jammed packed with cars waiting for the bridge.

Supporters of the center’s current location say the poor decision was made years ago.

It is too late and too expensive to change now, they say.

That train left the station.

The location of the convention center is water under the bridge.

Or more appropriate in Fort Lauderdale, water over the sea wall.

Should the county spend $500 million for a waterfront structure in a city that is already experiencing increasing street flooding?

That is another question entirely. And that’s a question that hasn’t been asked enough.

 

 

 Fanciful rendering distributed earlier this month of the new, expanded convention center.  The 17th Causeway hasn’t had that little traffic for generations (Click to enlarge):

 

 

 

 

 



13 Responses to “Broward County Commission’s Poor Decisions Plague Us With Crowded Roads”

  1. AL Redlhammer says:

    Back when I was on the PEV Management team, mpost of us thought that the Northport Property was a rare piece of Seaport Property that could not be manufactured elsewhere whereas a Convention Center could be built anywhere. The politics were indeed intense. The result is that the convention center is hurting for space and the Port ended up losing valuable space and traffic became a bigger problem. Remember, the port was, at that time a separate “Taxing District” controlled by its own Port Commission….(who couldn’t buy a clue with a Platinum Card)

    FROM BUDDY:

    Al, the Port Commission couldn’t buy a clue, but the rumor was widespread that anybody could buy some of the Port Commissioners!

  2. Ha Ha Ha says:

    Best place for the new convention center and convention hotel would be on the south side of Sunrise Blvd., just east of Rick Case Kia! There is vacant land available there which is most likely already owned by the City of Sunrise. Convention attendees would have very convenient access via the Sawgrass Expressway, and they would also be located right on the doorstep of Sawgrass Mills Mall where they could very easily spend, spend, spend those tourist dollars!

  3. Talks like a politician says:

    I am quite sure the current gaggle of nitwits on the Broward County Commission will come up with a fantastic plan for alleviating traffic near the Convention Center.
    Tim Ryan is already touting the benefits of taking away traffic lanes on streets in Broward. His buddy, Anne Castro, has stated that the plan to alleviate Broward traffic is to make it so congested that people will be forced to ride bikes and buses. Maybe those two will take away some lanes on 17th Street and we can merrily ride our bikes up the bridge to the beach a la Pee Wee Herman.
    Warning: If you ride your bike back from the beach over the 17th Street bridge, wear a mask. The fumes from the lift station can be overwhelming.
    One thing is sure: the lobbyists and the developers will win and the residents will lose.

  4. Stormwatch says:

    Poor road conditions isn’t the only thing that their decisions have plagued us with.
    We’ve got a beautiful, magnificent arena that is consistently one of the top ten grossing arenas in North America, that is owned by the County, and doesn’t generate dime one for local coffers, because the county commission awarded the management contract to the owner of the Panthers. Not to mention what a disservice it was to the Himmarshee and Las Olas restaurants and bars to build that venue across the street from Florida’s busiest mall rather than where Riverwalk is. Look at all those parking garages downtown sitting empty at night. All because Wayne Huizenga’s research showed most Panther fans coming from west Broward and Palm Beach. The idea should have been to draw them and concert fans downtown. Not out west.

  5. Inn Keeper says:

    False news!!!!

  6. Lane diet says:

    Don’t worry about traffic anymore. The planners have convinced the city commission and they have approved a plan to narrow all 6 lane roads, including US-1 in downtown to 4 lanes with two dedicated bike /pedestrian lanes. The new plan will result in less traffic because the city commission thinks many residents will start biking and walking with less lanes to drive on.
    I am not making this up. You can go to SW 4 Ave and NW 9 Ave to see where it has started. It is called “Lane Diets” and it is coming to the rest of the city soon.
    Of course, most of the commissioners who have adopted this plan will be gone from office by the time it is implemented City wide. Thanks to term limits and a city manager who is very close to developers and has convinced a commission majority to approve these things.
    Time for a strong mayor?

  7. Vicki Eckels says:

    I am part of the grassroots effort to move the convention center, but not just “anywhere else”. It belongs in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Creating a new Civic Center location along Broward Boulevard west of downtown will contribute to the long term growth and development of our City for all citizens:
    1. Immediate access to the existing transportation hub plans
    a. I-95
    b. Wave
    c. All-Aboard America
    d. Walking to Broward Center, Restaurants, Center-City amenities and hotels.
    2. Provides employment for citizens who live locally and could use public transport/walk to work.
    3. Perfect multi-use location for
    a. New City Hall
    b. High-rise residential
    c. High-rise hotel
    d. Office Building
    e. Proper Parking structures
    4. Design can incorporate
    a. Retail space and restaurants
    b. Low-income housing
    c. Truck access from the lesser used direction
    d. Pedestrian walkways and park areas to local areas of interest and transportation hubs

    IF YOU AGREE, email City Commissioners. We are starting to get traction, but they need to hear from constituents. At least two are leaning heavily in support of this plan in large part due to traffic problems. In the post 9/11 world of the port, there are no solutions to traffic and to the limited access (single way in and out) of the current and of a future expanded convention center. Please join our grassroots effort by sending your EMAIL.

  8. What? says:

    If not for tourism, all of South Florida and Broward County included would be relatively unimpressive.

    Tourism is by far our number one economic engine. That is true for the entire state.

    The traffic complaints of locals pale in comparison to that reality. Yet ridiculous notions abound, like being able to drive around in a county of 2 million the same way as some did back in the 60’s, when the county was less than 1 million in population. Preposterous.

    So here’s my message to anyone living in Broward that doesn’t want to deal with the realities of growth, irrespective of whether they’ve lived here 2 years or are 5th generation Broward.

    Get lost.

    Traffic is a byproduct of progress. You are standing in the way of others making a living and we’re just sick of your selfish bellyaching. Go move to some two bit county up 95 and leave us the hell alone to make Broward a true destination.

  9. tell the truth says:

    @7. Vickie Eckels
    Broward?
    where? lots of tiny properties on not very deep lots limit the footprint, parking, etc. on both sides of Broward.
    why didn’t you suggest Sistrunk?
    Lots of empty space there with pretty streetlights and fancy brick pavers mixed into the sidewalks.

    day late and a dollar short. BCC is proceeding with the convention center at the port. schematics are underway and just like the county courthouse they won’t stop for anything, even lack of funds.
    nothing is going to stop that.

  10. Say what? says:

    Traffic isn’t a byproduct of progress. It is a byproduct of poor planning and leadership

  11. Budget Man says:

    #10 Did you read that in a fairy tale book? Is that why it sounds so comforting? Moron.

  12. Say what? says:

    I read it in the oath of office commissioners take.
    ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect, and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States and of the State of Florida; that I am duly qualified to hold office under the Constitution of the state; and that I will well and faithfully perform the duties of (title of office) on which I am now about to enter. So help me God.’,
    When planning officials admit they are trying to make residents suffer by making traffic conditions miserable I believe “well and faithfully” are out the window. Silly me to think swearing to any of it makes it true.

  13. Bob says:

    One of the best locations has always been the area bounded by 17th Street & SR-84 & Andrews Ave. & US-1. Keep the hospital parking garage and build around the water towers. Buy up as much of the other land as necessary and have access via 4 major roads (i.e. less traffic congestion).

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>