BY BUDDY NEVINS
You might have heard how a heartless developer is threatening the life of a rare tree so he can build in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Asi Cymbal, project developer, next to “The Tree”
It’s a compelling story of the type the media loves, pitting good and evil.
Good, the environmentalists who want to “save” the tree (Yay!).
Evil, the greedy developer from Miami (Boo!) who is threatening the tree with death (Boo!) to enrich himself (Boo!).
One problem with this scenario: It’s not true.
At a news conference today at the site of the controversial Marina Lofts project, I looked around.
The six acres along the New River is a dump. Huge FPL transmission lines run thorough the middle. Run-down little utilized buildings. Tattered bushes. Waste on the ground.
The land is boxed in by two giant apartment complexes. It also abuts the railroad tracks. This is far from pristine property.
Then there is The Tree. The Tree that has been so controversial.
The Big Tree
It’s an Albizia saman, or rain tree.
At 72 feet high with a 135 foot wide crown, it’s the largest of its type in Florida. Perhaps anywhere.
Big and ugly.
It is not adorned with moss or orchards. A crooked basketball hoop is nailed into its bark.
It is just one big tree among many big trees in an empty rundown lot.
In my opinion, it would be no loss to cut it down.
But I’m not developer Asi Cymbal.
He said he is spending $1 million to move the tree to another part of the property. It would be on the street in a public park.
The tree is currently secluded on private property which can’t legally be accessed.
Cymbal hired Bob Brennan, a private arboricultural consultant who also works for Fairchild Gardens. He hired Paul Cox, an arborist who is one of the nation’s most experienced movers of giant and endangered trees.
These experts will move the tree. Brennan says it should live for another 200 years.
The rain tree is only one of dozens of trees on the property. A number of them are over 100 years old. All will be saved.
Project Already Renting
So when Cymbal says that Marina Lofts will be an environmentally favorable project, believe him.
Now there is blight on the New River. Soon Cymbal hopes there will be 998 affordable luxury apartments (Rents will start at $1,100-a-month.), stores and restaurants surrounded by tropical trees.
Cymbal will bring in Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, whose goal is to maximize the visual access to the water.
Prospective renters like the idea. Half of Phase One has been rented without putting a stick in the ground.
Cymbal expects the buildings to be filled with singles working downtown, childless couples and empty nesters. His marketing studies show that as many as 20 percent of those living in the downtown Fort Lauderdale area are college students, so he’ll pitch to them, too.
The Tree has become such a public controversy, that what was once a no brainer could get derailed at the city commission.
I asked Cymbal if he envisioned the controversy over the tree when he bought the property in late 2011.
“I didn’t envision illogical opposition,” he said.
Cymbal called the opponents a “small group.”
He is right. There have been far fewer opponents than will be employed building the $150 million project. Fewer opponents than want to live in the buildings.
But the opponents have had one advantage. Only one.
They know how to spin the media….until now.
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