Developer drops Bahia Mar upgrade

Says the process ‘has taken on a life of its own’ and has made the huge project at the Fort Lauderdale show site ‘no longer viable’
The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show spreads across six locations, but the Bahia Mar is the main venue.

The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show spreads across six locations, but the Bahia Mar is the main venue.

The development company that holds the lease on the Bahia Mar Resort and Yachting Center — the main venue of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show — has withdrawn its application to redevelop the property, with partner Jimmy Tate saying that after recent events the project “is no longer economically viable for us.”

Developer TRR Bahia Mar LLC/RAHN Bahia Mar LLC cites these reasons for withdrawing the application:

  • Vocal neighborhood opposition to the plan forced the developer to pare two condominium towers from 39 to 29 stories each, for a loss of 230,000 square feet of floor space, and to substitute more greenway and boardwalk for some commercial space envisioned in the original plan.
  • The lease terms and conditions that the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, the boat show’s owner, and Show Management, its producer, are seeking for the use of Bahia Mar in the fall each year for the show are “not even close to being fair and equitable,” the developers say.
  • The developers have had difficulty negotiating a new 50-year lease and a 50-year extension option with the city to operate the hotel and marina on its property. The extension is necessary if the developers wish to build and sell condominiums, an important profit-maker in their redevelopment package. The new lease would supersede one they have, which has 46 years remaining.

“We have simply concluded that, for reasons well beyond our control, the process has taken on a life of its own, and unfortunately, the results are no longer fair and equitable for us as owners of the leasehold interest,” the letter says.

Despite those setbacks, Tate says TRR Bahia Mar has 46 years left on its lease and five years remaining on its contract to host the boat show at Bahia Mar, and he told the city that he will continue to operate the facility “with the utmost professionalism, class and integrity.”

He told Soundings Trade Only that he has no desire for the boat show to leave “so long as it remains strong, fun and enjoyable,” but under his city lease he does not have to redevelop Bahia Mar. “We are content with the property the way it is. It continues to do very well. It doesn’t have to be redeveloped [to be profitable].”

In a joint statement, Show Management president Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III and MIASF executive director Phil Purcell say they are “disappointed” at the turn of events after working “diligently and in good faith” on the plan with the developers and the city.

They say they had actively supported the new design and were happy with the provisions in it for the boat show. “We are fully prepared to support it and look forward to working with [the developers] on any new proposal they come up with,” Zimbalist says. In either case, he says, Bahia Mar “is not a world-class facility and needs to be improved.”

Purcell agrees. “It’s an area we’d like to see redeveloped,” he says.

Although the redevelopment remains in limbo, Zimbalist says Show Management will undertake significant efforts to upgrade the site for the 2016 boat show.

In their joint statement, Zimbalist and Purcell say there were general discussions about a long-term lease between Bahia Mar and the boat show early on, but Show Management and the MIASF were just preparing to begin formal negotiations on specific terms with TRR Bahia Mar when it withdrew its plan. Zimbalist says the show still has five years on its contract with Bahia Mar, so it will go on.

Show Management and the MIASF are seeking a 30-year contract to keep the show at the Bahia Mar hotel/ resort/marina, but the rent provisions must be structured to “mirror the ups and downs in the economy over the life of the contract,” Zimbalist says.

Purcell says the boat show paid Bahia Mar “over $5 million” to use its property in 2015.

Zimbalist is aiming for Bahia Mar and Show Management to come to terms on a long-term lease in the next year or two. “There’s still an opportunity to negotiate, whether it is with the current plan or not,” he says.

Meanwhile, the MIASF and Show Management have reached a 30-year agreement for Show Management to produce the show for the MIASF, and this has helped “ensure the show’s future,” Purcell and Zimbalist say in their statement. They say they are grateful for the city’s commitment to ensuring that the show stays in Fort Lauderdale, its home for 56 years.

In a July 1 editorial, the Sun Sentinel newspaper describes the boat show as an “essential engine for our region’s marine industry” and one that “needs certainty to plan its future.” It notes that city manager Lee Feldman told the newspaper’s editorial board that although Fort Lauderdale can’t force Tate to redevelop Bahia Mar, it can seek bed tax money to help develop a new facility for the boat show “if that’s what’s needed.”

The opinion piece says Tate told the Sun Sentinel that he would listen to any ideas the city or boat show proposed for the property “that make sense,” but in the editorial board’s view it might be best at this time for everyone involved to agree to “live with what’s there now.”

The redevelopment plan envisioned a $1 billion hotel-residential-marina complex with a park-like public promenade along the waterfront and a parking garage convertible to indoor exhibit space during the show.

This article originally appeared in the August 2016 issue.


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