Long and Winding Road

It took three years and thousands of attorney hours for Suntex to get final approval for the $35 million redevelopment of Las Olas Marina
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Development proposals for Las Olas Marina in Fort Lauderdale met with three years of protests, red tape and unexpected delays. 

Development proposals for Las Olas Marina in Fort Lauderdale met with three years of protests, red tape and unexpected delays. 

A journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single request for proposals. At least that’s how the trek to a new luxury development with two restaurants, office space, a gym, a pool and a megayacht-focused marina in the heart of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., started for Suntex Marina Investors.

In 2015, the city was engaged in a $70 million update of the Central Beach area, including a beautification plan, new sidewalks, improved traffic flow and better access to public spaces. Las Olas Marina, a city-owned property with 60 spaces and a handful of amenities, sat next to a parking lot and cried out for some attention of its own. Officials put out a call for bids, and in 2016 it awarded the contract to Suntex, which owns or operates 45 marinas around the country.

Since then, the process has been winding. There have been pulled permits, proprietary approvals, regulatory approvals through various city divisions, construction documents submitted, soil studies and environmental planning. After all of that came tangles with the design review committee, and submissions for planning and zoning board approval.

“We were in touch with the commission to make sure we were in compliance with the lease, with the code, with the citizens-led initiative,” says David Filler, the head of Florida investments for Suntex. “We threw out the first two proposals and did a third. We went to the statehouse in Tallahassee. It’s complicated.”

The biggest challengers were the most common not just in Florida, but everywhere developers want to build: local interest groups. “Five condo buildings surround the marina, and there was something of a turf war over where the various structures and restaurants would go,” Filler says. “We had to keep shifting the location. Between the engineers and landscape architects, civil engineers, site planners — it took time.”

Other concerns included traffic and the height of the building, even though the space was zoned for 240 feet and the proposed structure would stand 40 feet. “The problem is that the only people that show up at meetings are the ones that oppose something,” Filler says.

Concessions and amendments included excavating part of the property that was filled in to build the previous marina, donating some land to convert an adjacent road from one lane to two, and adding a waterfront promenade open to the community. After that, Suntex in May 2018 signed a 50-year lease to redevelop and run the marina. This past July — more than a year later and almost four years after the company began work on the concept — the Fort Lauderdale City Commission voted unanimously to approve Suntex’s $35 million redevelopment plan.

“I had lawyers, lobbyists and staffers working on this,” Filler says. “I hate to misquote something, but it easily could’ve been 2,000 hours over the course of the project. My lawyer alone is probably 300 hours.

The new marina will have 68 slips that can accommodate yachts from 70 to 280 feet.

The new marina will have 68 slips that can accommodate yachts from 70 to 280 feet.

“It was hard,” Filler adds, “but I’m convinced we did everything the commission asked us to do.” Meeting the demands of the city and citizens was worth the effort, he says, because Fort Lauderdale needs more marina services, especially for larger vessels.

“There’s limited supply of slips for the bigger boats in South Florida,” he says. “The boats have grown over the years. The 50-footers are now 90- and 100-foot yachts, and because of that, marinas built 30 years ago weren’t designed for as many big boats.”

Las Olas will cater to that clientele. Every one of the rebuilt marina’s 68 slips will be able to accommodate at least a 70-footer, and the average slip length will be 150 feet. One outside pier facing the Intracoastal Waterway will run 315 feet and could provide dockage for a 280-foot yacht, within the ICW’s 15-foot depth.

South Florida remains a prime target for marina acquisitions because of demand for larger yachts, as well as year-round boating. The economics of a superyacht project like Las Olas make sense. “We get 12 months of slip income per year,” Filler says.

Amenities will include floating concrete docks attached to 15-foot-wide finger piers that can accommodate golf carts. There will be power pedestals, Wi-Fi, water hookups and pumpout facilities. On shore will be a two-story, 11,000-square-foot restaurant. A 24,400-square-foot, three-story structure will contain lounges, a kitchen and showers for yacht crews, another restaurant, a ship’s store, offices, a gym and a swimming pool on the roof.

The city has built a park and a five-story, 650-space parking deck on the adjacent properties for those who visit by land. In addition to the big-boat slips, the marina will offer dock-and-dine opportunities, with space for visiting yachts, smaller boats and tenders.

Work on Las Olas Marina is expected to start in the first quarter of 2020, after this autumn’s Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, and finish in early 2021, assuming that Suntex gets final approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection. “Those usually are not difficult,” he says, “but someone could still challenge the plan.” 

This article originally appeared in the September 2019 issue.

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