George Rahael is helping to shape the future of western Broward. In Coral Springs, his development company is moving ahead to create a pedestrian-friendly “downtown” environment. A few miles to the east in Lauderhill, the founder and CEO of Coral Springs-based Amera Cos. plans to turn a vacant retail center into a one-of-a-kind mixed-use center with a Caribbean theme.
“While west Broward has great homes, schools and playgrounds, people are yearning for a stronger sense of place,” Rahael says. “Today, suburban residents are seeking out places where they can walk, dine, shop and enjoy with their friends and neighbors. There’s a new generation of mixed-used centers that fulfill a basic human need.”
For the past 15 years, Broward County’s population growth, as well as its commercial development, has followed a western migration path. The opening of Interstate 595, Interstate 75 and the Sawgrass Expressway accelerated that flow, making it easy to commute south, east or north.
That new development in the western communities between US441/State Road 7 and the Everglades conservation area has been primarily horizontal: large scale office and industrial parks, garden apartments and single-family homes. As a result, a motorist can drive from one city to another without seeing much difference in architecture or land uses.
But that traditional pattern will be changing in the next few years, due to two key factors. First, the supply of raw, undeveloped land in western Broward is almost gone. That land shortage is already pushing up prices and making higher-density commercial and residential development an economic necessity for the private sector.
At the same time, Broward residents are looking for ways to spend more time on their feet and less time in their cars. If they commute to jobs in Fort Lauderdale, Boca Raton or Miami, they don’t want to have to drive 30 miles on a Friday night to enjoy a night on the town.
As a result, cities like Coral Springs, Plantation, Miramar, Sunrise, Davie, Pembroke Pines and Coconut Creek are looking to create new high-density town centers that combine retail, entertainment, office, cultural and residential uses. Generally following the principles of “new urbanism” — including wider sidewalks, pedestrian-oriented streetscapes, hidden parking, and outdoor cafes – these new mixed-use centers are designed to recreate a traditional downtown setting in the suburbs.
“This is a natural progression for western Broward,” says land use attorney Paul D’Arelli, a shareholder with Greenberg Traurig’s Fort Lauderdale office. “Fort Lauderdale was always the downtown, and as everyone moved out west to reside, then those communities started to become office and employment centers themselves. Now people are saying, ‘I don’t need to be in downtown Fort Lauderdale to work and I don’t want to drive there for dining or entertainment either. So, these new centers are an attempt to create a sense of place in built-out communities.”
Coral Springs Downtown
Back in the 1960s, Coral Springs was carefully designed as a classic automobile-oriented bedroom community. “Like most suburbs, Coral Springs’ development has focused on cars rather than pedestrians,” says Rahael. Now, the intersection of University Drive and Sample Road is the focus of a four-year planning effort to create a new “Coral Springs Downtown.”
Amera Corp. was selected by the city as master developer to create a pedestrian-friendly center on approximately 50 acres at the crossroads of this suburban community. This spring the city was preparing a development of regional impact (DRI) study for the public-private mixed-use project – the next step in the process.
Coral Springs Downtown will be a mix of redeveloped properties and new construction offering office, retail, more than 1,000 residential units, a 150-room limited service hotel, and institutional facilities and a new government center. The project will total approximately three million square feet of redevelopment.
“We will see the creation of a distinctive ‘main street,’ a day-to-night destination that responds to market needs with a dynamic tenant roster,” Rahael says.
Pending government approval, Amera plans to break ground this summer on the first phase of the project, One Charter Place, a four-story 100,000-square-foot building with ground-floor retail set “hard on the street” right up to the sidewalk, Rahael says. “This will be the first of many buildings,” he says.
Amera is also working out an agreement with Bonita Springs-based WCI Communities, one of the state’s leading builders of luxury residential communities, to develop the residential component of Coral Springs Downtown as a vertical condominium project.
Amera has already achieved one successful Coral Springs redevelopment with The Walk, an open-air lifestyle center on University Drive.
“We have all the elements conducive to a pedestrian environment there, and the center has been warmly received,” Rahael says.
This spring, The Walk hosted the city’s annual Festival of the Arts, and every fourth Wednesday there is live music as well.
“For me, one of the most telling events was meeting my neighbor — who I hadn’t seen for six months — at one of the events,” Rahael says. “We had a cup of coffee and talked for an hour or so. It just shows the importance of having a place where adults can meet and relax after they’ve done their chores or finished running their kids around.”
Plantation Moves Forward
Coral Springs isn’t the only western Broward community striving to create a “downtown.” In order to encourage and facilitate the development of a pedestrian-oriented city center, the city of Plantation has adopted a master plan and rezoned an approximately 860-acre area between University Drive, Pine Island Road, I-595 and Cleary Boulevard to a new mixed-use zoning category. The new “Plantation Midtown” concept is designed to encourage redevelopment of existing commercial sites with new residential components.
“Plantation has been a suburb of Fort Lauderdale with residential communities and malls, but no real town center,” D’Arelli says. “When you want to walk around and take the kids somewhere, you pretty much have to go to downtown Fort Lauderdale. Now the city will be creating a mixed-use environment, essentially enabling redevelopment with residences.”
The first mixed-use project slated for the north end of Plantation Midtown is The Veranda, according to D’Arelli, who assisted with the development approvals. The Veranda will include 398 residential units - slated to go on sale soon - and 44,000 square feet of retail space. Developer West City Realty Advisors was awaiting a building permit this spring before starting construction.
Another commercial property within the Midtown area that may be redeveloped is The Fountains, a 35-acre shopping center on University Drive that was purchased last year by Inland Southeast, a real estate investment trust (REIT). The new owner is exploring the addition of a residential component – a new usage made possible by the city’s rezoning to a mixed-use district.
“Local jurisdictions want to see this new type of development happen, but antiquated suburban-style zoning doesn’t allow that to occur,” D’Arelli says. “Private developers see that the existing regulations don’t work, so they are working with the city governments to make these types of projects feasible.”
D’Arelli adds that the city has expressed a strong desire to see a residential component included in The Fountains plan. “We think on-site residences would provide a terrific captive audience for the current and prospective retailers at The Fountains and provide exciting new housing opportunities in Plantation,” he says.
Additional infill residential development may occur in Plantation at the Broward Mall and Fashion Mall, which was recently purchased by a Chinese investment group, according to D’Arelli.
“There are certainly a lot of exciting things happening in Plantation and throughout western Broward as well,” he says.
a Town Center
After seven years of planning, Miramar has taken a dramatic step forward in its quest to create a new town center. In March, the city selected Rockefeller Group Development Corp. (RGDC) and Kimco Developers, Inc. to plan and develop Miramar Town Center, a 54-acre mixed-use neighborhood north of Miramar Parkway. The joint venture partners will purchase approximately 40 acres of city-owned land, which they will develop according to the approved master plan.
“A genuine town center was a keystone of Miramar’s visioning process for nearly a decade and now it’s soon to become a reality,” Miramar Mayor Lori Mosley says.
Miramar’s plan calls for approximately 135,000 square feet of retail space; 45,000 square feet of offices; 347 apartments; 133 townhouses; 17 units specially designed for work-at-home professionals; two parking garages; a mass transit hub; and a community recreation center.
“This is not a high-density facility – it will be four stories at the highest,” says Edgar Jones, senior director of Florida Operations for Rockefeller Development Group. “It’s an attempt to build a community-oriented, pedestrian-friendly environment. It’s a place to work and live and play, making it different from developments of the past. We’re trying to create something that older communities have, but not the newer ones.”
The city of Miramar will retain the site’s remaining acreage, where a new city hall opened in 2004. That municipal building will eventually be joined by other civic projects, including a cultural arts center and library. Construction of the parking garages is expected to begin by the end of the year, to be followed by the library and the cultural arts center. The developers have announced that Lowell Homes will serve as the team’s residential developer.
“Miramar Town Center is significant for the entire area,” Jones says. “This is a unique opportunity to bring a sense of community to a very linear city, which stretches far to the east and west. We’re very confident about delivering the kind of neighborhood setting that Miramar residents will be proud to enjoy.”
Jones says the development team is now preparing specific plans and working drawings for the initial phases of the town center. “It’s like a Rubik’s cube,” he says, “in that you have to build some roads and a parking garage first, while also starting the residential, office and retail components.”
Sunrise Goes Vertical
As western Broward approaches build-out, developers are already looking at vertical commercial and residential projects. In Sunrise, taller, higher-density developments are planned near the Sawgrass Mills mall — the second most popular tourist destination in Florida — and the Office Depot Center, home of the Florida Panthers hockey team.
“The city’s vision is to turn Sunrise into a central hub for western Broward,” says Jim Rosewater, a partner at Davie-based builder Weitzer Communities. “Sunrise is the center of the tri-county area, where I-75, I-595 and the Sawgrass Expressway all come together. Over the next five to six years, you’ll see a transformation of the area.”
Weitzer Communities, in a joint venture with an affiliate of J.I. Kislak Inc., is contributing to that transformation with TAO, a high-rise condominium development that has the tallest buildings west of Fort Lauderdale.
“We felt there was a great opportunity for a different product in the west Broward corridor,” Rosewater says. “There is a huge demand for housing with little land remaining.”
TAO will feature 396 residences in two 26-story contemporary towers. Located on a 36-acre lake, TAO will feature an elaborate pool area with spa, tropical landscaping, sunbathing lounges and a sand beach.
“We’ve just started taking reservations,” Rosewater says. “We’re attracting locals who want to move out of their homes and want a luxury lifestyle, but don’t necessarily want to live east. We’re also getting buyers from Miami-Dade, other parts of the (United States) and South America.”
A major new mid-rise project, still in the planning stage, is Metropica. In March, K-Group Holdings began working on the infrastructure for the 65-acre mixed-use development adjacent to the Sawgrass Mills mall.
Metropica’s first phase will include 500,000 square feet of office space in four office buildings, 363 residential units in two 8-story complexes, a restaurant village and parking garages. A second phase would include approximately 2,000 additional residential units and a large-scale park. Coral Gables-based Codina Group is the joint venture partner with K-Group in the project, which was announced in 2002.
A third major project is The Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass, a $38 million expansion of The Mills Corp.’s successful Sawgrass Mills mall. The expansion will provide an additional 110,000 square feet of retail and dining choices to Sawgrass Mills, the company says, increasing the center to 2.3 million square feet that can be leased. Now under construction, The Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass will open by late 2005.
Designed to be a distinct shopping experience from Sawgrass Mills, Mills Corp. said The Colonnade Outlets at Sawgrass will be an open-air, Mediterranean-themed promenade. The Colonnade Outlets will offer luxury, off-price, national and international retailers, as well as gourmet dining.
“The redevelopment of Sawgrass Mills will provide residents and tourists an unparalleled shopping experience, and grow our community’s reputation as one of Florida’s leading tourist destinations,” Sunrise city manager Patrick Salerno says.
A Hot Retail Market
With its fast-growing population and high level of working-age families, western Broward is one of the premier retailing areas in Florida. Virtually all types of retail centers are planned or under construction throughout the region.
Countywide, Broward had 33 million square feet of major retail centers at year-end 2004, according to a report by CB Richard Ellis. That includes recently completed western Broward projects like Weston Commons, a mixed-use project with 180,000 square feet by West City Partners. Anchored by a new Publix, the center is 98 percent occupied with rental rates of $32 per square foot, the study shows. Also last year, Kenneth Israel Real Estate completed Stirling Town Center, a 70,000-square-foot development with a 98 percent occupancy rate.
Overall, the CB Richard Ellis report noted that Broward’s retail vacancy rate was 5.6 percent at year-end with an average asking lease rate of $16.53 per square foot. Despite a high level of construction expected in 2005, the report shows no rise in vacancy rates is expected, due to heavy demand.
One of the largest planned retail centers in the region was announced in March by Duke Realty Corp. of South Florida. The nation’s largest office and industrial real estate investment trust company announced plans for a 40-acre, 400,000-square-foot retail center at the corner of Pines Boulevard and I-75 in Pembroke Pines. The company also has an option to purchase 55 adjacent acres for future development as a Class A office park.
“West Broward is a high growth market that we believe will continue to outperform virtually all other areas of South Florida in most property sectors,” says Mark G. Levy, South Florida vice president for Duke Realty Corp. Duke’s portfolio is comprised of 390,000 square feet of office space in Sunrise — the Sawgrass Pointe and Sawgrass Commerce Center buildings — and a similar amount in Weston, at Beacon Pointe, which will expand to 400,000 square feet by November, 2005.
“We are very excited about bringing this high-quality shopping destination to the residents of southwest Broward and northwest Dade Counties,” says Cindy Schembre, senior vice president of retail for Duke Realty. “A number of highly-desirable retailers have expressed interest in locating here.” Construction of the retail location is expected to begin in spring 2006.
To the northeast, Amera recently signed agreements with the city of Lauderhill to build Lauderhill Caribbean Village, a new retail project at the intersection of State Route 7 and West Sunrise Boulevard.
“The US-441/State Road 7 corridor has been overlooked for a long time, but things are starting to change,” Rahael says. “With two parcels at two corners, we can revise the whole layout and look of 441.”
Amera’s development would include Plantation Hill, a townhouse project, and Carishoca, a mixed-use office-retail-hotel project with a Caribbean theme.
“We would showcase the four historic influences of the Caribbean — English, French, Dutch and Spanish — through architecture, foods, music and entertainment,” Rahael says. “We believe the Caribbean theme would provide a unique destination that will appeal to both Broward residents and visitors.”
Carishoca is still in the design phase, and Rahael says he hopes to break ground in mid 2006. He says he has spoken with representatives of several Caribbean nations about housing their consulates in an office building and trade exhibition hall as part of the development. This would provide one location for the many consulates now scattered throughout South Florida.
Other retail projects are underway in Lauderdale Lakes. Gary Rogers, administrator of the city’s community redevelopment agency, points to a 220,000-square-foot Wal-Mart store on US-441 and Oakland Park Boulevard that will replace a long-vacant strip center.
“This will be a knockdown and a rebuild with groundbreaking planned for the fall,” he says. “The new Wal-Mart will have a Mediterranean design with wrought iron and a covered porte-cochere, so it will add some style to the city. We’re also planning a public transit facility, creating a hub for the area.”
Also in Lauderdale Lakes, AGU Studios plans to replace the former retail Bazaar center with a new music, movie and video production facility aimed at adults, rather than teenagers. Rogers says the project will include an $8 million interior build-out with sound studios, offices and broadcasting equipment. The facility, which is still being designed, is expected to include an auditorium where the audience can watch live performances or recordings.
In Coral Springs, Miami Beach-based LNR Property Corp. is redeveloping and expanding Hawk’s Crossing to create a 32-acre, 260,000-square-foot shopping center. Previously, Hawk’s Crossing was a 78,000-square-foot shopping center anchored by a Winn-Dixie, which became vacant about three years ago.
LNR purchased the adjacent 18.34 acres, and is joining the two parcels to create a bigger center that will be anchored by a 185,000 square-foot Super Target.
“The new center will have a very lively, high-end architectural design,” says Randy Weisburd, vice president of LNR’s commercial property group. ”This will be one of the best Super Targets in the country, and we expect to attract other top national tenants.” The Hawk’s Crossing project is expected to break ground in the third quarter.
“The Coral Springs Economic Development Foundation is very excited about the redevelopment of Hawk’s Crossing,” says Paul Cawley, the group’s executive director. “The project will increase the assessed value of this Coral Springs commercial property, which is the specific mission of our foundation.”
Looking to the future of western Broward, Weisburd says he expects to see more redevelopment in Coral Springs and other communities. “There are a lot of interesting retail projects lined up,” he says. “Coral Springs is not the quiet bedroom community it used to be. It’s now more of an infill site than a western suburb.”
Attracting Office Tenants
To provide enough room for a growing staff, reduce costs and improve efficiency, Tropical Financial Credit Union moved its headquarters to Miramar last November, joining a long list of organizations based in western Broward.
Greg L. Blount, the credit union’s president, says Tropical Financial outgrew its two existing buildings in west-central Miami-Dade and needed to consolidate its operations at a new 44,000-square-foot building in the Miramar Park of Commerce, which is centrally located for employees and members in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“Already, the move to the new facility is paying dividends,” Blount says. “Having virtually all non-branch employees under the same roof is more conducive to team building. It also reduces expenses and lets managers and staffers communicate more efficiently. Our new facility will also help in recruiting and retaining talented employees over the long term.”
Located just north of the Miami-Dade county line, Miramar’s business parks and stand-alone office buildings have a proven appeal to South Florida companies. Newcomers include the Latin American and Caribbean regional headquarters for Mattel, Telemundo, Cruises Only, Mercury Marine and Caremark, as well as call centers for Carnival Cruise Lines and Delta Air Lines.
“Office demand in western Broward is clearly on its way back up,” the Rockefeller Group’s Jones says. “We’re coming off three years of a bad economy and the after effects of [the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.] Now, the national and South Florida economies have improved, employment has increased, and that bodes well for the area’s office market.”
Demand for office space is coming from expanding local companies as well as those relocating from other parts of South Florida, according to Allison Adler, leasing specialist with Taylor & Mathis.
“Many CEOs and entrepreneurs live in western Broward and want offices nearby,” she says. “There’s also a big employee base because of the residential development.”
Taylor & Mathis is now marketing Miramar Centre III, a 100,000-square-foot building that is the third phase of Miramar Centre Corporate Park. The first building was purchased by MetLife and the second is 100 percent leased by Humana, Adler says. “The third building will be available for multiple tenants or a single user.”
In Pembroke Pines, Duke Realty’s new 55-acre office site can accommodate up to eight buildings ranging from 100,000 to 120,000 square feet, according to Mark Levy, the company’s vice president of development and leasing for South Florida.
“The planned new office development builds upon our success at Beacon Pointe in Weston, where we are completing our fourth 97,000-square-foot speculative office building,” Levy says.
The overall supply of prime, Class A office space in southwestern Broward is tight, according to Jeff Holding, managing director of CB Richard Ellis in Fort Lauderdale. His firm’s year-end 2004 figures show a 6.1 percent vacancy rate in the southwestern Broward submarket, and an 11.2 percent rate in Sawgrass Park, compared with a countywide rate of 14.8 percent. Altogether, western Broward has one-third of the county’s total Class A space.
The Sawgrass Park submarket also enjoyed strong absorption in 2004, as tenants like DHL, Countrywide Home Loans, WCI Communities and Xerox signed large leases. According to CB Richard Ellis, leasing rates have stabilized after decreasing about $1.50 per square foot in the past two years. With no new office product under construction and a decline in the vacancy rate, average leasing rates are expected to rise this year.
“The biggest thing we’ve seen so far in 2005 is that finally there is significant speculative development in the western office market,” Holding says. “That gives a good indication of the positive trend we’re seeing in South Florida. There are more and more tenants entering the market, and as a result rents are stabilizing and increasing.”
In the future, office uses will play an important role in the success of western Broward’s coming mixed-use centers, Holding says, because they provide space for close-to-home jobs. But unlike western Broward’s residential and industrial markets, Holding says there is still raw land available for new office construction.
“However, the options are getting fewer, as most of the prime parcels are being gobbled up,” he says. “Western Broward has a very solid office market because of its location and we expect to see further strong demand for space.”
Industrial Space Running Short
It is getting harder to find industrial space in the western Broward market, South Florida leasing executives say. Residential developers are paying higher prices to acquire industrial parcels and obtaining rezoning approvals to build new condominium projects.
“For many property owners, it’s not worth the risk and cost of developing industrial buildings when you can flip the raw land to a residential buyer,” says industrial specialist Harry Tangalakis, the senior vice president at CB Richard Ellis in Fort Lauderdale.
Countywide, industrial users absorbed 2.5 million square feet of space in 2004, according to statistics by CB Richard Ellis. The numbers show that there are virtually no large tracts of industrial land remaining, and prices for 40- to 70-acre parcels have risen to more than $12 a square foot. In addition, more than 50 percent of new industrial buildings are built for specific users, further reducing the potential supply of multi-tenant space.
One location with available space is the 500-acre Tamarac Commerce Park at Commercial Boulevard and the Sawgrass Expressway. “We’ve had great success with our industrial park,” says Andrew Berns, an economic development consultant for the city of Tamarac. Current tenants include City Furniture, which has a 1-million-plus square-foot facility, as well as AT&T Broadband, Convergys and Zephyrhills Water.
“We do have some industrial space available,” Berns says, “and would also like to see a 300-room hotel, and a small conference center at the park. Demand for space is coming mostly from local expansions, as companies need more space or more modern facilities.”
As of year-end 2004, Broward had an overall 6.8 percent vacancy rate in its industrial market. But Tangalakis says that figure has already fallen by a full percentage point in 2005, reaching 5.6 percent in April.
“That’s the lowest vacancy rate I can remember in 24 years,” he says. “Sublease space in Miami-Dade has disappeared and that’s pushed more tenants to western Broward. Another big factor is that there’s just no more land to build.”
Some users today are purchasing industrial condominium space to take advantage of potential appreciation, Tangalakis says. Others are seeking longer-term leases to lock in current rental rates.
“We expect to see a price in increase in lease rates, as well as sale prices, because of the tight market conditions,” he says.
In one of the largest recent transactions, Pet Supermarkets recently purchased a 205,000-square-foot building in Sawgrass International Corporate Park in Sunrise as a regional distribution center.
“That building, which was designed for a single user, was on the market for three-and-a-half years,” Tangalakis says. “Now, the new owner will modify the space, buy additional and put in more dock-high doors for additional truck access.”
There are other indicators of high industrial demand, Tangalakis adds. AMB Property Co. recently bought land on the northwest quadrant of I-75 and Miramar Parkway, planning to put up four buildings totaling 140,000 square feet.
“Before they finished planning, AMB had offers to acquire the properties, and they will now be developed as build-to-suits,” he says. “Throughout the market, we are seeing a frenzy of buyers trying to find land on which to put their buildings – and every day it seems like the prices are going up.”
More to Come
As western Broward’s supply of land grows increasing short, there is no doubt that redevelopment will become the primary focus of activity in the region’s commercial and residential markets. That trend toward infill development – including multi-family condominiums and mixed-use urban centers – began several years ago in downtown Fort Lauderdale, Hollywood and other east Broward communities.
Now, it is west Broward’s turn. As Jones says, “We will clearly see more mixed-use and town center development concepts. And over time, there will definitely be far more redevelopment, as we move from low-rise to high-rise projects. They’re just not making any more land in Broward.”
— Richard Westlund