Friday, May 16, 2008

$500 million waterfront plan would remake Bahia Mar

Fort Lauderdale's waterfront oasis Bahia Mar would be reborn as a Waldorf- Astoria hotel surrounded by new luxury condominiums and shops, under a $500 million development plan submitted to the city Thursday.

In addition to a new four-acre waterside park, the plan from developer LXR Luxury Resorts & Hotels would maintain a permanent home for the annual fall boat show.

The project could bring welcome revenue to the city, according to LXR, quadrupling the government's take from lease payments and real estate taxes to almost $10 million annually. And it would further remake Fort Lauderdale beach as an upscale strip, one that already includes new St. Regis and Trump hotels.

Key to the plan is a 20-foot-tall parking structure as big as a football field that would be topped by trees and grass and open to the public. The structure would sit on the west side of Bahia Mar, softening the view of the 16-acre property from the city's Idlewyld neighborhood across the Intracoastal Waterway.

The park would be covered by exhibition tents during the boat show, and other exhibits would be located in the parking area. The wiring, duct work and other infrastructure for the show would be built-in during construction.

City officials will now have to look hard at the future of Bahia Mar, especially in light of voter resistance to big new buildings at the beach. The Palazzo Las Olas mixed-use project, which was on public land, and The Sails hotel and marina, both failed to survive the permitting process.

Two buildings of 19 and 17 stories would flank the park. The 2,000-square-foot units would start at more than $1 million, giving the developers almost $200 million upfront to fund the project.

Each tower would be angled at 45 degrees to the beach to maximize views. The south tower would have 84 units and the north one 96 units. They are described by LXR as interests in a cooperative.

If the plans are approved, by the third quarter of 2010, LXR hopes to open the initial phase of the project, a pair of elite waterside restaurants of 10,000 and 8,000 square feet along Seabreeze Boulevard on the site's north end. The existing 15-story hotel tower would be updated and marketed by Hilton Hotels Corp.

The 256-room Waldorf-Astoria, designed in a starkly modern style, would rise in place of a four-story hotel building on the property's south side. Although its exterior would look nothing like the 1931 Art Deco original on New York's Park Avenue, the interior would include that hotel's famed "Peacock Alley" promenade.

Bahia Mar Beach Resort and Yachting Center dates to 1949 when the city acquired title after a financial dispute and built a marina. In 1962, it was leased to a tenant who added a hotel in 1966.

Today most of the land at the marina is paved parking, unused except for the boat show. Henn said it could become a retail and office center for the yacht industry if the city rejects LXR's hotel plans.

Fort Lauderdale residents will likely be vocal about the future of the property.

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