1 Fort Lauderdale
Local Search & News & Reviews
Broward and Fort Lauderdale commissioners have found at least one thing they have in common: They want new buildings to replace their aging downtown headquarters — and they’re willing to look at a combined downtown structure that satisfies both their needs.
At a joint workshop Tuesday, their first in almost six years, the two boards had their differences regarding a planned convention center hotel, what to do to reduce the homeless population and the best ways to provide affordable housing.
But they were in agreement when it came to working together on a new headquarters to replace city hall and the county governmental center.
A joint building could save on maintenance, security and cleaning, assistant county administrator Alan Cohen said.
“The ability to work together under the same roof … could result in a better relationship as well,’’ he said.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler saw another plus: One of the existing sites could be used for a new federal courthouse.
County Commissioner Michael Udine said proceeds from sale of the public properties, both in prime locations downtown, could pay for the new building.
Fort Lauderdale City Hall is a block north of the Andrews Avenue intersection with Broward Boulevard, while the county governmental center is a block south of the intersection.
Many details remain to be worked out. “The devil will be in the details,” County Commissioner Dale Holness said.
Also on the workshop agenda:
CONVENTION CENTER HOTEL AND EXPANSION: The county’s convention center plans need to be approved by Fort Lauderdale commissioners, who are concerned about additional traffic on Southeast 17th Street.
City Commissioner Romney Rogers talked up his idea of moving the convention center downtown, an idea Seiler said would have made sense 20 years ago but was too late now. Assistant County Administrator Cohen estimated it would cost $600 million just to recreate the current convention center downtown, with the expansion and hotel costing even more.
Cohen said the expansion plans with the hotel could actually reduce traffic. The convention center would be able to hold more events where people arrive at the site and stay there, without having to leave to go back and forth to offsite hotels and restaurants.
City commissioners said they would still want to see a bypass road built to keep traffic off 17th Street. Past discussion of a bypass disappeared when the $30 million cost exploded to closer to $100 million and required a flyover, county officials said.
The two commissions agreed to approach the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization, an independent government body that coordinates transportation projects in the county, to see if it would support seeking state and federal money for a bypass project.
AFFORDABLE HOUSING: City commissioners again asked for relief from affordable housing requirements the county placed on the city’s downtown in 2015 when it approved adding 5,000 residential units there. City Manager Lee Feldman said continued downtown development could soon hit a “brick wall.”
The county required at least 750 units to be affordable housing. Only half of the extra units are allowed to be built until at least 375 have been designated for affordable housing. The city recently started dipping into the new allocation, approving 683 units — none as affordable housing — for two downtown projects.
County Commissioner Holness said developers need to adapt their projects to meet the need for affordable housing.
“I’m really not in agreement with changing the goalposts again,” Holness said. County officials had been reluctant to grant the city the additional units because past commitments to affordable housing downtown had not been met, he said.
City officials said they want to be able to count affordable housing units within a few blocks of the downtown area, probably along public transportation routes, toward the agreed upon goal.
“Let us look at it as a regional item with a little bit of leeway,” Mayor Seiler said.
HOMELESS: County officials said they’re following the latest national strategy to address homelessness, a program to rapidly house homeless people and provide support to help them remain in housing.
But some Fort Lauderdale officials bristled at the program.
Mayor Seiler said if word gets out, more homeless people will travel to Broward for free housing. He and Commissioner Rogers asked the county to open its old stockade jail as a place to take homeless people who are downtown, and help connect them with services.
“We want to take care of our homeless,” Seiler said, “but we don’t want to make it so attractive that we’re now taking care of the nation’s homeless.”
The two sides did not come to agreement. County Administrator Bertha Henry said the stockade is the only backup jail if overcrowding forces the county to seek more jail space. And county homeless Continuum of Care Administrator Michael Wright said the federal government, which provides a large portion of the funding for homeless services, wants the funds used for permanent housing.
The county spends more than $24 million a year in federal, county and state funds on homelessness. Fort Lauderdale spends about $2 million, City Manager Lee Feldman said. There remains a $12 million funding gap for helping the homeless, Wright said. County Commissioner Michael Udine suggested all 31 cities in Broward contribute.
Also, there are about 308 people downtown who refuse help, Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief said.