Las Olas Boulevard is in the midst of a retail renaissance.
The Las Olas Co., owner of the Riverside Hotel and a major landlord along downtown Fort Lauderdale’s signature street, says it’s planning to boost Las Olas’ profile by filling a handful of vacancies and a new building with a mix of well-established restaurants and retailers.
Vann Padgett, senior vice president and director of real estate, wouldn’t identify potential tenants. But she said the firm and fellow landlords Steve Hudson and Charlie Ladd have teamed with the Comras Co. to turn the street into a destination shopping and entertainment district that appeals to the increasing number of millennials living and working downtown.
“They need a place where they can go and have a lifestyle,” Padgett said. “We want to bring more of a national face to the boulevard.” The landlords are searching for big-name national chains, as well as strong local and regional operators, to revitalize the street. Padgett said the firm recently signed a lease with El Camino, an upscale Mexican restaurant from Delray Beach, for 817 E. Las Olas. That should open in the next six months, she said. Jonathan Kingsley, a senior vice president of Colliers International, a commercial real estate firm, expects a new wave of Las Olas tenants in the next few years to include technology stores, internet cafes, upscale restaurants and trendy clothing boutiques. He said the transition is similar to the one that’s occurring along Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach. Las Olas staples Levinson Jewelers, Johnny V and Café de Paris have shuttered in the past year, opening more spaces for new tenants. Another fixture, Mango's Restaurant and Lounge, was sold last month and is closed. A sign on the door says the establishment will reopen under new management after a renovation. Meanwhile, Padgett’s firm is building a two-story retail and office building at Las Olas and Southeast Eighth Avenue.The first floor will have 16,000 square feet of retail. The 15,500-square-foot second floor will have mostly offices, though some retail could open there, Padgett said. She expects the building to be complete by the fall. Hudson, who’s planning an office and retail redevelopment at Las Olas and 10th Terrace, said the recent vacancies create the perfect opportunity to transform the street. Icon Las Olas and other new residential projects downtown will provide a steady customer base that hasn’t existed before, he said. “Las Olas is really Broward County’s only true, pedestrian retail district,” Hudson said. “Las Olas still has its original charm. It just needs a refresh or a reboot, if you will. It’s all about creating a place people want to be.”Rising real estate values inevitably lead to higher rents, and smaller, independent retailers that have dotted Las Olas for years are struggling to keep up, analysts say.“Landlords want to get the most they can get, not less, and they’re entitled to,” said Greg Masin, senior director of retail brokerage services for the Cushman & Wakefield firm. “Las Olas is a place that should be upgraded. That’s probably healthy, long-term.”Kingsley of Colliers International points out that Fort Lauderdale has a thriving downtown office market and a major port and airport nearby. That’s all the more reason why Las Olas landlords want to revamp the street, Kingsley said. “Las Olas represents a very important dynamic for that growth,” he said.Padgett acknowledged that higher rents eventually may be an issue for some existing tenants, though she insisted “we adore” the mom-and-pop shops, and the firm still thinks there is a place for them on Las Olas.“We can’t be ludicrous; we are a business,” Padgett said. “But we are very sensitive to the people that have been loyal to us. We’re not kicking them to the curb.” Existing tenants say they’re hoping the proposed changes lead to more foot traffic and a better vibe along the street.“Johnny V next door was a good thing for us,” said Ilene Yaro, a downtown Fort Lauderdale resident and an associate at the Deborah James women’s clothing store on Las Olas. “Restaurants keep the street vibrant. Food brings people.” Andrew Foerch, owner of the Primo and Ibiza shops, said he opened on Las Olas the week of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. He said business now is fine, but he’s looking forward to the new vision and the improvements it will bring.“It’s going to be good eventually,” Foerch said. ‘We’re just going through a little adjustment period. I want to see all the stores full because we all feed off each other.”
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