Las Olas Boulevard has been attracting more brand-name retailers and high-end restaurants, and just in time for an influx of residents to downtown Fort Lauderdale.
Nothing more than a dirt road through wetlands leading to the beach when it was constructed in 1917, Las Olas Boulevard has become a shopping, dining and nightlife destination for the city. It has mostly low-rise buildings, but there are bigger residential and office towers to the west closer to Andrews Avenue.
Las Olas suffered after the recession in 2008 as a building on Eighth Avenue was torn down and some tenants were lost, said Charlie Ladd, president of Barron Real Estate. Ladd, along with partner George Rahael, own buildings with 750 feet of linear frontage on Las Olas.
Now, new restaurants like Lobster Bar and Del Frisco’s Grille are popping up on Las Olas and retailers such as Warby Parker and South Moon Under are coming as well, Ladd said. The retailers are often “clicks to bricks” businesses that started online and then established locations in trendy areas, he added.
“It’s changing because of the number of people living downtown now and what the newer generation wants,” Ladd said. “The sophistication level of people going into restaurants is higher.”
Clothing retailer Lily Pulitzer found success with a temporary store on Las Olas, leading the company to sign a deal for a permanent location.
It showed national retailers they could be successful on the boulevard, said Jeff Evans, managing director of Comras Co., which was hired to lease space on Las Olas by the street’s largest landlords.
Tommy Bahama, one of the oldest tenants on Las Olas, will move to a larger location with room for its Marlin Bar on the corner of Eighth Avenue, he added. Evans is close to signing deals with two brand-name clothing retailers to fill that building.
"Rental rates are moving up and the quality of tenants is moving up," said Michael Comras, president and CEO of Comras Co. "When you look at all of the density of residential they have built in downtown, all those people need a place to go."
Some of the biggest projects in Fort Lauderdale are on or near Las Olas.
Property Markets Group is building 650 apartments with a rent-by-the-bed model, plus new retail space. Stiles Corp. is building Main Las Olas with 341 apartments, 356,948 square feet of office, and retail including a Greenwise Market. Stiles is building the 380-unit Alluvion Las Olas apartments. Kolter Urban is building 100 Las Olas with 113 condos, a 238-room Hyatt Centric Hotel and restaurants.
All this construction is expanding the parts of Las Olas that pedestrians visit, said Jenni Morejon, president and CEO of the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Agency. The new residents downtown are a mix of many generations, from millennials to baby boomers, and they’re frequenting Las Olas for their eating and shopping needs, she said.
The city has responded by making improvements to pedestrian crossings and traffic lights to enhance safety, she added.
“There's always someone crossing the street or walking on the sidewalk any time of day," Morejon said. "That wasn't the case five years ago."
South Florida Business Journal, Brian Bandell
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