Mixed-use residential development is in fashion. Developers are coupling condos or rental apartments with all sorts of commercial properties – hotels, restaurants, offices and retail stores, among others – to promote active areas with plenty of pedestrian traffic. Many developers share the mission and mantra to create self-contained spaces where people can “live, work, play” – all without getting into a car.
That is a guiding vision for the planned redevelopment of a mostly vacant block on the northwest corner of the intersection of Federal Highway and SE 17th Street. The three-acre site, occupied by only a Denny’s restaurant, would become a mixed-use development called 501 Seventeen, a 243-unit apartment complex next to a new Whole Foods grocery store.
Monthly rents would range from $1,600 to $3,000 for the one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, and likely tenants include people who work about a block away at Broward Health Medical Center, which occupies the 1600 block of South Andrews Boulevard and ranks among the largest employment centers in town.
“Not only are we going to get potential tenants from the hospital, we’re also going to get significant pedestrian activity to Whole Foods from the hospital, especially during lunch time,” says Hugo Pacanins, managing director of multifamily development for Ram Realty Services of Palm Beach Gardens, the company behind 501 Seventeen.
Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Markets has its sole Fort Lauderdale store about four miles north, at 2000 Federal Hwy., in the Union Planters Plaza. “It does extremely well, which is one of the reasons they want to have a second store, because that [first] store does so well,” Pacanins says.
But at 38,000 square feet, the store at 2000 Federal Hwy is much smaller than Whole Foods’ planned 48,000-square-foot store at Federal and the SE 17th Street Causeway. Whole Foods wants more interior space to serve prepared food, among other purposes.
“Prepared foods has become a big part of the operation of Whole Foods,” Pacanins says. “The stores that they’ve opened recently in urban locations, they’re typically 40,000 to 50,000 square feet, and a larger proportion of the floor area is being occupied by prepared foods.” He says two outdoor dining areas for Whole Food customers are also part of the design of 501 Seventeen, “one fronting Federal Highway and one fronting 17th Street, where people can buy their food and kind of spill out in a protected and covered environment.”
The Ram Realty executive sees 501 Seventeen as part of a broader trend toward real estate investment south of downtown Fort Lauderdale, citing the opening of a new apartment complex and the ongoing construction of a second one in the 17th Street corridor.
“We would be the third one,” Pacanins says. “We believe this could be kind of the anchor of the south side of Fort Lauderdale, and that development will eventually start filling in between downtown and this 17th Street corridor … It just seems like a natural progression for the growth of Fort Lauderdale.”
It sure seemed that way during a panel discussion in March about the future direction of Fort Lauderdale real estate development. Most of the panelists who spoke publicly during the event, staged at the sales center for the Gale Residences Fort Lauderdale Beach, agreed that future development in Fort Lauderdale is likely to intensify south of New River. “You’re going to see a tremendous [development] amount of activity downtown, and that will continue,” said Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler, one of the panelists. But in upcoming years, “I think you’re going to see more on South Andrews Avenue.”
Not yet a sure thing, however, the 501 Seventeen project still must run the usual gauntlet of approvals and endorsements before becoming an urban reality.
Ram Realty already has tweaked its design in response to concerns expressed by the city’s Development Review Committee and by members of three homeowner associations. One change would make it possible for motorists to exit the property’s parking garage from either 17th Street or 16th Court, instead of 17th Street only.
The homeowners’ association of the Poinciana Park neighborhood, which encompasses the site of the 501 Seventeen development, voted to support it. Traffic is a concern, however, among some homeowners residing on the periphery of the 501 Seventeen site, according to officials of the Harbordale and Lauderdale Harbors neighborhood associations. Neither association formally voted to support or oppose the project after Ram Realty executives met with their members and made presentations.
The city’s Design Review Committee cited a need for a pedestrian-friendly zone between the supermarket and the nearby Broward Health Medical Center. “They are concerned about the pedestrian walkability factor between our site and the hospital,” Pacanins says. “So, we want to activate all that with sidewalks and lighting, make it a more landscaped area, and provide a safe environment for pedestrians to walk.”
Ram Realty will be asking the city to rezone the vacant land at its development site to B-1, the zoning for the Denny’s restaurant on the site, and to abandon an alley on the property. If Ram Realty wins approval this month for 501 Seventeen from the city’s Planning and Zoning Board, the city commission could take a final vote on the development by September, Pacanins says.
If that regulatory timetable holds, Ram Realty could start the 20-month construction phase of the development late this year or early next year. But before breaking ground, Ram will need to acquire the three-acre site, which it doesn’t actually own but has a contract to buy from investor Steve Hudson. “He has owned it for several years,” Pacanins says. “We are under contract to purchase the site upon completion of the [regulatory] entitlements."