Whatever It Takes

The battle to redevelop Bahia Mar has been drawn out and ugly. Now the lead developer believes they can make it happen.

By: 

Mike Seemuth

Published date: 

Nov. 1, 2017

Last year, controversy appeared to kill plans to redevelop the Bahia Mar resort and marina at the southern end of Fort Lauderdale Beach, the main venue of the annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show. But now, revised plans to redevelop Bahia Mar could be headed to Fort Lauderdale’s city commission for their approval.

“Assuming all goes well, we’ll be on the agenda of the December city commission meeting,” says Jimmy Tate, a Miami-based developer who leads an investor group that owns a lease on city-owned land at Bahia Mar, located along the Seabreeze Boulevard section of State Road A1A. Tate’s investor group, called Rahn Bahia Mar LLC, is advancing revised plans to redevelop the resort property with much shorter residential buildings than originally planned.

In late summer, the city’s Development Review Committee was working with Rahn Bahia Mar on its revised plans to redevelop Bahia Mar. Tate says he gave his staff and advisors a directive in dealing with the city: “Do whatever within reason the city asks for. I don’t want to argue on anything.”

The revised plan for Bahia Mar includes a new 256-room hotel, a half-mile boardwalk around the marina and a grocery store, plus another 151,000 square feet of “mostly marine industry-related commercial space,” which would include a “marina village with small kiosks and shops and restaurants,” Tate says.

The redevelopment also would feature seven residential buildings, each 11 stories tall, with a total of 651 units, which Tate’s investor group would market as rental apartments or condos.

His investor group originally proposed a redevelopment of Bahia Mar with two 36-story condominium buildings. They subsequently downsized the condos to 29 stories in response to fierce criticism of their height.

“I don’t want to see Manhattan on Fort Lauderdale Beach,” Commissioner Dean Trantalis said at a special city commission meeting on May 10, 2016. Trantalis, who represents the area where Bahia Mar is located, cast the sole dissenting vote during the meeting, which ended at 2:15 a.m. after more than 50 citizens spoke publicly in opposition to the proposed redevelopment of the resort and marina.

At the end of that marathon meeting, the commission voted 4-1 to grant conditional approval for a Bahia Mar redevelopment plan with two 29-story condominium buildings. The downsized plans for Bahia Mar 2.0 unraveled within weeks, though. To move the city’s approval from conditional to final, Tate’s investor group had to reach a new long-term agreement with the owner and operator of the boat show. Negotiations toward a new agreement between Tate’s group and the boat-show camp ended without a deal – raising the possibility that the boat show and its annual economic impact topping $800 million would relocate to another city. In June 2016, Tate’s group withdrew its application to the city to redevelop Bahia Mar with a couple of high-rise condos. Tate noted in a letter of withdrawal to city officials that the debate over Bahia Mar had turned nasty: “We have seen ugliness and heard hatred in speeches and comments from members of the community who do not even know us.”

Since then, however, Tate has returned to the bargaining table and worked out an agreement making Bahia Mar the main venue of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show for decades to come. The agreement replaces one expiring in 2020 with the show’s operator, a firm called Show Management, and with the show’s owner, the trade group Marine Industries Association of South Florida.

“We signed a 30-year agreement with options for two 10-year extensions,” says Phil Purcell, MIASF executive director, who began working on the new agreement with Tate’s camp soon after they withdrew their redevelopment proposal last year.

“They wanted to get back on track. We wanted to get back on track. It just took some time,” Purcell says. After both sides revived their negotiations, the boat show operator, Show Management, was sold to a larger company called Informa Group, which runs hundreds of trade shows around the world. But the sale of Show Management didn’t derail the negotiations. “There were some moving parts that had to happen” before all three parties reached agreement in the spring, Purcell says. “We came to the table and made a good deal for everybody. That’s what had to happen.”

When the boat show deal to remain at Bahia Mar was announced on June 6, the city commission voted the same day to allow Tate’s group to submit revised redevelopment plans for Bahia Mar. If the revised plans win commission approval, Rahn Bahia Mar would try to extend its lease of the city-owned land beneath the resort. The existing lease is set to expire in about 45 years.

“We hope to be able to negotiate a mutually beneficial long-term lease, but if that doesn’t happen, we’re prepared to develop without it,” Tate says. Extending the term of the city lease would allow Rahn Bahia Mar to market its planned 651 residential units as condos. “You can’t sell condos without a minimum of 50 years,” he says. “Right now, they’re going to be rentals unless we have a new lease.”