When it comes to doing business in Fort Lauderdale, it doesn’t get much better than opening up shop on the water. At Shooters, boaters can come right to the dock, tie up their vessel, and take their pick between eating in the fresh air or inside in a lightly nautical-themed dining room. This Shooters, a grown-up restaurant with wine dinners, live music and community events, is a far cry from the bikini-contest-hosting venue it was for decades (remnants of this history are evident in framed black-and-white photos on the walls).
“We embrace the past, but we’re not that anymore and we’re fine with that,” says Peter Lopez, the director of operations at Shooters. “We’re not the burgers, bikinis, beers of the past. We’ve grown like everybody else.”
Located on the Intracoastal just west of A1A, the business has witnessed the Galt Mile blossom from a sleepy retirement community to one booming with business and renovation. The road has been riddled with construction since the summer of 2015, with workers resurfacing the pavement, buffering the bike lanes, upgrading lighting fixtures and making it more pedestrian-friendly with a countdown traffic light. The $9.3 million project was delayed due to Hurricane Irma, but the detours and traffic cones have not deterred visitors to the area.
“They’ve done a great job widening the roads and modernizing them,” Lopez says of the project. “Our consumers have plenty of choices of where to go to and there are a lot of other communities that are vying for the same dollars that we have, so I thought it was very well worth the time to make that investment and give us a facelift.”
Around Fort Lauderdale, Galt isn’t the only area benefiting from a mixture of public investment, new businesses and new residential development. South of the New River, South Andrews Avenue has in recent years become a popular area for socializing and, increasingly, a popular place to move to as well. South of Wilton Manors and west of U.S. 1, the city recently unveiled a brand-new NE 13th Street corridor, fit with bike lanes, greenery and sculptures to complement the new wave of business moving into the block.
“There’s changes everywhere in east Fort Lauderdale,” says Heidi Braunhardt, a realtor at the K Company in Fort Lauderdale. ‘This city is completely different.”
In the Galt Mile area, Shooters isn’t the only dining or entertainment establishment that’s found new or renewed success. Nearby are Bokampers and Thasos Taverna, as well as the busy 33rd Street block. Chock-full of businesses, the area draws residents and out-of-towners for live jazz music at Blue Jean Blues, wine at the 33rd Street Wine Bar, vintage cars and surfer rock at the aptly named Dive Bar or for a vinyasa flow at Bombay Room Yoga.
“It’s a beautiful spot for a studio,” says Michelle Morris, who took over ownership of the yoga studio in January.
New to the area, she was excited to see the camaraderie among the businesses, excitement of changes to come, and being just across the street from the beach.
“The whole strip is just really inviting and welcoming, I feel like. It’s a fun place to walk around and explore and venture into new spaces and see what’s being offered around here,” she says.
Real estate has never been an issue on Galt Ocean Mile. Lined with condominiums, the area offers the beach lifestyle for less money than you’ll pay further down Fort Lauderdale Beach. New nearby developments such as the Auberge and the Paramount are also bringing in high-dollar residents.
City of Fort Lauderdale spokeswoman Monique Damiano says the area attracts a broad group of people.
“The area is becoming a more active, vibrant, healthy, prosperous community…we are seeing a more diverse group of residents of all ages who want to live in an area, and a city, that provides the amenities and services they need within a walkable distance,” she says.
Being so close to the beach and hotel amenities, Morris is planning to host yoga teacher training, events which often draw instructors from around the country and possibly the world. In her time in the area, she’s been speaking with other business owners and familiarizing herself with future plans in the city – community building, she says, is important.
And it’s this sense of community that has made the mile successful, says Lopez, the Shooters executive. The restaurants and bars work with the condominiums in the area to “coexist together in some type of harmony.”
Overall, more opportunity means the quality has to be bar none.
“We have to be better than we were before, because there is more competition and the guests are demanding that,” Lopez says. “For a long time Fort Lauderdale was a great, sleepy little place, but we’ve grown up and have to be ahead of the times.”
South Andrews Avenue
A century ago, Club Brownie was the place to be. Brownie Robertson opened his club in 1935 at Andrews Avenue and 14th Street, just south of Davie Boulevard, and hosted the biggest names in show business. He hired the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald to perform for a crowd eager for a night of music. For decades it carried on, until 1999 when it was purchased from its ailing owner, who died just a few years later.
The neighborhood was stagnant. If someone was driving in the area, they were likely in dire need – either a trip to the sprawling Broward Health Medical Center campus, a quick visit to urgent care, or perhaps the nursing and rehab center.
On the other hand, if you were feeling just fine, it was most likely just a neighborhood you drove through to get to where you needed to be. Somewhere else.
Fast forward to today, and you wouldn’t recognize it. On Sunday morning, people are lined up outside restaurant and bar Tap 42 – the old Brownie’s location – before it even opens to grab a table for brunch. Around the corner, the Marando family opened their namesake farm – a delightfully ramshackle affair featuring organic groceries, a café, a few rows of crops and even a few farm animals plodding around - right by the train tracks. They went from making $20 their first sale to a million-dollar-business in two years. Not far away, Hardy Park Bistro serves up some of the city’s most well-regarded food while across from each other, The Grind Coffee Project and Tarpon River Brewing concoct quite different but equally popular beverages.
Things are happening on and around South Andrews Avenue. “Everyone thought we were just out of our minds,” says Blaise McMackin, the owner of Tap 42, which opened in 2011. “They just really didn’t believe that something could open up there and could be successful.”
When Chelsea Marando and her family decided to open an urban farm in 2008, “there was nothing appealing about the neighborhood,” she says.
Junkies were laid out every morning next to two pill mills, but there was an acre of land for them to play with and the rent was cheap. It took time to get on their feet, but not too long – in two years, they were a million-dollar business where city dwellers could purchase organic fruits and vegetables, farm-fresh eggs, honey, juices, and baked goods. In 2016, they expanded the business to Davie to open Marando Ranch, fit with farm animals and a barn venue for special events. “I will never forget that first day we opened and the first $20 we made,” she says.
Not only are the businesses benefiting, but also the surrounding neighborhood, says Damiano, the city spokeswoman.
“When key businesses flourish in underdeveloped corridors, the economy improves, crime declines, and neighborhoods become more viable and whole,” she says. “Equally important is that the quality of life improves, especially in a modern environment where people prefer the ’live, work, play’ urban lifestyle.”
Next door at the almost-forgotten Brownie’s, McMackin saw potential of his own amid the rough patch. He saw a place where people could dine inside by a bar that would serve dozens of beers on tap – hence the name – or enjoy their meal on an outside patio. Plus, the lot next to the building was the perfect place for free parking. An outdoor patio wasn’t actually allowed, but he worked with the city and with their blessing, Tap 42 opened in November 2011, al fresco dining and all.
In 2015, the Vanguard theater moved into a church building that was built in the late 1930s. Although worshippers haven’t been inside for years, and the building served as a beauty salon at one point, it’s gone from vacant to reborn as a 99-person black-box theater, adding diversity to the mix on South Andrews.
“The city adopted a vision for the South Andrews area to create an active urban setting with a variety of mixed uses including housing, shopping, employment, and entertainment,” Damiano says. “Tap 42 has been part of the grassroots approach to creating a unique, interesting synergy that fosters a community’s sense of place.”
Today, Tap 42 has more than 1,200 reviews on Yelp and has expanded to locations in Boca Raton, Coral Gables, Midtown Miami and the Aventura Mall. On Sunday mornings, a line forms outside the door to snag a table for brunch.
And McMackin’s not finished – up next is a Mexican restaurant concept next door, Bar Rita, as well as plans for a rooftop concept. “I just always liked the location; it’s kind of a quieter spot,” he says of the neighborhood.
And even better for the neighborhood, people are moving in. Braunhardt, the realtor, moved to the Tarpon River area with her husband almost three years ago. Recently, a home similar to hers sold for about $100 more per square foot than she paid.
“People were finally discovering Tarpon River and Croissant Park, and now a lot of younger people have been moving in and in the past two-and-a-half years since we purchased, prices are ridiculous,” she says.
“People are really realizing you can still get a decent deal south of the river, but that is changing very quickly.”
13th Street Corridor
After over a year of swerving around construction zones along 13th Street – everyone’s favorite short cut to avoid traffic-filled Sunrise Boulevard – the trucks and cones were gone and residents finally saw what all the commotion was about.
After a $1.9 million investment – a combination of a $1.5 million county grant and the city pitching in $400,000 – the street was turned into one with green-painted bike lanes, trees and bushes with blooming flowers planted in the road median, and pieces of art on display. Most notable is the Unity Beacon sculpture at a newly constructed roundabout, a sort of stained-glass flame created by community artists.
Locals are still figuring out how to use a roundabout correctly, but are also walking through the doors of each new business.
Lori Deak, the vice president of clothing store The Pride Factory, says the street has undergone a “huge transformation.” In business for 22 years, the store was originally located on Sunrise Boulevard and Federal Highway. However, when they outgrew that space, the owners looked to 13th Street for a large storefront with plenty of parking. Just next door, the Christmas Palace has sold holiday decorations all year round since 1992.
“It definitely cost us some business while the construction was happening due to rerouting of traffic, but since its completion, everything is back to normal,” Deak says. “We’ve seen some new businesses open in the area and are hoping that growth will continue.”
That includes the new Il Gufo Antiques & Design, which joined the neighborhood in December 2017 and sells antique furniture, Art Deco lighting, fine jewelry from the ’80s, and showstopping art – there’s even a Picasso adorning the walls of the small boutique. Robert MacDonald, an assistant at the shop, says the owners were drawn to the area as a “real up-and-coming location.” “It’s amazing, the transformation,” he says. “Every week, you’re noticing more and more.”
Plenty of other shops have seen what could be on 13th Street. Oddballs Nifty Thrift is a maze of rooms with, well, odd finds from vintage typewriters and sewing machines to used furniture and random bits of Americana. Warsaw Coffee, owned by Tap 42’s McMackin, draws the caffeine-deprived through its drive-thru while the inside is filled with hipsters on their laptops. In the same building is Buck & Beard barber shop, Kult clothing, Il Gufo, and McMackin’s latest venture, Milk Money.
Gulf Stream Brewing and Eat the Tea – the latter formerly of Victoria Park - are waiting to move in, as are home-buyers. Nearby Poinsettia Heights has already “been on the up and up” for some time, realtor Braunhardt says, and the next homes that will be growing in value are in 13th Street’s surrounding South Middle River neighborhood.
What’s happened in these neighborhoods will be familiar to anyone who witnessed Wilton Manors’ rebirth. “People are buying up those little houses and completely gutting them and remodeling them and putting them back on the market a few months later...” and then they’re selling, she says. “Now you have such a mix of people who live in the neighborhood of South Middle River.”
As people discover the neighborhood, the city’s not done investing in it. “There have been numerous discussions centered on additional investments within this half-mile corridor,” Damiano says. “Overall, dozens of new jobs are expected, which will potentially create many opportunities for our residents and will indeed revitalize the Central City neighborhood. The improvements made to this street will promote and inspire redevelopment in this area, as well as expose its potential.”
McMackin says of the project, “It’s great foresight on the city’s part. There’s not too many commercial corridors that you can develop in Fort Lauderdale, so I think that the 13th Street corridor… there’s a lot of potential there. I look at some of the businesses on Federal Highway that didn’t do so well; it just goes to show you don’t have to be on Main and Main."