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For decades, a small grocery store and a parking lot occupied the Burnham parcel. Stranahan directors first expressed interest in acquiring the land in the early 1980s, but it was not for sale. They returned almost yearly but were brushed aside with tales of multiyear leases for the Hyde Park Market. So the Stranahan folks were taken aback, they say, when they read a 1998 article in the Sun-Sentinel reporting that the Hyde Park Market property had been sold.
According to county property records, the parcel went for $2.5 million; currently, the land has an assessed value of more than $18 million.
Once plans emerged for a high-rise, the Stranahan directors began rallying the public. Fort Lauderdale voters sided with the preservationists, approving an $8 million bond issue to help buy the land for a public park. An anonymous donor kicked in $2 million. The Seminole tribe pledged $3 million. The state offered $6.6 million through Florida's open space initiative.
But $19.6 million wasn't enough for the developers.
The city tried to take the land through eminent domain but lost in court. Threatened with endless litigation and legal bills, the Fort Lauderdale City Commission backed down in 2004. Among other concessions, the developers agreed to modify Icon's design to accommodate an 11,000-square-foot plaza between the Stranahan House and Las Olas. But Stranahan House supporters still didn't want the high-rise.
This year, they argued that the entire block deserves landmark status because Seminoles used to camp and trade on the land. The Stranahan House won historical designation for the Icon site first from Fort Lauderdale's Historic Preservation Board, then from the City Commission.
Hall says his clients expected that Icon's design would be scrutinized for compatibility with the Stranahan House, but they didn't expect such "ferocity" from opponents. So they went to court to put up an equal show of force, as they see it.
"I think this continued opposition has been — I'm not going to go as far as to say 'bad faith,' but it has been designed for one thing, and that is to delay, delay, delay, hoping that our clients would give up," Hall says. "Sell the property. Just go away and leave everybody alone."
But Don Hall and Jorge Pérez and Gary Schwartz have no intention of going away. The likely return on their effort is still too good for that. And they're not alone. Rather, it's the preservationists and some city commissioners who seem to be at risk of being swept away by the future.
Visible to the west of the Stranahan House is the 38-story, 211-unit Las Olas Grand. The peach-colored Mediterranean revival condo complex was completed in 2004. Its lowest-priced unit right now is one with two bedrooms, two baths, and 1,900 square feet — for $719,000. Las Olas Grand residents are following the Icon fight with proprietary interest, as the outcome could affect their investments and their views.
Mel Harrison lives on the 17th floor of Las Olas Grand. He bought his unit on the south side of the building so that Icon, if it's built, won't block his view. Asked what if anything he'd like to see in its place, he said, "I think it could be a lower-level building, with maybe a Whole Foods or a high-end deli."
Some Las Olas Grand dwellers say they'd prefer to see a park on the Icon site, while others worry that a public space will attract vagrants. Few, however, seem to be concerned about the crowded fate of the Stranahan House.