The sidewalk in front of the Poor House (110 SW Third Ave., Fort Lauderdale), a meeting place as old as a Georgia sunset for the local rock 'n' roll crowd, has disappeared. On a recent Wednesday, patrons driven outside by the night's noise show sat in white plastic chairs, their legs sinking into the dirt with an audible squish. A trio of guys stood in front of a mountain of dirt and rocks, an ominous yellow backhoe looming in the shadows behind them. One of the guys, chatting on his cell phone, nonchalantly extinguished his cigarette in a pile of dirt.
"It's like one big, beautiful ashtray," observed a redheaded girl next to him.
You may not have heard about what's going on downtown in the newspaper ('cause it hasn't described the mess), but the main street of Fort Lauderdale's club district is being remade for pedestrians. For the past month, Himmarshee has been rife with jackhammering, drilling, heavy machinery, dust, and debris. The sidewalks have been replaced with panels of wood. After a beer or seven, we all know that the chance of falling and receiving a splinter in the eye increases tenfold.
The goal, by the end of next month, is a $4 million, taxpayer-backed makeover of the Second Street corridor. According to Earl Prizlee, project manager for the City of Fort Lauderdale, the result will "enhance the pedestrian environment" downtown by narrowing the street in the evening with "bollards," removable metal posts. "The street will stay the same physically during the day," Prizlee says, "but there will be more space [for walking] at night."
That's right: After about 7 p.m., the center two lanes will still be open to traffic, but the bollards will be placed into the outer lanes to accommodate pedestrians. The project also includes more parking, which will help immensely in a few months when a huge club called Revolution is scheduled to open. The side streets, where the Poor House and Voodoo Lounge are located, won't get the bollard treatment, but they are being redecorated with brick pavers.
Bricks in front of the Poor House? Let's hope they make for easier cleanup.
It's definitely surreal. To walk down Second Street on a Friday or Saturday night is a study in balance and coordination, even more so than usual. Recently, clubgoers have been spotted stumbling on the wooden planks, drinks flying out of their hands. It's a death trap for stilettos. One man was overheard claiming that downtown now looked like a war zone: "It's like we're partying at a club in Iraq or something!"
Yeah, just like it.
A tall, tan bouncer at Dicey Riley's says more people ate pavement sandwiches while crossing the street before the construction. "People are more cautious now," he says. "They actually watch where they're going now."
At the other end of the street, at the Porterhouse, a pretty, blond bartender says business has definitely been hurt by the construction, but that's not all. "I saw a girl last weekend do a face plant, right in front of me," she says. "She lost her balance when she got into one of the soft spots in the wood, and she fell." Just as she said that, two guys walking toward the train tracks toppled into each other and spilled into the street that leads to Voodoo Lounge. A French fellow standing nearby laughed so hard, his face looked like a tomato.
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Just goes to prove the French love physical comedy.
It's a novel approach to have a street as busy as this one closed on and off for two months. That's something bigger cities probably couldn't pull off. "Yeah, it's unattractive and it's hazardous," says Sherry, a bartender at Tavern 213. "Especially for the girls in their tiny heels. But after they're done, this place is gonna boom."
And it most likely will. The goal of all this pesky construction is, of course, to make Himmarshee more enticing for the huge crowds that already bum-rush downtown every weekend. It will also cut out the slow, crawling, traffic parade that usually clogs Second Street. It's just another phase in Fort Lauderdale's ongoing beautification project, one that will keep going as long as new condos are going up.
"I hope it makes downtown better, easier to walk around in," 22-year-old Jason Brent says back at the Poor House. "But I just hope they don't try to make it look like CityPlace or something. Certain parts need to stay sleazy."