But residents fear the $43 million plans will increase congestion and threaten pedestrian safety.
"Their mind was already made up, and reason didn't prevail," says Larry Burnette, president of the Venetian Condominium, after the commission meeting ended at 1 a.m. "Having a multistory parking deck at the busiest intersection by a drawbridge is ludicrous. This [plan] is so misguided on so many levels."
The most mind-boggling point is that the $43-million project will only lead to a net gain of 58 parking spaces. It's not worth it, Burnette says. With residents already griping about traffic, an entertainment venue will make congestion even worse. The new multistory parking lot on the Intracoastal will require pedestrians to cross at least three busy intersections to reach the beach.
"The devil is in the details, and they haven't thought about the implications at all," Burnette says. "This is a gross misuse of public funds."
The parking lot is lushly landscaped and is the easiest place to find a reasonably priced parking spot along Fort Lauderdale beach. In 1997, voters passed a referendum to preserve the area in its present state. The fees bring in almost $1.5 million a year. It's an ideal location for shops, eateries, and families carrying lawn chairs and coolers to the beach.
The new project will also cause the sidewalks in the area to be narrowed. Burnette says it's a waste since just ten years ago, the City spent $3.1 million widening them and planting palm trees.
"They're going to cut down all these oceanfront palm trees. Are you crazy?" Burnette says. "Those trees are absolutely gorgeous."
The project is funded by the Beach CRA (which extends throughout the barrier island). Critics say that these improvements will only impact one concentrated area along Las Olas Boulevard and that there are countless other projects in which commissioners should invest. Instead of building a parking garage, Burnette believes the city should partner with Uber or Lyft during big events. He says the beach area needs public restrooms and better lighting, especially during turtle season. The sidewalks need repair, too.
"The things that would really add value to our community have been taken out for these harebrained ideas that make no sense," he says.
After outcry against the proposed Bahia Mar development, this project comes at an especially contentious time. In fact, residents are so wary of commissioners that they created two petitions that would prevent any proposals like this and the Bahia Mar one from being considered: one proposes only using the city's land for public purposes, and another stops the construction of any buildings taller than 40 feet high east of Federal Highway for one year. So far, sponsors have collected 1,000 signatures. City attorneys are in the process of drafting an ordinance.
But it might be too late. Last night's vote could change the beach forever.