Build it and they will come. Right? But build it and build it and build it? Maybe not. With more than 1,100 new luxury rental units just coming on the market and many more condos waiting to be swept up, downtown Fort Lauderdale suddenly faces a dilemma. How do you spell housing glut?
The point was driven home the other day when Tailpipe got a tour of the plummy Summit Las Olas apartments, looming luxuriously over the Henry E. Kinney Tunnel on Federal Highway. This metal tube was impressed. The 420-unit giant, in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale, has that intoxicating smell of newness. It boasts a central pool with fountain and a two-level gym. Still, there was something missing. Striding though the long halls, Tailpipe finally figured it out: Where were the people?
Well, there was that woman working out in the gym. But later, back at the rental office, Tailpipe saw her step through the door and report for work.
Not to worry, says Kristina Porraro, the Summit's regional property manager. Leasing is "in line with the goals that we set," she says. Yet, four months after opening, only one in five of the apartments is occupied (though rental agents insist they're bringing in new renters at a rate of four or five a day), and the Summit has not only done away with the security deposit but dropped rents by more than 20 percent.
Among the Summit's competitors, all within the 1.2-square-mile downtown area: Waverly Las Olas, a 14-story, 304-unit rental building; the Watergarden, a 31-story, 315-unit condo; New River Village, multiple ten-story buildings, 600 rental apartments; Symphony, a 22-story, 338-unit condo; and Las Olas River House, 331 units and 42 stories, the tallest in downtown -- all newly built or under construction. Of these, the cheapest one-bedrooms rent for around $1,200 or sell for $200,000. More typical is $1,500 or half a million bucks (River House starts at $700,000) -- though, as at the Summit, discounts and specials proliferate.
And the boom isn't over. The city's allegedly slow-grow commission voted last month to go ahead with plans for 13,000 more units, enough housing for an additional 20,000 to 30,000 people in the 1.2-square-mile area.
Will there be that many people who can afford to buy or rent downtown? Jerry Kolo, a professor of urban planning at Florida Atlantic University, says no. "Both for residential and retail space, the supply has outstripped the demand," Kolo says. He foresees a taxpayer backlash. "I'm not being pessimistic," Kolo says. "I'm seeing what has happened elsewhere around the country."
What has developers in such a rush to build, Kolo says, is a combination of the current pro-business Florida political environment and low interest rates. Those rates make it cheaper to buy than to rent, meaning that condo buildings do better financially than rental buildings like the Summit. But with complaints of congestion, pollution, and crime already on the rise, Kolo says, rosy projections of downtown growth may be "very unrealistic if not impossible to achieve."
Ouch. Tailpipe woke up in a sweat the other night, with visions of Fort Lauderdale's commissioners standing on street corners in Aventura and Hallandale Beach, passing out fliers. Psst. You want luxury housing? We got plenty. Cheap.
In another tower on Federal Highway, on the border of Boca Raton and Delray Beach, is the headquarters for Azure Entertainment. The 4-year-old adult-entertainment company may have only ten employees, but it's already neatly organized into subdivisions. Like Disney or Monsanto. Tailpipe was especially interested in Azure Labs, the department that produces natural (read: no FDA approval required) products. These can do everything from solve that groggy feeling after an all-night bender (HangOver Relief, $29.99 per bottle) to prolong erections (Liquid Steel, $19.99 per tube of cream).
Earlier this month, Azure President Bobby Knight (a porn-industry pseudonym) caught Tailpipe's eye at the Internext pornography convention at the Westin Diplomat Resort and Spa in Hollywood. Knight stood next to a booth pitching his newest, all-natural bedroom aid: Wet Chocolates.
"It's female Viagra," says Knight, wearing a devilish grin and a can-you-believe-this-is-stylish-again? Hawaiian shirt.
The pieces of Colombian chocolate made with a "patent-pending formula," Knight adds, are marketed as a female libido enhancer that will boost orgasmic strength. The naughty-naughty-girl candy costs $29.95 for a six-piece box.
So, c'mon, Bobby, does this stuff really work?
"Give two of these to your girlfriend about 30 minutes before," Knight says with blithe self-assurance, handing the 'Pipe two pieces of chocolate. "Then come back and give me a report."
He turns around. "Oh, wait," he says. "Try to this one too." It's a sample of Azure's Max Erect.
The 'Pipe headed home to polish his chrome.
Errand from Hell
Ah, the Department of Motor Vehicles, where taxpaying schmoes seem to stand in line endlessly, awaiting the attention of stony-eyed state employees. On August 11, pizza delivery man Harry Brooks arrived at the DMV in West Palm Beach at the crack of dawn. He figured that by getting to the Military Trail office at 6:50 a.m., he'd be assured of renewing his license, nice and quick.
Think again, pepperoni guy.
Brooks says he watched as DMV employee Sonia Trejo let others cut in front of him. Brooks got fed up. "I turned to this guy next to me and said, 'I feel like choking this broad. '"
Well, actually, Brooks may have said a bit more. According to court documents, Brooks told Trejo he was going to return with a bomb. A couple of hours later, the Florida Highway Patrol nabbed Brooks at his Boynton Beach home on charges of a false report of a bomb, disorderly conduct, and corruption by threat against a public servant. Brooks and his mother, Joan Catroppa, who was home at the time, claim an arresting party of more than 35 officers from local and federal agencies brought along assault rifles, K-9 units, a SWAT truck, and other military-style equipment.
Chees. Gone are the days, Tailpipe supposes, when folks could register a mild complaint about a public servant. "I was outside washing the car," Brooks says. "This older guy walks up to me with a gun. I thought it was a robbery. Then I saw the cops, so I said, 'Don't hurt me -- I've got a back injury. I'm going to lie down right here. '" The arresting officer nevertheless knee-dropped him before handcuffing him and reinjuring his back.
After 20 hours in jail, Brooks was released without bail. A few days later, he went to another DMV office and got his license without incident.
The bomb comment was actually a misunderstanding, Brooks claims. When he gave Trejo his proof of insurance, he said, "Here's the bomb you requested." The 43-year-old explains it this way: "It's just an expression young people use."
Tailpipe tried to reach Trejo for comment, but the DMV's phone line was chronically busy, and then when it did ring, it went straight to an answering machine. The 'Pipe considered standing in line at the DMV to reach Trejo, but honestly, the wait is almost enough to drive anyone to choking somebody.
Driven by Boredom
The other day, the Miami Dolphins invited the folks who run 14 fan websites to the team's first-ever web weekend. Tailpipe tagged along as 40 webmasters got a tour of the Davie training facility, met some of the coaching staff, and ate free barbecue ribs. On Saturday, they all got prime seats to the preseason game versus the Redskins. The guys tried to generate a little joy for the precedent-setting occasion, but considering the Dolphins' prospects this season, it was tough.
Dave Blake of phinfever.com, a short, hearty guy with a tan, got up and offered a little morale-building rah-rah for his long-suffering compadres. Pointing to members of the group Friday morning, Blake picked out the well-known webbies: "That's Bitchin' Dave right there, and that little guy, he's got the biggest message board there is."
The little guy in question was Andrew Tatum, a college student from Tampa who started finheaven.com eight years ago, when he was 12. Tatum acknowledged that the team was probably wooing the webmasters in hopes of keeping fans from fleeing. But Tatum said bad news for the team is actually good for his site. "We got like 1,000 new members on the day Ricky Williams quit," he says. "It was our biggest day ever."
Slouching next to the Dolphins' twin Super Bowl trophies in the lobby of the training facility, a clinically depressed-looking dude sheepishly held up a sign identifying his site. "Bored with losing," the sign read, as a Dolphins photographer snapped some photos. Nate "Igor" Smith, a 24-year-old college student from Richmond, Virginia, explained that his website -- drivenbyboredom.com/dolphins -- is a forum for miserable Dolphins fans.
Scott Stone, webmaster for the Dolphins' official site, insisted that the weekend wasn't about Ricky and expectations of a rocky season. The festivities were actually arranged before the bad news began, he said. "We just wanted to reach out to what's really our biggest fan base," Stone said. "The only contact we've had with fan sites before this was cease-and-desist letters for when they use our logos without permission."
But what do you do when you're faced with a barrage of bad news? Blake says he's trying to figure out how to rename his dog, which bears the unfortunate sobriquet Ricky Williams. Says Blake, "I'm going to start calling him Nicky and see if he notices."
-- As told to Edmund Newton