he nearly three-decade evolution and rebirth of Greater Fort Lauderdale has transformed the area from a sleepy beach community to a year-round, internationally acclaimed tourism destination.
Where it all began
What started in 1934 with a Colgate College swim coach bringing his swimmers to train and stay in shape in a warm place, grew into a national rite of passage for college students everywhere. In 1960, a big screen adaptation of the novel Where the Boys Are starring “Connie Francis and George Hamilton” depicting innocent sun-drenched fun, put Greater Fort Lauderdale on the map. By the 1980’s, the area was inundated with hundreds of thousands of college students on a six-week binge of roaring parties and a rowdy, anything goes attitude.
The party’s over
In 1986, the local political leadership yanked out the welcome mat from nearly 400,000 raucous college students and weeks of debauchery in an effort to shed its long-held “Spring Break Capital” title. Tourism and city officials focused on modernizing and improving infrastructure to attract couples, multigenerational families, international visitors, LGBT travelers, business and convention-goers. The move ignited a renaissance that brought new facilities and services such as the newly expanded Broward Center for the Performing Arts, the 600,000-square-foot Broward County Convention Center, the Museum of Art and Museum of Discovery and Science, Sawgrass Mills Mall and expansions at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.
“They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, it was broke,” said Nicki E. Grossman, president of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It took a very dedicated, forward-thinking effort. Proof we were on the right path, is the very spot where the wet T-shirt contest was invented is now home to a five-diamond luxury resort.”
Sunny forecast: future looks bright
While Spring Break was a valuable part of Fort Lauderdale’s history in its early years, bringing a boost to the local economy with 3.3 million visitors spending $2.2 billion in 1985. In 2013, more than 13.4 million visitors spent more than $10 billion in Greater Fort Lauderdale, a growth that would not have been possible without saying good bye to the Spring Break reputation. As for college kids, Greater Fort Lauderdale still welcomes about 12,000 well-behaved students every spring.
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) exemplifies the area’s wave of improvements on a billion-dollar scale. From a modest airport to a $2.3 billion expansion that includes terminal improvements and additional gates, further strengthening FLL’s role as an International hub for budget-minded travelers and low-cost carriers like Southwest, JetBlue, Spirit and Norwegian Air Shuttle. Beginning July 2014, Norwegian Air Shuttle began non-stop service from London to Fort Lauderdale, adding to the airport’s growing list of international destinations.
Slip into something Sunny
From shabby chic, to glitz and glam, shopping in Greater Fort Lauderdale delivers retail therapy at all price points. Las Olas Boulevard remains the region’s unofficial “Main Street,” with trendy boutiques along a thoroughfare that dates back to the city’s founding. Sawgrass Mills, the largest outlet mall in the country with 2.3 million square feet of retail space, recently added 49 new high-end retailers – like Diane von Furstenberg, Jimmy Choo, Versace, Frette Linens, Tory Burch and PRADA – as part of The Colonnade Outlets.
Lavish Boutique to Retro Chic
As the destination distanced itself from its rowdy reputation, more sophisticated hotel brands took notice and soon the area had a boom of new hotel developments. The Lauderdale Luxe Collection showcases the assortment of deluxe category properties, featuring the best in-market hotels and spa resorts.
One thing Greater Fort Lauderdale carried over from its post-Spring Break lineage, mom-and-pop-style retro retreats. Superior Small Lodgings offer an intimate authentic Florida vacation. Some of these architectural gems are being restored and given a makeover to create a European-style, North Beach Village resort collection.
Hilton Hotels recently announced its global luxury brand, Conrad Hotel, will soon plant its flag on Fort Lauderdale’s beachfront. Expected to open in Summer 2015, the 24-story, 290-room Conrad Fort Lauderdale Resort and Residences, condo-hotel property is undergoing more than $34 million in enhancements and upgrades including a Conrad Spa, swimming pool and exclusive oceanfront dining experience.
On the horizon, a new $147 million, 349-room, Margaritaville Resort, a Jimmy Buffett-themed project stretching five acres along Hollywood’s famed Broadwalk and the Intracoastal Waterway, expected to open in July 2015.
Still Fun and Funky
If one category truly embodies the area’s transformation, it’s the flourishing arts scene that rivals that found in many major markets. Flanking Las Olas Boulevard, the Riverwalk Arts & Entertainment District connects the Museum of Discovery and Science, the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale and the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, set on the banks of the New River.
Just north of downtown Fort Lauderdale, the emerging FAT Village – or Flagler Arts & Technology – is an evolving four-block creative district, built in the 1950s as industrial warehouses, that now is the only urban arts district in Fort Lauderdale, and one of the largest in Florida. The village is populated with open artists’ studios, galleries, live theatre and hundreds of residential units.
From the seagrass to the sawgrass, Greater Fort Lauderdale boasts more than 34,000 lodging accommodations at a variety of hotels, luxury spa resorts, and Superior Small Lodgings reflecting a “beach chic” vibe. Visitors enjoy 23 miles of Blue Wave certified beaches, discover 300+ miles of inland waterways that run from the Intracoastal Waterway to the Everglades, dine at thousands of restaurants and eateries, get immersed in a thriving arts and culture scene and indulge in top shopping. For more info, contact the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau at (800) 22-SUNNY or visit www.sunny.org
The Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau can also be followed on Twitter at www.twitter.com/visitlauderdale or become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/visitlauderdale or join us on Instagram/visitlauderdale. To have Greater Fort Lauderdale in the palm of your hand, download the free iPhone applications, Fork Lauderdale, iVisitLauderdale and Defrost Your Swimsuit at www.sunny.org/apps.
Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau
Tel: (954) 767-2444