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PROPOSED: 200 Brickell (Fort Lauderdale)

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23 March 2004

Developer may buy Riverfront

Developer Terry Stiles is in talks to acquire Las Olas Riverfront retail/entertainment complex in downtown Fort Lauderdale.

BY PATRICK DANNER

[email protected]

Developer Terry Stiles, downtown Fort Lauderdale's largest property owner, is looking to add the struggling Las Olas Riverfront retail/entertainment complex to his portfolio.

''We're working on it,'' said Stiles, who added that his pursuit of the complex is connected to ''protecting'' his company's interest in a 14-story, 136,637-square-foot office/retail building that it plans to construct at 200 Brickell Ave. -- just east of Las Olas Riverfront. ``We haven't gotten to where we need to get to.''

Stiles originally wanted to buy the entire 260,000-square-foot complex, with its mix of restaurants, nightclubs, boutique shops and cinema on the north side of the New River. But Coconut Grove developer Michael Swerdlow, managing agent for the partnership that owns Las Olas Riverfront, now has plans for a 32-story condominium project on the site of the 15-screen theater. Stiles remains interested in buying the rest of the complex, however.

Swerdlow was vague when asked whether he was selling Las Olas Riverfront to Stiles.

''I'm not sure what I'm doing yet,'' Swerdlow said. ``There's a lot happening. I really don't want to discuss it yet.''

But Swerdlow added, ''There's more than one person that wants to buy the . . . project.'' He declined to identify them. Both Swerdlow and Stiles said no contract has been signed.

Stiles, in various partnerships, already controls more than 1.1 million square feet of commercial space in downtown Fort Lauderdale. But the retail portion only amounts to about 123,103 square feet, spread among a half-dozen buildings.

That doesn't include 200 Brickell, the proposed office/retail building that Stiles plans to break ground on across from Las Olas Riverfront this summer.

Stiles said Las Olas Riverfront isn't an ''easy deal,'' in part, because of Swerdlow's proposed condo development. Swerdlow's group is scheduled to meet today with the city of Fort Lauderdale's Development Review Committee as part of the process to obtain approval for The Strand at Riverfront, a 253-unit project. It has an estimated construction cost of $90 million.

When the Swerdlow-led Las Olas Riverfront Associates put the retail/entertainment center up for sale last summer, it didn't establish an asking price. The property has coped with tenant turnover, parking problems and too few weeknight patrons at different points since its 1998 opening.

Those ills have been reflected in the property's assessed value, which has been in a tailspin. The property is assessed by the Broward County Property Appraiser's Office at $24.6 million, down from $32 million in 2002. But the owners want the assessed value lowered even further to $12.5 million.

At the time of construction, the project's value was pegged at about $50 million.

Many real estate observers, however, see better times ahead for Las Olas Riverfront once the hundreds of apartment and condo units under construction in downtown are completed and occupied.

Las Olas Riverfront's tenants include Hooters, Dan Marino's Fine Food & Spirits, Johnny Rockets, Max's Grille, Sunglass Hut and Havana Republic.

Swerdlow has been shedding his sizable shopping-center portfolio to pursue residential projects. To speed up those efforts, Swerdlow negotiated a deal to buy the development rights to 253 units that had been earmarked for the third phase of the New River Village apartment project on the south side of the New River just west of Federal Highway.

With all of the residential construction underway downtown, New River Village's Granvil Tracy said he opted to sell the rights to build the units. He declined to disclose the sale price or closing date. New River Village's first two phases are slated to have 649 units.

The Strand at Riverfront would feature 26 stories of condos on top of a six-story parking garage. The building would rise over 300 feet.

Expected to be at today's Development Review Committee meeting are members of the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society, who are concerned about the project's size.

''The height is an enormous consideration,'' said Bill Crawford, the society's president. ``It may put a large part of Old Fort Lauderdale Village in an immense shadow.''

The village includes a number of turn-of-the-century buildings, including New River Inn and Philemon Bryan House, both built in 1905.

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