A feud is brewing over taxpayer-owned land in downtown Fort Lauderdale, and it will determine whether the site becomes a park as promised or home to a three-story gathering place run by an established star on the hospitality scene.
Entrepreneur Jeff John, whose restaurant, bar and club ventures include the hot spot concert hall Revolution Live, wants to bring what he calls a cultural mecca center with a music venue and multiple restaurants to the quiet Flagler Village neighborhood. If commissioners approve John’s vision, he plans to build a park on 2 acres of the site.
“Our vision is to develop a cultural mecca center and an economic driver for the city and the residents that will be two-thirds park at no cost to the taxpayer,” said John, CEO of Damn Good Hospitality Group. “The nucleus of this project is to deliver that park, an iconic park.”
But his plan has sparked an outcry from neighbors who want the entire parcel turned into a park, as promised in the city’s downtown master plan.
“We have worked on that being a park since 2003,” said Doug McCraw, founder of FAT Village Arts District. “We got a federal courthouse to choose another location because the community did not want a courthouse here. We wanted a park.”
The $100 million-plus project, an unsolicited proposal still under review by city officials, would take up 1 acre of a 3.5-acre parcel once home to the so-called One Stop Shop building at 301 N. Andrews Ave. The building, used as the city’s development permitting office years ago, was torn down in 2019 after sitting empty for more than a decade.
Critics worry the new spot, if built, will hold rock concerts day and night.
Revolution Live, an indoor venue hosting national and international bands and artists at 100 SW Third Ave., is known for its large dance floor and three full-service bars.
Stephanie Toothaker, an attorney for John and his project, says the new venture will be nothing like Revolution Live.
“This is not a place to party at night,” she said. “This is a place to go with your kids. It would have some retail and cultural exhibits with a massive open atrium in the middle with trees. You’re inside, but you feel like you’re outside.”
Instead of a lease, the city and John would enter into a 50-year management contract where he would pay Fort Lauderdale for the use of the land. That amount is still being negotiated, Toothaker said.
City commissioners are expected to decide the fate of the 3.5-acre parcel in the coming months.
If all goes as planned, the center would open in 2024.
For now, the land sits vacant, surrounded by a chain-link fence. The parcel lies on the west side of Andrews Avenue between Northwest Second and Fourth streets, north of Broward Boulevard and not far from City Hall.
The project is still being vetted behind the scenes, said Vice Mayor Steve Glassman, who represents the neighborhood.
“One acre would be a cultural center and marketplace with a food court and promenade and restaurants and shops,” Glassman said. “Some people want the whole space kept as a park. But 2 acres is not anything to sneeze at.”
Steven Peters, an artist who lives in an apartment complex across the street, fumed over the possibility of losing even 1 acre of green space.
“We have been fighting for this property to become a park for decades,” he said. “The city knows what needs to be done, and they’re trying to bring in something the neighborhood does not want. I guarantee you there will be an uproar. We don’t need it. We don’t want it. The city should be following the master plan.”
Leann Barber, president of the Flagler Village Civic Association, argued the neighborhood needs a green, tree-lined sanctuary, not more concrete.
“We have one little park, Peter Feldman Park,” she said. “And people are tripping over one another. Every developer is shopping around Flagler Village and buying up parcels and building high-rise apartment buildings. And there’s no place to walk even. Why should we get 2 acres when we could have 3?”
Added McCraw: “You’ve got the densest neighborhood in Broward County and no park space for all these people. It’s a very important thing for this neighborhood.”
McCraw questions whether John’s project would actually qualify as a cultural center.
“I don’t think of Revolution Live as a cultural venue,” he said. “Everything we’re getting is through the grapevine. I’ve heard people say it’s not a nightclub, it’s a food hall.”
Peters says he envisions inebriated concertgoers spilling out onto the streets day and night.
“When you have an influx of hundreds of people at a music venue, some are going to come out of there drunk, spilling out onto the property, getting into their cars,” he said. “They could get noisy and even violent at times. And this is a very quiet neighborhood.”
If the project goes through, Peters says it will break a promise made long ago.
“The promise to the community was that this property was going to be open green space,” Peters said. “And that promise is being pushed aside. I’m up in arms. I can’t tell you how infuriated I am that they are trying to push this through.”
John says he’s been working on the project for the past two years and promises to work with residents to make sure they’re on board.
“We are taking a go-slow approach to make sure we get this right,” he said. “We plan to continue to work with the city and residents to make sure the process is transparent.”
Susannah Bryan can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Susannah_Bryan