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Big plans for Fort Lauderdale’s Bahia Mar

It looks as if the iconic Bahia Mar Yachting Center, home of the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, will get a makeover, including better digs for the show.

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After 10 years of bickering over what shape that makeover might take, the investment group that bought out the 39-acre property’s long-term lease this summer has proposed a $1 billion hotel-residential-marina complex with a park-like public promenade along the waterfront and a parking garage convertible to indoor exhibit space during the show.

“We specialize in redeveloping tired assets and distressed assets,” says Jimmy Tate, partner with brother Kenny in Tate Capital, one of the investors, at a Marine Industries Association of South Florida meeting in September at the Bahia Mar to present the plan. (MIASF owns the Lauderdale show.) The Bahia Mar uplands are tired, Tate says. “It’s one of the most underutilized and most important properties in Fort Lauderdale,” and it looks like a sprawling parking lot, he says.

That would change dramatically if Fort Lauderdale approves the plan, which is now before the city’s Development Review Committee. Tate would start by sinking $40 million into renovating the hotel, keeping the 250-slip marina, which is in good shape, and building a two-story, 200,000-square-foot parking garage with two atriums, 16-foot ceilings and special lighting so the parking space is convertible to indoor exhibit space during the boat show. Topped by a park, the garage will be part of a five-story complex with 100 residences, office space and a fitness center. The plan also envisions two 39-story residential towers, two waterfront restaurants, a restaurant in one of the towers, a gourmet grocery store, additional office space and an 18-foot-wide public promenade along the Intracoastal Waterway linked to a Bahamian-style “fishing village” where one of the restaurants and the commercial kiosks are located.

Sandwiched between the beach and the Intracoastal Waterway, the development would unfold in phases over 7 or 8 years without interfering with the annual fall show. “The city’s instructions to us were, ‘Take care of the boat show,’ ” Tate says. “We’re going to give them a best-in-class facility. This will be a campus, not just a hotel.”

The two residential towers would add 525 condominium units. One of the two hotel towers would be demolished and replaced with a residential tower. The second hotel tower will have 188 rooms and a five-story hotel addition of 48 rooms. Total condominiums: 625. Total parking spots: 2,194.

Tate says the developers plan to upgrade the hotel first, then build one of the towers, build the second one as market conditions allow and finish with the garage/exhibit hall. Although the project’s design has received good marks from neighbors, they remain concerned about traffic congestion on Route A1A. Developers hope to ease the traffic problems with three trolley stops, two water taxi stations and transient boat slips. A study has been commissioned to see how the roads could handle the increased traffic.

Show Management president Efrem “Skip” Zimbalist III says the redevelopment also adopts improvements to the boat show addressed in surveys of showgoers: fancier restaurants, better restrooms, less noise and nicer ambience. “That will be greatly improved,” Zimbalist says. (Show Management produces the Fort Lauderdale boat show.)

This article originally appeared in the November 2015 issue.