Lauderdale show a $500M boon to city

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Mayor James Naugle would move heaven and earth to keep the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in the city.

Mayor James Naugle would move heaven and earth to keep the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show in the city.

In fact, he already throws city support behind show promoter Kaye Pearson when Pearson seeks Corps of Engineers permits to move the Intracoastal Waterway west just a tad during the annual show. The move is meant to make way for megayacht dockage — luxury vessels over 80 feet.

“This is bigger than the Super Bowl for us,” Naugle says.

Pearson estimates that the annual fall show pours about a half-billion dollars into Fort Lauderdale’s economy. It displays $1 billion worth of boats, and another half-billion dollars worth of boating gear at six show locations clustered around the ICW. It also provides work for over 30,000 people, including all the exhibits staff. Pearson alone employs 2,500 workers just to set up the five-day event at the end of October.

In its 45th year, the Lauderdale show has become the city’s premier event, Naugle says. Owned by the Marine Industries Association of South Florida, it has grown into one of the world’s largest boat shows, with more than 3 million square feet of exhibitor space. The sprawling extravaganza has expanded over the years from the Bahia Mar Yachting Center to the Las Olas, Pier 66, Hall of Fame and Marriott Portside marinas, and the Greater Fort Lauderdale-Broward County Convention Center.

Pearson says the show is about as big as it can get because there’s no space left to expand. Naugle suggests that where there’s a will to grow, surely there is a way. If the Bahia Mar hotel is rebuilt as planned, Naugle would put parking on the ground floor and convert that to exhibit space during the show. He says show exhibits also can spill over into the streets and maybe even to the port. “I think we can find some creative ways to grow it in the future,” he says.

The mayor says traffic congestion around the show used to be a real turnoff to showgoers. Traffic still slows to a standstill during peak hours, but show-goers can avoid it by taking a free water taxi or riverboat to and from remote parking to the two main show locations.

Shuttle buses still operate between show venues, but that’s changing. “We’re shifting our transportation from buses to the waters,” Naugle says. “We get fewer traffic complaints.” He says water transportation also introduces visitors to what he sees as the city’s greatest asset: Its waters. He hopes boat show visitors will come back for a vacation or even buy a second home in the city after seeing the city by water.

Naugle says the show draws prospective buyers from all over the world and gives the city global exposure it couldn’t get any other way.

The mayor will go one better than describing the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show as the city’s premier event.

“It’s the biggest event in Florida,” he says. “Name an event with a bigger economic impact on a community than this boat show.”