“Ghost town,” “almost deserted” and “scary and depressing in the evening” are just a few ways recent visitors have described Fort Lauderdale’s Riverfront. A once bustling area of downtown with packed bars, restaurants and shops, the old hot spot has devolved into little more than a movie theater and a couple of dining options.
The economy played a big part in Riverfront’s downfall. Tourism dollars and local patronage weren’t coming in like they used to. Real estate experts agreed that the space would be best served as a mix of residences, offices, a hotel and retail. A 2007 plan to make it just that fell through when the residential market went bust. It turned out to be a sour deal for taxpayers too, as the city of Fort Lauderdale and the Broward County School Board lost about $3 million in deals leading up to Riverfront’s development in 1998. It was eventually purchased at public auction by one of its lenders who saw no competing bids.
Most recently, the complex was purchased for $15 million — far less than the $55 million price tag it took to build it — by an investment group. Following the 2011 sale, immediate plans included trying to fill Riverfront’s vacancies. However, the property still has some design issues, such as connections to Riverwalk that were never completed, and the fact that it remains disconnected from Himarshee Village and the shops and restaurants along Las Olas. And building more residential spaces could prove difficult in a market that hasn’t fully recovered.
But with all the challenges that the Riverfront has faced, wouldn’t it be great to see it rebound? Only time will tell if it can return to its glory days.