Reprinted from South Florida Business Journal on May 15, 2013
Marina Lofts received a 9-0 approval from the Fort Lauderdale Planning & Zoning board just before 1 a.m. on Wednesday.
The Fort Lauderdale City Commission chamber was overflowing with supporters wearing green t-shirts and opponents wearing blue shirts. There were so many in attendance that the fire marshal ordered that some attendees in the back of the chambers leave.
Developer Asi Cymbal and his team gave a detailed one-hour presentation about the project. Before the vote, city staff basically said the nearly 1,000-unit rental project fit with desired development in the area.
A controversial plan to move a giant rain tree wasn’t within the purview of the P&Z board’s review, so opponents’ last-ditch efforts to stop the project will depend on the Fort Lauderdale City commission. So far, the commission appears to support the project.
Marina Lofts would be a major landmark on the south side of the New River west of Andrews Avenue next to the site of Related’s New River Yacht Club.
Cymbal said the project was a tremendous opportunity to help make Fort Lauderdale a world class city.
“We are not looking to create an average or ordinary community. We are looking to transform and transcend,” Cymbal said.
His team has built 15 million square feet of high rise construction, including a 67-story tower, he said.
Cymbal talked about an initial project in Miami’s Wynwood area, which was 100 percent leased during tough economic times, and an upcoming project with architect Enrique Norten that he said is fully funded and awaiting permits for construction to start.
“We are builders. We are not speculators,” Cymbal said. “I didn’t come from money and my family isn’t in the business. I fought very hard to get in this field.”
Cymbal said he grew up in a housing project in Brooklyn that had lots of concrete and he has gained an appreciation of architecture because “your environment affects who you are.”
Cymbal has retained Danish architect Bjarke Ingels for Marina Lofts and noted he was named an innovator of the year by the Wall Street Journal.
Cymbal said he has invested $30 million in the project so far and will provide $10 million in public benefits, such as a riverwalk along the New River.
The density for the project is needed because he wants to create rentals starting at $1,100 a month, Cymbal said. He has a waiting list for half the units in the first building.
Many of the concerns expressed by residents had to do with density and traffic. A bulk of the opponents opposing the project live in the Esplanade Condominium, which is just to the west of the Marina Lofts site.
However, it turns out the condominium board at Esplanade doesn’t oppose the project.
President Dan Norman said the condo board unanimously passed a position paper with conditional support and found the overall concept to be “impressive, innovative and even daring.”
Norman said the board found Cymbal responsive to its concerns. Two towers were reduced from 36 to 28 stories and the total units were reduced by almost 100 to just under 1,000.
Norman, who was previously a senior editor at the Sun Sentinel, said as a 44-year city resident he wouldn’t be disappointed if the city asked for a further height reduction, “but if Fort Lauderdale is going to compete with other cities it has to satisfy the thirst for a downtown urban atmosphere. The only place to expand is up not out. I say yes to Marina Lofts no matter what the size is. It keeps the city growing in a stunning way.”
Representatives of key business groups also supported the project, including the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. Marine industry supporters also said the development would be beneficial by preserving a marina a 200-boat storage facility.
Chamber President Dan Lindblade said his board has voted unanimously in favor of the project and handed over a letter of support from Winterfest, which puts on the annual holiday boat parade.
Marina Lofts would help make Fort Lauderdale an international destination of choice, Lindblade said.
Rob Hink of the Spinnaker Group, past president of the U.S. Green Building Council, said Marina Lofts was a model for LEED development.
“This project meets the very definition of sustainabilty,” he said. The dense urban project is the opposite of suburban sprawl, but has an extraordinary amount of open space plus green roofs.
Perhaps the most powerful speaker was Adriana Fasano, an Amherst College Fulbright Scholar, who moved back to the city where her parents live.
“We as a city are in one of the biggest and darkest brain drains in history,” she said, saying the city needed innovators to attract talented young professionals. She outlined some widespread concerns that South Florida isn’t on the cutting edge of culture, though leadership, the arts, engineering and math.
Cymbal’s project would help change that, she said. “We cannot be the city that stifles innovation.”