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The Latest Vision for Broward Convention Center: Rooftop Views, Seamless Access from 800-Room Hotel

The sole developer vying for the multi-million dollar project to expand Broward County’s convention center unveiled revised designs Tuesday that envision rooftop space for special events and easy access between a planned 800-room hotel and the center itself.

Broward County Convention Center Expansion

In designs shown Tuesday to Broward County commissioners, Matthews Southwest of Lewisville, Texas, proposes a 400,000-square-foot convention center expansion, an intermodal transportation area and a plaza with open views of the Intracoastal Waterway.

The plans are aimed to address several issues raised when preliminary drawings were submitted a year ago. Since then. Matthews Southwest has received input from stakeholders including city of Fort Lauderdale and county administrative officials to arrive at its latest design for project, previously estimated to cost about $550 million.

Up next, county staff plans to seek approval for an amended pre-development agreement with Matthews that will move the design stage to the next level, according to Alan Cohen, assistant to the county administrator.

In the coming months, the county will need to negotiate the comprehensive development contract with Matthews, which is expected to be finalized by the end of 2017.

In preview remarks before Matthews’ design update, Cohen told commissioners there were a variety of constraints the developer had to “design around” to arrive at the latest version.

They include a 320-foot height limit imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, and relocation of the Sailfish fountain at front of the center, which must occur in collaboration with the artist. Another issue involves contingencies for adequate onsite parking after the removal of 1,000-plus spaces to make room for the development.

The new designs also take into consideration significant waterfront activation, which was a top priority of the city of Fort Lauderdale, Cohen noted.

One of the most noticeable differences in the project design for the hotel from a year ago is that the building is no longer L-shaped, but now is a single oblong-shaped building that runs parallel to Southeast 17th Street.

The hotel is now situated farther west to better preserve the “viewshed” or line-of-sight of the natural environment from the north, Cohen told the Sun Sentinel. The hotel is also farther south to create a general corridor between the building and Southeast 17th Street.

The new designs also emphasize more seamless connectivity between the hotel and convention center for users and guests, said Jonathan Cardello of Stantec, one of Matthews’ architecture and design partners.

“With most convention center hotels you go across a bridge to get into the convention center; this [design] really integrates it,” said Jack Matthews, the developer’s president. “When you walk into the lobby of that hotel, you turn to the left and walk right into the convention center.”

That ease of connectivity between the two buildings is being touted as a unique feature of the project along with its use of outdoor rooftop space for special events and functions on the convention center side.

“We tried to use the rooftops and take advantage of the beautiful views of the ocean as much as we could,” Matthews said.

“There’s still a lot of work to do,” Matthews acknowledged. “We still have to check all our answers against neighborhoods, the city, the operators, and so on, but it is coming together very nicely.”

Overall, the commissioners seemed pleased with the progress reflected in the new drawings, though some reiterated the significant challenges that remain with traffic, particularly in and out of the project area.

Commissioner Tim Ryan asked about contingency plans to mediate or remedy potential traffic issues on roadways surrounding the convention center and hotel.

Cohen noted that county staff and the development team are collaborating with Port Everglades officials on traffic mitigation issues and exploring other remedies to ease traffic concerns.

One potential remedy could be the relocation of a new proposed parking garage inside the port outside of the security zone to reduce the number of cars passing through checkpoints.

Another idea is to funnel some traffic into the port through an alternative route along Southeast 20th Street, which would run parallel to Southeast 17th Street.

The intermodal facility itself will also help alleviate some traffic issues, Cohen noted.

“The sheer fact that we’re building an onsite hotel is going to have a profound impact on traffic patterns, not necessarily volume,” he said.

Trade shows, for example, bring a lot of traffic and create backups during events.

But Cohen said that by extending the convention center and building an onsite hotel, Fort Lauderdale will be more attractive to meeting planners who want to bring [big conventions] here.

He predicted that larger events will attract more out of town conventioneers who would fly into town and stay at the hotel instead of other locations that would require the use of a car to reach the convention site.

“So there are some positive changes that will happen as a result of this,” Cohen said.

Currently, the project slated to begin construction in 2018 and open in late 2021, is expected to generate about $100 million in economic impact annually through tourism and job creation, according to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention & Visitors Bureau.

“This is significant news for the future growth of the destination,” said Stacy Ritter, the bureau’s president and CEO, in a statement. “The new facilities, especially an on-site hotel, puts us in a lead position with the meetings industry.”

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