By Brian Bandell, South Florida Business Journal
Fort Lauderdale’s Cypress Creek area is one of South Florida’s largest business districts, yet its office market hasn’t bounced back as strongly as others in the region.
But a proposed zoning change could transform the office district into a vibrant neighborhood with a multitude of housing, dining and entertainment options. Backed by the city and a group of local businesses and property owners called Envision Uptown, the project also aims to make the area around Cypress Creek Road and Interstate 95 more walkable for pedestrians, similar to other re-energized downtowns in South Florida.
Currently, the busy roads are intimidating for pedestrians to cross. While Cypress Creek has one of the region’s busiest Tri-Rail stations, the rail stop is surrounded by large park-and-ride lots that are heat traps in the summertime. Most of the restaurants in the area cater to grab-and-go lunchtime traffic, and the retail options nearby are limited.
“If you can facilitate this urban village where you can live, work and play, it makes it an easier opportunity for us to land companies in that area,” said David Coddington, VP of business development with the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. “When companies come in, they can see this as a truly viable area with the potential for growth in the next 10 years.”
Downtown areas and business districts used to go dark in the evening hours, but that’s been changing across the country, especially in South Florida. As more people decide to live and seek entertainment near their workplace, it has attracted mixed-used projects with residential to urban areas. This trend is well underway in the downtown areas of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach and Doral, and in Boca Raton’s Park at Broken Sound (formerly the Arvida Park of Commerce).
As South Florida’s eighth-largest office market, and the second-largest in Broward County, Cypress Creek is home to prominent companies such as Microsoft, Citrix Systems, Hotwire Communications and Zimmerman Advertising. About 66,500 people work there, but only 3.5 percent of them live in the area, according to a 2015 report by the Broward Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA).
“For Citrix and other employers in Uptown, this is a great area with a lot of access,” said Guy Desautels, VP of real estate and facilities for Citrix. “However, it is time to revitalize and redevelop the area toward this urban village vision we all have. We need transit connectivity, access to amenities during the workday and after the workday, and being able to live closer to work to reduce the commute that’s getting worse and worse.”
Citrix is among the area businesses and property owners that formed Envision Uptown in 2014 to craft the rezoning and master plan for the area while working with the city and the Broward MPO. Envision Uptown is led by Cary Goldberg, president of commercial real estate firm Diversified Cos., and Dana Pollitt, head of Adept Strategy & Public Relations. Pollitt said the group hopes to secure final approval from the city commission in October.
Thousands of new residents
The Uptown Urban Village rezoning would occur in the 353-acre area just west of Interstate 95 along Cypress Creek Road to Powerline Road. It would allow an additional 2,560 residential units, 250,000 square feet of offices, 225,000 square feet of commercial space, 50,000 square feet of industrial space, 450 hotel rooms and 6.5 acres of park space. The master plan would also redesign the streets and sidewalks to encourage walkability and mass transit.
Under the new zoning, buildings could be constructed closer to the street and contain a mix of uses, with commercial space encouraged on the ground floor. Goldberg said the density of the project would be predetermined, so landowners could seek building permits without seeking site plan approval. This would reduce risk from the market and speed up development, he added.
Since the rezoning would increase property values by granting more density, Goldberg expects property owners to capitalize by proposing residential projects. He expects that some landowners will convert surface parking lots into apartment buildings with parking garages.
There are mobile home parks and older industrial sites in the area that could be converted into mid-rise residential with retail, said Jonathan Kingsley, an executive VP with Colliers International South Florida who focuses on office and industrial.
The challenge for employees in Cypress Creek is that they haven’t found housing in the area, and the rezoning could meet that need.
“There’s starvation for destination retail that is a Pembroke Gardens-type project or a Dania Pointe to create more of that lifestyle center walkability,” Kingsley said.
There are several major projects already in the pipeline in Cypress Creek. An affiliate of Davie-based DMD Ventures secured approval for a 130-room Fairfield Inn by Marriott and a Twin Peaks restaurant at the northeast corner of Cypress Creek Road and North Andrews Avenue. The city selected a Wet ‘n’ Wild branded water park and four athletic fields to be built around Lockhart Stadium, and negotiations for a final lease are ongoing. Drive Shack wants to build a driving range/entertainment complex at Fort Lauderdale Executive Airport, but the city has yet to approve that deal.
These entertainment facilities would complement Xtreme Action Park, an indoor entertainment venue on Powerline Road featuring go karts, bowling, roller skating and more.
“Just like Flagler Village has its own unique vibe, I think Uptown will be the new hot spot, a mixed-use base with commercial, residential and entertainment,” said City Commissioner Heather Moraitis, who represents that area. “I love the concept of an urban village, having a master plan and working with others to create that vision for our business community.”
To welcome more residents to Cypress Creek, Moraitis said the area needs more schools. She’d like to see specialized magnet or charter programs that train students to work with local industry, such as aviation or technology.
Transportation integration is key
A mixed-use neighborhood feeds off of foot traffic, as residents and workers frequent the shops and restaurants. Envision Uptown has plans to redesign Cypress Creek streets to create such an environment.
Greg Stuart, executive director of the Broward MPO, said there would be a partnership between public entities and private landowners to create wider sidewalks and pedestrian amenities such as parks and shade. He’s in talks with property owners about creating walking paths so it’s easier to go from the Tri-Rail station to the offices on Cypress Creek Road.
Making the area more pedestrian-friendly would attract workers, aiding local businesses, he said.
“This is a nice place, but it attracted the employees of the ‘80s and ‘90s,” Stuart said. “Now we are virtually in 2020, and so what does this new employee look like? They want to walk to work. They want to take the bus or transit to work.”
With about 1,600 employees in Cypress Creek, Citrix would like to give more of them the ability to bike to work and easily walk to a nice restaurant, Desautels said.
The MPO has about $6.5 million reserved for streetscape improvements in Cypress Creek, and paths for pedestrians will be a major focus, Stuart said.
Envision Uptown organizers hope to convince SFRTA to allow a transit-oriented residential development on the parking lots surrounding its Tri-Rail station there.
Building apartments near transit stations usually results in increased ridership, so the impact on vehicular traffic is often mitigated.
According to the rezoning application, the development would generate a net gain of 11,070 daily vehicle trips, including 995 during the morning rush hour and 1,085 during the afternoon rush hour. The overall traffic impacts would be minimal based on the anticipated usage of multimodal transportation options that would reduce vehicle trips, said Jim Hetzel, the city’s principal planner.
Rezoning could boost office
The office market in Cypress Creek hasn’t performed as well as other South Florida office hubs, but real estate experts hope the rezoning could turn that around.
According to Colliers International South Florida’s fourth quarter report, Cypress Creek had 7.5 million square feet of office space, with a 13.5 percent vacancy rate and asking rent of $24.76 a square foot. That underperformed the county as a whole, with a vacancy rate of 9.1 percent and an average asking rent of $27.10 a square foot.
While office vacancies and rents have been increasing in most of South Florida as job numbers increase, it’s been more challenging to fill space in Cypress Creek.
The area tends to suffer greater during a recession and bounce back slower in a recovery, said Colliers’ Kingsley, who represents Cypress Park West. While office space in downtown Fort Lauderdale is more expensive than Cypress Creek and often requires paying for parking, many tenants are willing to meet those prices to be near the restaurants on Las Olas Boulevard and the thousands of homes, he said.
“If you can bring a special amenity to Cypress Creek with new zoning and housing to support it, you can capture some of the population to stay in the suburbs,” Kingsley said.
Cypress Creek has not seen the same influx of corporate tenants as downtown Fort Lauderdale or Broward’s western suburbs because it’s not close enough to residential areas, said Greg Martin, a principal at Avison Young, which leases three office buildings in the area. Some downtown companies are tired of paying high rents, so they would probably consider space in Cypress Creek if the rezoning introduced housing and a better pedestrian experience