FORT LAUDERDALE—"Fort Lauderdale beach has a very bright future, and the city can't lose sight of its vision for the area," Grossman said.
The city plans to commit about $71 million to a major revamp of the beachfront over the next eight years. That will include a bolder entrance at Las Olas, a promenade along the Intracoastal, a visitors center and more parking. The city is also negotiating a rehab of the International Swimming Hall of Fame complex with new Olympic-size pools, an aquatic theater and artificial surf machines.
There are questions about the future of the beach, though.
One is whether the state Legislature will expand gambling to allow beachfront casinos as some lawmakers want. Some see casinos as a potential boon by drawing more visitors. Others fear it could detract from Fort Lauderdale's carefully crafted family-friendly image.
Another issue is what happens if Cuba is reopened to American tourists. The island nation could become a major competitor to Fort Lauderdale in luring vacationers seeking sun and fun.
Change is in the air in other neighborhoods as well.
The city has been rewriting rules to ensure new housing will not be big, boxy and bland like some of the McMansions and townhomes built in the last decade. Long-range plans also call for new commercial projects to be more attune to preserving green space and creating a community atmosphere.
One significant neighborhood is in the midst of a major makeover now: Sistrunk Boulevard, the historic center of the city's black community. The city in rebuilding the street with landscaped medians and new sidewalks as well as purchasing property and seeking developers for new shops and homes.
"We have to remember what gives us charm and personality," longtime civic activist Mary Fertig said. "Development must be compatible and cannot overwhelm. Strong neighborhoods are the backbone of a good city, and I can only hope over the next 100 years we remember that."
Seiler sees two major challenges ahead for the city: transportation and water.
The city wants to build a light-rail streetcar system through downtown to cope with the growing population. There are discussions of commuter rail service along the Florida East Coast Railroad. Both projects are massively expensive, with the commuter rail requiring a new bridge or a tunnel to cross the New River.
Fort Lauderdale and other South Florida cities have struggled with how to deal with water needs. That's because the main water source — the Biscayne Aquifer — is important to restoring the Everglades and regional water management officials have pushed cities to find alternatives.
Fort Lauderdale has a 20-year permit to withdraw water from underground aquifers, but eventually may have to look at such options as the desalination of ocean water.
Developer Charlie Ladd said the answers will determine the pace of Fort Lauderdale's growth.
"There will continue to be migration to the area because of the sunshine and the overall low taxes in the state," Ladd said. "It takes decades to change a city. Part of the equation is how conducive government is to growth. Do they accelerate the process or slow it down?"
Further on the horizon, Fort Lauderdale must worry about rising sea levels.
Low-lying coastal areas, such as parts of the ritzy Las Olas Isles neighborhood, already flood during extreme high tides. Environmental experts expect sea levels to rise as much as seven inches by 2030 and as much as 24 inches by 2060.
"The biggest hurdle has always been the fact that we don't have consensus on what the city is supposed to be," said former City Commissioner Tim Smith, head of a task force drawing up a long-term vision for Fort Lauderdale. "The city can be schizophrenic — it wants to progressive and then is afraid when it happens."
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