Broward County restarts stalled convention center expansion plans
The Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show is a ultra-luxurious delight. Image via Privaira.

fort lauderdale
The $487 million project will be financed through bed taxes, which had become highly uncertain during the pandemic.

​​A set of signatures Friday put the wheels in motion for Broward County to restart the expansion of the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center that had been stalled as the full force of the pandemic spun the tourism industry into unknown territory.

But that territory seemed far away Friday.

Broward County Mayor Michael Udine, and other Broward County Commission members, signed bonds that will allow the county to borrow $487 million to build improvements, such as waterfront ballrooms, a waterfront plaza, meeting rooms and kitchen facilities.

Udine called it a “huge milestone” for the expansion project that first began in 2019.

“This … project is an investment in our travel industry that will support jobs and continue to position our region as an international destination for the future,” he tweeted.

The final phase of the expansion is expected to be completed in 2025, according to county officials.

County Administrator Bertha Henry said the convention center will create 1,000 jobs and boost the local economy by more than $100 million every year.

“We are excited to be on the path to completion,” she said in a county news release.

Construction began two years ago and the first phase of the new convention center debuted on Oct. 27, according to county officials. The 62nd Annual Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show was the first in, using the expanded, 350,000 square-foot exhibit hall for the indoor portion of the boat show.

The bonds are expected to be paid off with bed taxes generated from Broward County hotel guests. But that revenue stream seemed highly uncertain in the depths of the pandemic lockdown. The number of Florida visitors fell nearly three quarters in April, May and June 2020 and the convention expansion plans were put on hold in August 2020.

The expansion plans were originally conceived when hospitality industry officials warned the county would miss out on larger-scale events without the expansion. Rep. Chip LaMarca, who was serving on the Broward County Commission when the proposal was approved, said he was the first to advocate for the expansion. And it’s been a long time coming. He called the convention and Port Everglades expansions the most important things that needed to be done. The two facilities are less than two miles away from each other.

He attended the signing ceremony Friday.

“I’m excited that it’s off and running,” he said.

The area was losing $65 million a year in 2010 because of its inability to host large-scale events, he said.

An 800-room upscale hotel is also planned as part of the final improvements to the convention center, but the financing for that is separate from the bonds inked Friday, according to county officials.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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