Fort Lauderdale has dueling reputations as a spring-break destination, bestowed on it by the 1960 film Where the Boys Are, and as a megayacht capital.
It’s all really a matter of perspective. Some- where between lies the real Fort Lauderdale, a vibrant city with a popular downtown, a beachfront that still attracts college students — though not as many — and quiet residential neighborhoods, many of which are on canals and the Intracoastal Waterway, with large boats docked in the backyard.
Realtor and native Rob Rose, of the Fort Lauderdale- based R. L. Rose and Co., says that many of his clients are former spring breakers, returning as home buyers. “One of the first things they tell me is about their college spring break 30 or 40 years ago, and the phenomena they remember,” says Rose. However, he’s quick to point out that Fort Lauderdale has changed. “Now, it’s much more urban with a diverse and sophisticated population and a great restaurant scene,” he says.
For Russ Cerminaro, a San Francisco resident looking for a vacation home, Fort Lauderdale offered a more subdued version of Miami, where he started his search before realizing that it had more glitz and glamour than he needed. “I love being near the water,” Cerminaro says. “I have two boats and wanted a boating community. I was originally drawn to Miami, but it was a little too high-energy,” he says, adding, “I want to be able to sleep at night.”
Water — the Atlantic Ocean, the Intracoastal and the city’s 165 miles of canals — is Fort Lauderdale’s star attraction, and obviously the main reason both seasonal and full-time residents choose the city. Another reason is the working downtown, with its own financial district, performing arts center and museums, which provides a cosmopolitan vibe. Many learn, like Cerminaro did, that they can enjoy the sun and sand along with the scene on ocean-hugging State Road A1A, a stretch with parts known as Fort Lauderdale Beach and Atlantic boulevards, or get an urban fix hanging out downtown. When they’ve had enough, they can just walk the few blocks to their tranquil neighborhoods and go home.
During his house-hunting search, Cerminaro explored Fort Lauderdale by car and on foot; however, renting a boat and cruising the Intracoastal really opened his eyes. “I was blown away by the whole area,” he says. He ultimately purchased a two-bedroom condo this past December. It’s on the 17th floor of Essex Tower, a building just three blocks from the beach. “It’s close enough to walk, but far enough away that it’s super quiet,” Cerminaro says. “There are gorgeous panoramic views of water, homes and yachts.”
Many of the 1960s and ’70s beachfront bargain hotels are long gone, converted into condominiums or replaced by luxury four- and five-star resorts like the W Fort Lauderdale and the Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale. A diverse demographic dines on Australian Tajima Kobe beef at Steak 954, inside the W, where an interior neon glow and ultracontemporary design are indicative of the new Fort Lauderdale cachet.
The city has grown up since many of Rose’s clients first visited. Urban redevelopment initiatives in the 1990s created the two-mile Riverwalk along the historic New River and reinvented Los Olas Boulevard, an upscale pedestrian-friendly street with eclectic restaurants, including Yolo, the “it” place to be for happy hour. Meanwhile, the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and the Museum of Art satisfy locals’ cultural cravings. Travel just a few blocks east toward the ocean, and see side streets that boast lush landscaping and single-family homes and condos that offer views of the city, the Atlantic and boat traffic on the Intracoastal. Cerminaro’s residence sits nearby on a deepwater canal.
House hunters will find plenty of options in Fort Lauderdale. Prices are nearly half of what they were at the market’s high point in 2005, according to Rose. “There’s a consensus that prices have hit bottom. For the first time since 2005, buyers are confident they’re doing the right thing,” Rose says.
Among noteworthy condominiums is the beachfront Galt Ocean Mile, a development of 22 high-rises — a mix of old and new buildings — that’s home to nearly 170,000 residents. At the 24-story Residences at the W, seasonal and international buyers have gobbled up 20 of the 171 one- and two-bedroom condo-hotel homes within the first two months of being for sale. Priced from $551,000 to more than $1 million, the pre-furnished high-style homes range from 804 to 1,463 square feet. Discounts at the on-site Bliss Spa, Ted Gibson Salon and Steak 954 are an added bonus for homeowners.
Those looking for over-the-top estates will find them at Fort Lauderdale’s Rio Vista and Harbor Beach, where multimillion-dollar properties, many with megayachts, attract the high-end buyer. In contrast, historic neighborhoods like Victoria Park, with tree-canopied streets, have mostly 1950s renovated homes priced from $400,000. No matter what he chooses — beach, boat or city — Cerminaro knows he’s going to enjoy his Florida home. “I was on a Caribbean cruise, and people were raving about Fort Lauderdale,” he says.