But for the hockey arena on it, the 143 acres of public land on the edge of the Everglades in Sunrise is a clean slate.
In the coming 20 years, the county intends to fill in the grassy blanks with Downtown West, a mix that could include condos, stores, restaurants, offices, maybe even a casino.
This week, Broward County embraced a development vision for the land, a potential playbook created by the Urban Land Institute. The nonprofit real estate consultancy visited the site, studied it and issued the report this month. To carry it out, the County Commission agreed Tuesday to hire two real estate employees, including a director of real estate.
The institute’s land-use experts said the county-owned BB&T Center, a giant venue surrounded by parking spaces, represents “an opportunity lost.’’ The consultants said visitors leave the arena after shows or games because there’s nothing there to capture them. They suggest the land be developed thoughtfully, and slowly, with a potential mix of housing, a hotel, office space, retail, a casino and the hockey arena.
“The undertaking is huge and could be controversial,” said Broward Commissioner Nan Rich, who represents most of Sunrise. “There’s a lot of potential. But we have to get it right, and that’s the challenge.’’
The mix of development — including whether casino rights are obtained and whether the Florida Panthers hockey team remains in the arena — will be determined in the coming years. The development is expected to complement what’s around it: America’s largest single-story retail mall, Sawgrass Mills, condo towers and Metropica, a $1.5 billion development on Northwest 136th Avenue and Sunrise Boulevard that’s in the planning stages.
Sunrise Mayor Mike Ryan said he’s “thrilled’’ the county is taking the opportunity so seriously. He said the arena never was expected to stand alone, as it has since its 1998 construction. Sunrise supports development of the land, he said, and the market will determine the right mixture of uses.
“We’re a partner in trying to help find something that works in the context of what’s already there,’’ Mayor Ryan said.
The land for years was in the hands of the hockey team owners, who never used it. The Panthers, a National Hockey League team, plays in the county arena, and an affiliated company operates it. In a reworked agreement in December 2015, the county won back development rights to the land surrounding the arena. The deal increased the public subsidy of the team by $86 million, to $342 million. The new agreement aims to keep the team in the BB&T Center until 2028.
The county brought Urban Land Institute to town last summer to brainstorm possibilities for the land around the arena, and to look at possibilities if the Panthers ultimately depart. After visiting in June, the institute’s participating experts interviewed those involved in the arena and the site and conducted research, producing the report released this month.
The consultants explored three alternatives: the Panthers extend their lease, and a casino is added; the Panthers extend their lease, and office and housing are added; and the Panthers leave, the arena is demolished, and housing, a casino and offices are added. The third option would bring in the most tax revenue and income to the county, at an estimated $391.3 million over 11 years, the report said.
“Limited initial demand exists for new development on the site,’’ the report says, “However, over time, more opportunities will arise.’’
The development report lays out a timeline from now to 2040 for remaking the acreage.
“Redevelopment of the arena site will require a long-term, patient approach that will take more than 20 years,’’ the report says.
It also acknowledges that market forces, including potential downturns, remain unknown. The path to development started Tuesday with the agreement to hire real estate overseers. The expense of a real estate director and project coordinator is expected to be $275,000 a year, a county memo says.
The consultants suggest the county start by assembling a Downtown West Broward Leadership Council, a hub for public input and problem solving. Ryan said one thorny issue will be management of traffic. He’s advocating construction of Sawgrass Expressway ramps to and from the north, to help drivers reach and depart from the site. He also said it’s important that the county not build anything that would compete with or detract from nearby development.
“It’s critical to get participation from everyone from the beginning,’’ Broward Commissioner Nan Rich said. “One thing is clear, there has got to be a lot of involvement from the community. When you’re developing something this size, I don’t want to superimpose things on people that live in an area.’’
Click here to view the SunSentinel video ‘Broward Embraces Development Vision of Downtown West’
Click here to view the SunSentinel video ‘Broward Explores Developing Land Around BB&T Center’