Building a Future, South Florida Sun Sentinel

September 23, 2008, South Florida Sun Sentinel

By: Paul Owers, Staff Writer

Charlie Ladd and George Rahael won’t be distracted.

Despite skeptics and a free-falling economy, the developers say they’re moving ahead with plans to reshape nearly 100 acres along Broward Boulevard, just west of Interstate 95 in Fort Lauderdale.

For now, all that’s there is a 67,000-square-foot office building. But Ladd and Rahael hope the Riverbend project one day will span both sides of the road and include 3.3 million square feet of offices, 500 hotel rooms and as much as 800,000 square feet of retail and 1,200 condominiums and apartments.

The developers already have invested at least $50 million in the venture, which eventually could be worth more than $1 billion, Ladd said.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Rahael said recently. “It may take 10, 15, 20 years. We will move as fast as the economy dictates. We need to be ready when the tenants are ready.”

Ladd and Rahael expect to begin construction in the second quarter of next year on two additional 120,000-square-foot office buildings, which would include ground-floor shops and restaurants.

They’re also planning a parking garage that will accommodate 900 vehicles, but Rahael and Ladd also are trying to reduce people’s dependence on cars. The site is across from a Tri-Rail station, and there is an east-west light rail connector in the works. Riverbend also is expected to have a trolley system.

“There are very few opportunities to do offices,” Ladd said, citing the shortage of available land. “But as the county grows and the population changes, we need more offices and less stuff that serves retirees and tourists, such as strip shopping centers.”

Rod Loschiavo, senior director at Cushman & Wakefield of Florida who found a tenant for the existing office building, said Riverbend has potential.

“Their timing is less than ideal, but it’s a good location adjacent to I-95 and Tri-Rail,” Loschiavo said. “It’s a good alternative for people who maybe don’t want to be downtown.” Others disagree.

Ladd and Rahael have been assembling Riverbend parcels for six years, buying and tearing down an old shopping center, pawn shop and other eyesores. But the surrounding area remains heavily industrial.

Southwest Broward and Cypress Creek already are established alternatives for office tenants who prefer not to be downtown, said Jonathan Kingsley, managing director of Grubb & Ellis Co. in Boca Raton and Miami.

What’s more, Kingsley doubts there will be demand for residential and retail at I-95 and Broward Boulevard in the foreseeable future.

“Charlie and his partners certainly have a quality track record, but many of us would question whether their intentions for the site will match up to what the market demands,” Kingsley said.

Ladd and Rahael say they’ve heard this before.

They redeveloped the front of the old Coral Springs Mall and are working on another project in Coral Springs. They also turned car lots and rundown hotels into Victoria Park Shoppes in Fort Lauderdale.

“Real estate redevelopment is a long-term process,” Ladd said. “But as you build each building, the community changes. That’s how you make progress.”

Paul Owers can be reached at powers@SunSentinel.com or 561-243-6529.

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